Authenticity (reenactment)

In historical reenactment, authenticity (sometimes referred to as the A-factor or simply A) is a measure of how close an item, prop, action, weapon, or custom is, to what would actually have been used or done in the time period being depicted.

For example, in medieval reenactment cotton would be considered an "inauthentic" material (opposed to wool or linen, for example), although it would be deemed "authentic" in reenactment of certain modern periods and events, such as the American Civil War or World War 2. The same is true for the various types of woods, metals, or artificial materials such as plastic.

Likewise the use of pop culture references and talking about modern events or objects (e.g. wrist watches or mobile phones) is often regarded as very inauthentic.

Generally, the ratio of events and groups enforcing strict authenticity to those permitting (limited) inauthenticity among the participating reenactors is estimated to be half-half, i.e. there are approximately as many groups enforcing historical accuracy as there are permitting a more liberal use of the term "authentic".This does, however, vary from country to country.

The historical persona

In order to make their equipment authentic, a reenactor first has to decide time period, location and position in society. The collection of clothing and equipment is typically called a "kit" and the fictional alter ego is called a "persona" or "character".

Sometimes when a person has interests that a single persona can't reasonably encompass, for the sake of being authentic, they might create more than one persona. For example, someone might be interested in Norse ("Viking") cultures but also be interested in economics and social history that led to the Landsknecht, might create two separate persona and kits.

Some people choose the persona they will reenact according to which hobby they are feeling like working on (if you feel like doing some metalworking, you're probably not going to choose the 14th century courtly kit for that day), setting of the reenactment, or the weather (cultures that wore a lot of wool and fur are more popular to reenact in winter, than in August). Someone who doesn't care about authenticity simply doesn't bother.

Worse, some reenactors make up unlikely histories for their persona in an attempt to make them "interesting" as opposed to typical.

Either kind often regards the other as more like role playing game/role players (as opposed to a "serious" reenactors), either because of the strongly defined persona or because of the disrespect for historical accuracy due to the "absence" of the same.

The quest for authenticity

Since authenticity of certain equipment will vary between periods and regions (plate armour would be historically inappropriate for Vikings) it is a difficult task to ensure that an entire set or "kit" of clothing and gear is authentic for the historical persona created by the reenactor.

Authenticity can be applied to other things, for example a card game, song, or military tactic would be authentic if known to be popular during the correct period.

The quest for authentic clothes and equipment often requires archaeological evidence and other historical sources which reveal what was in use at the time. In this way, a reenactor may sometimes become a scholar of history in order to accurately create their persona.

Enforcement of authenticity

The strictness with which authenticity is enforced varies wildly between the various events and groups. While some consider only perfect historical verifiability authentic enough and ban all inauthentic gear and behaviour from reenactment activities, others permit out-of-period materials and equipment, often with the only restriction that "it has to look authentic from 10 meters away" (i.e. from the audience's perspective).

Similarly, many groups will permit equipment combined from a wider range of centuries than what could be considered historically accurate (e.g. 12th century soldiers wearing barbute helmets). This is often caused by safety rules requiring the use of protective gauntlets and helmets even when this interferes with the historical personas or the represented period as a whole.

In addition to mixing multiple centuries of a general period in a single event (usually in order to ensure a larger number of participating reenactors), some events feature more than a single period, especially if the event is strongly focusing on combat displays or battles. In such cases it is not unusual that the same reenactor will participate in more than one show, sometimes with only slightly altered gear (depending on how strictly authenticity is enforced).A typical example would be a "clankie" (a reenactor in full plate armour) removing his armour, picking up a round shield and participating in a Dark Age battle.

Since many groups, especially in medieval reenactment, heavily promote the use of "market speech", i.e. talking in a way that sounds appropriate for the represented period, inauthentic equipment and behaviour is often talked about with the use of descriptive phrases like "pocket dragon" (for a lighter or box of matches) and "horseless carriage" (for a car or other engine powered vehicle) to circumvent strict enforcement of authentic speech.

Other ways to circumvent the need for authentic equipment include "hiding" plastic bottles (usually by wrapping them in cloths or furs), using "bindings" (long straps of cloth or fur) to make inauthentic footgear look more adequate or simply hiding coolboxes inside wooden chests.

For safety and comfort, authenticity is usually restricted to designated public areas, thus allowing for the use of portable toilets and inauthentic tenting by reenactors outside these areas.

A typical issue among strictly authentic reenactors is the inclusion of female combatants as this is a clash between what can be considered authentic (as there were no official female combatants in most periods represented by reenactors today) and modern concepts of gender equality.

Similarly some groups enforce authentic hairstyles (e.g. 20th century soldiers are usually not expected to wear long hair or beards) and often (inauthentic) jewelry is not permitted -- although in combat reenactment this is often more of a safety issue than a question of authenticity.

See also

* Living history
* Farb (reenactment)

External links

* [http://www.canadiansoldiers.com/mediawiki-1.5.5/index.php?title=Farb canadiansoldiers.com article on 'farbs']
* [http://www.theyoungcampaigner.com/ The Young Campaigner - A resource for young people interested in learning more about reenacting]


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