THE NEWBY FILE
Written by a reenacting novice, for novices;
(therefore, not the Gospel!)
Starting something new is always a bit intimidating, especially when it involves large loud men with .75 caliber muskets. Eventually, however, you are able to learn enough and become credible enough to be able to intimidate others! Until that time, there are a few things that might make it a bit easier to reach that “Old-Timer” state of existence. I, of course, am still a very fresh fish, so some of the advice herein is subject to change as I learn more. Until that time, they are offered as a bit of friendly chatter about learning the ropes of a new hobby.
February 6, 2001
Tip Number One: If there is anything in this article that should be considered A RULE, rather than a tip, it is this: STUDY! READ! RESEARCH! Read everything you can lay your hands on. Make notes. Search out odd information. Look for historical material everywhere you can find it. Especially try to find actual letters and other correspondence written contemporaneously with the time period you are researching. Then, try to incorporate this knowledge into your impression. Doing proper research cannot be stressed enough, because nothing screws up you enjoyment of the reenacting/living history hobby more than a spectator or tourist pointing out the inaccuracies in your equipment, clothing or persona. I recall reading on one of the reenactor bulletin boards or websites how frustrated this man was that his unit had researched a particular cast iron cookpot and found one that fit the bill, only to have a visitor to the camp note that the maker’s modern trademark was visible. I was never quite sure if the guy was upset that he had not gone the extra step to remove the markings, or that someone outside the hobby called his hand on it. In the end, people may not notice that you have done something exactly right, but they will surely catch it if it’s wrong. BE PREPARED: READ!
Tip Number Two: Remember that even though you do read all of your books, there is always going to be somebody, somewhere, who knows more. Do not be put off, do not be discouraged, do not get all defensive if someone corrects you on something. Consider it, confirm what they told you by doing even more research, and incorporate it into your store of knowledge. Also, please keep in mind that the reenacting hobby is no different than the rest of the world, which means that some of these more knowledgeable folks may also be quite the horse’s ass. That does not give you the license to be a horse’s ass in return, or be a horse’s ass to people who may know less than you. Just grow up a little as a human and learn to deal civilly with such folks, and be a generous person yourself. Remember that a hobby (yes, even reenacting) is meant to be both fun for you, and fun for others to participate in or be around. Nobody likes a jerk, so don’t be one.
Tip Number Three: Never forget your priorities. Actually, this should be Tip One, but since it’s not, let me just repeat it again: Never forget your priorities. In the scale of what’s important in life, your hobbies should be down the list under your faith, your family, and your job (in that order). Everyone should want to be able to participate in all the activities of the unit, but realize that this is sometimes not possible due to conflicts with one of the more important things. Do not worry about it. Express your regrets that you are unable to go or do, and then go and do the more important things. Everyone else will understand.
Tip Number Four: Any hobby costs money. Reenacting is relatively expensive to do accurately, but it is not as expensive as, say, owning a Formula One race car team, sailing an America’s Cup boat, or throwing gold ingots from the top of the Chrysler Building. Do not spend more than you are able to afford. A basic suit of clothing (shirt, waistcoat, frock coat, breeches, stockings, shoes, and hat) can cost over $500, but with a little looking around on the various Internet reenacting bulletin boards, you can buy all this for much less. Also remember that bartering for clothing by doing stuff for other folks works quite well. I traded my services in assembling a musket, making a powder horn, and making a whisk and pick for having a great suit of clothes sewn for me. Just remember to follow Tip Number One, and do your research. Money goes away much quicker when have to buy something to replace the incorrect thing.
Tip Number Five: You are a 21st Century person. You are not a person from the 18th Century. There are certain things and experiences that just cannot be accurately or safely reproduced to allow you to fully understand, or be, a person as would have lived 225 years ago. Understand what these things are, and accept them. It does absolutely no good for folks to argue about this. It is much better to be aware of the differences, and be prepared to explain them to people who ask. You do not have to have smallpox, you do not have to have your amalgam-filled teeth pulled, you do not have to give up your heart medicine, you do not have to own (or be) slaves, you do not have to eat rotting meat, you do not have to die of lockjaw or pneumonia to provide a reasonable interpretation of an 18th Century inhabitant. On the other hand, just because we cannot accurately recreate everything, does not mean that we should not correct the things that are easily fixed. Desire to do as much as possible to make your impression better, don’t try to pretend that modern concerns don’t exist, and don’t let another person taunt your commitment to doing a better job because you insist on hand-sewn linen, but don’t have scurvy.
Tip Number Six: Have some respect for your forebears and for history. No matter if your impression is of a soldier or a laundress, be prepared to react as he or she would have. If, as a soldier, you wish to cut up and horse around in the ranks (most especially at a public event), be prepared to suffer the consequences; either publicly by being punished with a historically accurate punishment, or privately by being asked to no longer participate with the unit at events. It is in no one’s interest to try teach others about history by using the medium of reenactments without some commitment on everyone’s part to see that it is well done. This is especially true in camp, because there is live black powder around, sharp pointy things, hot things, and other things that can be very bad for you if you screw up by your stupidity. If you think of a scenario where you wish to show what would happen to a person who did misbehave, discuss it with the unit first, do it with a real reason in mind, and do it right. (See Tip Number Six—this does not mean actual hangings, firing squads, lashings, drownings, pressings, quarterings, brandings, beatings, tar-and-featherings, picketings, or other such delights. You know, something about lawyers and stuff…)
Tip Number Seven (and the last one, for now): Putting stuff on. If you are going to be out in the field all day, wearing all of your lovingly recreated junk, best be prepared to put it on right. There is a right way to do this so that you can get at what you need, when you need it. Also, nothing you have on should hang down past your butt. This gets tiresome as it beats against you all day. And, everything should be fairly well snugged down, again to keep it from swinging all over the place. Now, one way to think of the sequence of putting stuff on is as a series of layers, going from what’s most necessary on bottom to least on top. First thing on is your clothes. After you have managed that, the next thing to go on is the last thing a soldier would want to be without no matter what—your cartridge box or pouch. This is worn on the right hipbone. (Belly boxes go where the name implies, but on top of, not under it. Done-lop Disease, you know.) The next thing on is the thing you would want if you run out of cartridges, namely something to attach to your musket to stick people with—your bayonet (if you carry one). This is worn on the left side, with the crook facing in to keep it from hanging up on as much stuff. Next on would be your haversack, which hangs on your left hip. Not the back of the right thigh, or down under the right butt cheek. Again, the higher the better in order for it to carry well and be out of the way. At this point, some may wish to have a wide belt around your middle over the top of the haversack, bayonet carriage, and cartridge box straps. This helps keep things in place. Belt knives, hangers, swords, or tomahawks are hung from this belt. Next piece is your knapsack, snapsack or tumpline. The knapsack (if you carry one) should be snug and centered on your back. If you carry a snapsack or tumpline, it should be slung across the left shoulder and hang snugly in the small of your back on the right side. The very last thing to go on is your canteen. This makes removing your canteen to refill it much easier, because you don’t have to remove anything else.
Anyway, that’s all for now. I hope these few things are some help to my fellow newbies; let me know your thoughts. firstname.lastname@example.org