I have lectured, given historical presentations, book signings, etc. for over 30 years as has my husband. Not everyone wants to brave the weather in a canvas tent, batten down the hatches in high winds, swelter in the heat and freeze in the cold or spend mega-bucks collecting antiques, reproducing clothing, military accoutrements, etc. so that they have authentic and accurate clothing and items of daily life to use in camp. Actually, it helps if you’re a bit off your rocker.
It’s incredibly expensive and tiring, so why do we do it? Because we have this insane curiosity and the more we research and learn the more we want to know. It isn’t enough for us to read the diaries and books written by those who lived it, we want to experience it as well, and we feel we owe it to our ancestors to imitate their daily lives accurately. It’s more than wearing a “costume” for a few hours.
It means reproducing 200 year old garments, wearing clothes without zippers and from the natural fibers of the time, buckling our shoes instead of wearing the crocks I’m so comfortable with, maintaining proper hair styles for the era instead of what’s cute and fashionable today, sleeping on rope beds that have to be tightened every other day, wielding heavy utensils to cook a meal while your eyes water from the acrid smoke rising from the fire, trekking to the privy in the middle of the night, making foods we can document often enough to establish them as ordinary fare throughout the 18th century, and spending a day packing and loading up, then traveling hours to an event where we unload it all and set up camp knowing in a few short days we will have to do it all again, except in reverse.
We enjoy doing it together, but there are situations which can be disillusioning, such as having to watch those who visit with us to make sure someone doesn’t rifle through our belongings, damage our gear, or take an irreplaceable item we’ve searched far and near to find. We have had these things happen multiple times. It is hard to remain cordial when someone enters our camp with a dog who makes a bee-line to lick out of your supper cooling in the pot by the fire, or pee on your tent or other items while the owner pays no heed to it. Another is being asked to do a presentation for the public that may take 3 days to prepare for when the host wants a two-hour exhibition. The latter is not feasible or fun.
It is the small rural settings where we meet the most cordial people and where people understand working enough to appreciate what we are portraying. I’ve also discovered rendezvous, where there are two days with the public and a week without, are more enjoyable and less stressful for me than some history presentations for the public. These are the settings where I have fun with our visitors and enjoy their interest. This is where we don’t have to try and explain period food to someone whose dietary repertoire is limited to chicken nuggets and fries.
This is also where we rarely hear questions like, “Is that a real fire?” “What are you going to do with that food? Is it real? Can I have some?”, “Are you hot in those clothes?”, etc. It is also where people come to learn, not to tell you how grandma did something in 1950 and erroneously think people lived, dressed, ate, and worked in the same way in 1776. City people could learn a lot from country people or from knowledgeable historians and there may be times coming when they will wish they had.