Friday, August 24, 2012

Historical Interpretation vs Reinactment

When I got ready to take the classes to join the Village's cast of characters, I was not sure if I was considered a volunteer actor, a re-inactor or just someone playing make-believe. As I learned in my classes in preparation, the appropriate term was First Person Interpretation. There are tons of articles, books and sites on the subject, but I wanted put up a quick list of the basic differences between the various types of folk you see in historical sites.


Generally, I’ve seen this very little, since actors usually portray a role with a general script or outline and have not done the research themselves in a lot of cases. This is not a very common situation as I have read.

Historical Re-enactor

The name basically explains the function. This person’s duty first and foremost is to re-enact history. Whether that be a specific event in time, like a certain Civil War battle or a specific person in time, their job is to portray an historical event or persona.

I’ve been told, though no experience personally, that at many camps where guests can visit a reenactment camp, there is no veering from the historically accurate moment. I have also heard that they generally don’t interact with “mundanes” or break character. While this is an experience that can illustrate a very specific time or person, it can be rather difficult to feel involved if you are not a costumed re-enactor yourself.

First Person Interpreter

This is a role that expects the interpreter to take on a persona, usually one they’ve created as a composite of first hand accounts from a chosen time period. Their function is to illustrate what a person of the time experienced and provide a more hands-on method of education. While their roles are more general, the interpreter has the ability to interact with guests, drawing them into the experience of living in the selected period.

Ideally, the interpreter will also not break “character” when interacting with the guests. But, education is key so it is occasionally the case where an interpreter is asked a question that can not be answered in the manner of the character. Involving visitors and bringing them into the moment is essential to the interpreter so welcoming visitors is crucial to their purpose.


Both the Re-enactor and the Interpreter are expected to do a great deal of research. It is quite more involved than “learning about X event”. Many of both groups study a great variety of topics pertaining to their period of choice. The purpose is to give the most authentic portrayal of character possible to achieve their goal of portraying history and educating.

For the interpreter first hand accounts are a great resource to the veracity of their roles. From personal correspondence, to news articles and interviews, they seek a first hand account of life from which to create their composite character and be fully emersed in the world around them.

I will get more into composite character creation in a later post.

But soon...PICTURES!!!

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