Touching the Past: Materializing Time in Traumatic “Living History” Reenactments

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

Anthropology and Museum Studies

Publication Date

Spring 2013


Many living history reenactors speak of “touching the past” in their performances. In nearly all instances, these profound experiences of intimate traffic with previous epochs and persons are brought about not through physical contact with historical artifacts but through deployments of replicas and props, including recently produced adornment, weaponry, vehicles, and tools. This essay explores the roles and functions of material reproductions or substitutes of historic artifacts in reenactment performances, and how these object oriented practices often bring about powerful sensations of historic au thenticity on the part of reenactors and their audiences. I give particular attention to the use of physical objects by those who seek to reenact traumatic events and experiences related to American histories of racial injustice, including experiences of slavery and Jim Crow racial violence.


This article was originally published in Signs and Society. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Signs and Society


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