Stepping Back in Time. Living History and Other Performative Approaches to History in Central and South-Eastern Europe
This article is part of the TRAFO series „Emerging Topics – Insights from behind the scenes“ Today, we put the spotlight on the workshop “Stepping Back in Time: Living History and Other Performative Approaches to History in Central and South-Eastern Europe”, which will take place on February 20–21, 2017 at the German Historical Institute, Warsaw.
The past is consumed and appropriated by an immense number of people. The forms in which history is “brought to life” in various popular contexts differ widely, though most of them have one feature in common: they promise the distribution of knowledge via entertainment. However, research on popular representations of historical culture has so far been confined to genres similar to academic writing. Over the last few years, textbooks, historical novels, as well as museums have attracted much attention of historians. In the workshop „Stepping Back in Time“ we want to shift the attention towards a less researched phenomenon, to bodily experiences and subjective engagement, to the approach in history Vanessa Agnew has termed the “affective turn”.
In the field of history terms such as “living history,” “doing history” and „reenactment” have been established to characterize the experiential component of various practices of reviving, restaging and appropriating events from the past in the present. The phenomena in question include battle reenactments and reconstructions of the past in museums, computer games and theme-based tourist attractions. However, precise definitions and exact terminological distinctions have yet to be established. One reason for the problem of defining these areas might be that most of these phenomena are at the interface between science, practical applications, and the entertainment industry. (Re)living history is distinct from academic research in its performative and affective elements. These differences make it challenging for historiography to describe and analyze performative approaches to the past.
While research into the phenomena of living history has spread beyond the English-speaking world to include Western and Central Europe, it is still in its infancy in East-Central and Southeastern Europe. Our workshop takes this as its starting point, inquiring into the specific forms of living history in this particular region. Which protagonists, groups and institutions are involved? What motivates them? Are there established structures, and how is living history financed? Additionally, comparative and transregional approaches are more than welcome: Are there differences between the individual countries and the historical regions in terms of popularity, functions, structures or historical contents? And if so, what are the reasons for this?
One of the central categories both for living history interpreters and researchers seems to be “authenticity”. In our workshop in Warsaw we hope to study more closely the role that the “originality” of places and objects plays. Moreover, we are interested in the general claims and strategies of authentication evident in the different forms of living history. How important are the confirmation of preconceived notions and the satisfaction of certain expectations? To what extent do the participants reflect and comment on the structural character of their reenactments?
By inviting Andreas Körber, a scholar of history didactics, we also aim to raise questions regarding historical learning via performative practices. During the workshop, we want to discuss how the appropriation of history through body-related reenactments differs in comparison to other, more cognitive processes of historical learning: Can living history be understood as a new form of communicating knowledge and participation? Is the establishment of living history accompanied by a democratization of approaches to history? What is the relationship between participants/producers and audience/recipients?
Last but not least we hope to discuss the varying methodological approaches to this field. Can we find a common denominator for the analytical and research methods from ethnology, anthropology, theater studies? To what extent can historical methods make a contribution to an investigation of living history? The workshop “Stepping Back in Time. Living History and Other Performative Approaches to History in Central and South-Eastern Europe” will follow these questions. Schedule and program of the event can be found here (PDF).
By Sabine Stach.
You can now find a conference report of the workshop here!
Citation: Sabine Stach, Stepping Back in Time. Living History and Other Performative Approaches to History in Central and South-Eastern Europe, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 17.02.2017, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/5907