Opinion: In defense of Non-Combat Living History
Please note that the commentary herein is the opinion of an individual contributor and does not necessary represent the collective opinion or position held by the Thegns of Mercia organisation.
On a recent weekend (February 2015) we had the pleasure of visiting the famous Jorvik Viking Festival in York; a unique annual event which brings together diverse groups of reenactors, living-historians, craftspeople, traders and members of the public from across Britain and elsewhere, all united by an interest in the early Medieval period. Jorvik, in particular, is a very 'social' event providing an opportunity for like-minded but geographically dispersed people within what could be called the 'Dark-Age reenactment community' to meet and socialize.
Such gatherings are usually very good natured but, inevitably, one of the common topics of discussion is the relative accuracy, legitimacy or validity of different groups' approaches. Such comparisons offer valuable opportunities for groups to learn from each other and, as long as those involved remain fair-minded and accepting of constructive criticism, are arguably good for all involved.
It was interesting this year that, in conversation with various participants, a common topic of discussion was the legitimacy/validity (or lack thereof) of non-combat living history (as regards the Viking Age or Early Medieval period). In truth I found it somewhat bewildering to see many reenactors challenge the legitimacy of groups which don't focus on, or participate in combat, given that, for my part, I had thought the value of such groups and their contributions were self evident. I was all the more surprised to hear from a number of my colleagues, in subsequent discussion, that they had encountered fellow living historians who had expressed this view.
The challenge can be divided into two: first, that non-combat living historians somehow lack legitimacy or validity, and second, more specifically, that 'living historians' playing the role of warriors, who do not themselves participate in combat reenactment, lack legitimacy or validity.
Arguably, such challenges are most easily rebutted by pointing out that it is up to clients to decide what is legitimate. Non-combat groups do not struggle to find meaningful work.
Nevertheless, as a relatively well-fed, 5ft9 pain-averse living historian with little interest in physical violence, I thought I might use this soapbox to speak up for my kind.