Literature Review Proposal

 Since the early 1960’s the phenomenon of men and women dressing up as soldiers and civilians of the 1860’s has existed in American society and with the sesquicentennial of the Civil War in progress, and with it countless reenactors staging battles and encampments, the question must be asked: what are the origins of reenacting and how do reenactors and reenactments contribute to the memory of the Civil War?  This paper will review a variety of sources and will argue that the consensus amongst a majority of scholars and journalists is that reenacting is a hobby with limited value in understanding the Civil War’s broader issues and does little to dispel myths and answer the deeper questions about the wars meaning. However, the consensus amongst reenactors themselves is that they are honoring the memory of the conflict, bringing attention to the everyday lives of historical people, and ensuring that the conflict remains in public attention.

One of the most important scholarly sources this paper will utilize is Colleen Marquis’s article “A History of History: The Origins of War Re-enacting in America”. This source provides valuable insight into the origins of re-enacting and argues that the veterans’ encampments of the turn of the century were the precursors to the reenactments that go on today.  Another important source is Rory Turner’s article “Bloodless battles: the Civil War reenacted” in which he argues that while there is some value to reenacting, its greatest weakness is that it does not question the traditional understandings of the war and does not comment on the meaning or causes of the war.  In other words it simply reinforces sometimes revisionist, cultural remembrances of the war.  Other sources such as Jim Cullen’s book The Civil war in Popular Culture: A Reusable past and Randal Allred’s “Catharsis, revision, and re-enactment: negotiating the meaning of the American Civil War” acknowledge the amateur history and revision of the reenacting but believe the value in the practice lies in igniting public interest through visual entertainment.


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