I am a graduate student at Georgetown University who is writing a Master's thesis on Civil War reenacting. Several reenactors I've spoken with suggested that I reach out to this forum for help with my project. I have a survey online (click here to participate) and would really appreciate your opinions.
My study examines the tensions between "vernacular" and "academic" history. I have pasted a brief excerpt from my thesis proposal below and am happy to answer any further questions you all may have about the project, survey, or research methodology. You may contact me via private message, e-mail, or phone (see below). Also, this project has been approved by Georgetown's IRB board (number 2008-453 via IRB "C" for Social Sciences).
Excerpt from proposal:
The theoretical portion of this project will draw heavily on the literature surrounding cultural memory. In addition, scholarly accounts of reenactments and popular literature, like Tony Horowitz’s Confederates in the Attic and newspaper articles on reenactments, will be included to establish a more complete picture of the reenacting community.
Cullen’s The Civil War in Popular Culture argues that the history of memory is the study of the narratives of history in everyday use. While Civil War reenactors’ version of history is not explicitly present in everyday life, the community of reenactors continues to grow and is dedicated to learning more about the war. Studies of collective memory typically focus on cultural artifacts like Hollywood films, popular novels, or television shows. While these certainly play an important part in the initial recruitment and research of many reenactors, the events themselves create another important and widespread narrative of the American past. I suspect that any contemporary study of the Civil War memory in American life must account of the narratives of the Civil War that circulate among the reenacting community, especially because many reenactors expressly tie their involvement in the hobby to a desire to teach the “true history” of the Civil War to audiences.
Reenactors form a critical component of the pop culture narratives surrounding the war; they frequently serve as extras in films. At these events talk is often of the Civil War with each reenactor sharing his or her expertise, debating on which side a general folded his hat, or pouring over old photographs in books. The knowledge created here, outside the realm of academic history and only tangentially related to popular culture, has an impact on those popular cultural artifacts that call on their expertise and may attract more people to the hobby.