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Jan 27, 2004 10:37 pm


In the current New Yorker, Josh Marshall has a thoughtful essay, "Power Rangers", about empire, the American empire in particular. It ends with a suggestive analogy.

My impression is that historians tend to shy away from re-enactment for lots of good reasons, personal reticence, doubts about its capacity to re-enact authentically, and qualms about re-enactment's most popular forms, including Civil War engagements. Some Confederates are best kept in the attic.
But on Friday and Saturday, 6-7 February 2004, fifteen prominent historians will gather at Oberlin, Ohio, to re-enact"The Lane Debates: The Making of Radical Abolition and the Oberlin Commitment to Racial Egalitarianism." In full costume, they will re-enact the historic debates over slavery, colonization, immediatism, and black rights that took place at Cincinnati's Lane Seminary in February 1834 and at Oberlin College in February 1835. The participants include Robert Abzug, Hugh Davis, Nancy S. Dye, Douglas Egerton, Robert Forbes, Robert Hall, Scott Hancock, Peter Hinks, Gary Kornblith, Carol Lasser, Richard Newman, John Quist, John Stauffer, and James Brewer Stewart.
The event is free and open to the public. It will be held at historic First Church (Charles Grandison Finney's church) in Oberlin on Friday, 9-5, and Saturday, 9-3. For more information, go here and click on The Lane Debates. Everyone is invited to attend. Thanks to Gary Kornblith and H-Slavery for the notice.

In a surprise development, Emory University faculty members may vote on 28 January on a motion to revoke a portion of the university's speech code which authorizes sanctions against individuals or departments for offensive speech. The university's code has faced student and faculty challenges to it in the past, but the current motion grows out of sanctions against the anthropology department and anthropology professor Carol Worthman for her reference to fellow biological anthropologists as"niggers in a woodpile." For more on the story, see: the Emory Wheel and Erin O'Connor's Critical Mass.

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Erin O'Connor - 1/30/2004

Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic is an excellent account of the lively contemporary culture of Civil War re-enactment. Highly recommended.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/30/2004

Van, It was late in her career and an uncharacteristic error of judgment on her part: "My husband, Franklin, and I always used Blue Bonnet Margarine." It ain't much in print, you gotta hear it to get the full effect.

Van L. Hayhow - 1/29/2004

Really? Eleonor Roosevelt did a commercial? I'm afraid that's before my time. How did it go?

Ophelia Benson - 1/27/2004

Well that's just rilly interesting. It links up with that discussion of narrative and empathy a week or two ago. It's odd...but I think there is something about the act of acting, of pretending, of playing a part - that does somehow boost the imagination into overdrive. That one thinks of things in playing a character that one wouldn't think of otherwise. Just a result of focused attention, maybe, or that plus using the imagination more actively than one normally does.

I spent a lot of my childhood doing that, as a matter of fact. Playing the Little House books, various children's biographies of people like Edison, Lincoln...very nerdy, very low-tech, and huge fun. I always feel sorry for children who don't get to do things like that - who are so over-scheduled that it doesn't even occur to them to do things like that.

Timothy James Burke - 1/27/2004

I think re-enactment is a fascinating and important form of "doing history" that has a lot to offer scholarly historians--I'm working (slowly) on some essays on this and some related issues about the ways some people do the work of history through experience rather than formal knowledge.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/27/2004

Yes, re-enactment is I think a way of "doing history" that doesn't ordinarily get much discussion among historians. Yet, I suspect that a good bit of it goes on rather informally. I recall a large male department chairman who was reputed to do a very good Queen Victoria for his classes and I do a right good imitation of Eleanor Roosevelt's commercial for Blue Bonnet Margarine, myself.

Ophelia Benson - 1/27/2004

That sounds very interesting. If I were anywhere near Oberlin I would go. But then I'm a bit of a sucker for at least some kinds of re-enactments. Not battle ones, because military history bores me into fits (and I tend to think the people who are fascinated by it are interested in the military bit rather than the history bit), but intellectual ones, idea ones. Clay Jenkinson's Jefferson act, for example. What's involved in staying in character while answering unplanned questions from an audience - keeping the language as close to right as possible as well as the substance.