The Battle of Chickamauga at 150 and Teaching with Civil War Reenactments

11 Oct

Historian Lisa Clark Diller raises some very interesting questions after taking her college students to view a reenactment of the Battle of Chickamauga:

I can guess why the people participating might be enjoying themselves. I can see why communities might want to watch them. But when it comes to serving the goals of education—what is going on here?  I am specifically thinking about the “so what?” of history.  I quizzed my students before and after the event regarding what they thought this experience revealed of the “so what?” of historical thinking and skill-building.  Here are some of their comments:


1. Reenactments remind people who live in the area—and even those who don’t attend and only see advertisements—that these events happened.  (The pessimism/reality check of my students regarding popular historical literacy was startling.)

2. The material culture of the past is the big thing these living history/re-enactments provide.  It was sobering to my students to think of the actual situation of people who lived/fought in the nineteenth century.  It made them more sympathetic to people whose ideas they encounter in texts.

3. Patriotism was re-enforced.  We had a conversation about what kind of patriotism reenacting battles might be emphasizing, but I’ll leave that conversation to the reader’s imagination.

4. War is ugly.  They didn’t seem to think that this would mean we would no longer fight wars, but they liked the reminder that this isn’t something glorious. (Still, during this particular reenactment, it didn’t seem that anyone felt the need to portray death—there was a striking lack of loss among the ranks as they advanced and retreated).

You can read her entire post at the Historical Society here:

The Historical Society: The Battle of Chickamauga at 150 and Teaching with Civil War Reenactments.

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