Geek of the Week: Historical Reenactment

Because I can’t help it, I’ll post my techno-geekie stuff first and then get to the meat of the matter:

Computers: Custom-built PC tower for graphic design and office stuff (Paint Shop Pro X, Firefox, Open Office).  HP laptop that doesn’t connect to the Internet for writing (Open Office).  Asus Eee for travel (Open Office).  Phone Tray software for screening calls (requires modem and Call Waiting – well worth it.)  Pandora for music (currently playing my Yule station).

Other toys: Kindle 2.  Verizon phone (not fancy, but new to me this year – yeah, I’m behind the curve on the phone stuff).  Clarinet, ballad harp, set of Egyptian neys, and Turkish baglama saz.

Holiday baking: Ginger cookies, cinnamon chile pecans, and currant scones.  Might get to plum pudding this year, or might not.

Me and my spouse as cannoneers at a public demonstration (I'm the beardless one on the left)

Me and my spouse as cannoneers at a public demonstration (I'm the beardless one on the left)

Historical Reenactment

I’ve been involved in historical reenactment since I discovered the Society for Creative Anachronism in my teens. I’ve done medieval/renaissance, Middle Eastern, English Regency, and Civil War reenactment, to name but a few.  For someone who loves history, nothing beats dressing up and diving in.

It was recreation at first, but when I began writing I quickly realized how valuable it was as research.  Looking at pictures is great, but if you don’t understand why a garment or an implement is made a certain way, try putting it on or using it and you’ll quickly figure it out.  If you’re going to write a scene about two people playing piquet, learning the game and playing a few hands will help you avoid blunders.  True, the only people who will notice such blunders are the very few readers who happen to know the game, but don’t you especially want to please those readers?

My Civil War reenactor buddies helped me enormously when I was researching Glorieta Pass and the other novels in my Far Western Civil War series.  They taught me how to load and fire a cannon, an activity that is strangely ballet-like.  By doing this I learned what it felt like, smelled like, and tasted like to be a cannoneer.  I learned by wearing a wool uniform how amazingly comfortable it can be in all kinds of weather (I don’t like wool).

Corsets are comfortable too, by the way, if they’re made and worn properly.  Dancing in a 50-pound gown without a corset to support your back—now that’s uncomfortable.

Reenactors often make their own clothing using period patterns and materials as close to authentic as possible.  Making period objects, art, crafts, cooking (try following a medieval recipe—or receipt, rather—hah!) and so on are part of the pleasure of historical reenactment.  They’re also a gold mine of information for the writer.

For any of you who will be in Albuquerque on January 26, I will be teaching whist at the St. James Tearoom.  Come have tea and learn the venerable ancestor of bridge.

Tune in next week when Jennifer Stevenson will geek out about roller derby! Wishing all our readers happy holidays and a bright new year—

Pati Nagle

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