Saturday, March 30, 2024

A Response to "Tales from the Brown Side"

   Well, it would seem that the days of the forum wars are still alive, but they've changed venues. I was recently made aware of a post that was made in a certain Facebook group that I will leave unnamed, but suffice to say made me feel attacked. As a "younger friend", I felt it my duty to respond to some of the things in this post that was entitled "Tales from the Brown Side", a sort of defense of 1990s reenacting and culture. 

 Before I take issue with the original post, I want to clear up a few things. I have an incredible amount of respect for Mark Baker and the many others who pushed this hobby forward. My own father was one of them. He never went in for the walnut dye, but he was part of the 80s and 90s reenacting scene and much of what he did then was pretty progressive for its time. I was born into this hobby. I look at the stuff I was wearing in the 2000s with horror, but also with great nostalgia! It was an incredible time in this hobby. Truly. I watch Last of the Mohicans on the regular and I'm instantly transported to those times as a young person falling in love with history and with living history. So with all of that said, I would now like to discuss what I see as problematic with the claims being made. I'll go roughly line by line. 

Okay, I'm just going to say it. I'm personally tired of hearing about how bad reenactors in the 1990s were and how many research atrocities were "committed as if they were willful acts against humanity.

 While I understand there are some strongly worded critiques of 1990s reenacting, I don't think any of us are equating it as willful acts against humanity. Rather, why would anyone want to go back to doing it that way when so much research has come to light. 

Some of our younger friends need to remember that we lived in "a time before the internet" One must remember we didn't have the interwebs to hash out any of this and relied on dog-eared xeroxes passed hand over hand, rare books, "Books of Buckskinning,"On the Trail," and "Muzzleloader" magazines.

 I remember this time, and yes, things were much more limited. But I'm always struck at how much WAS available and how much of it was simply ignored. A good example is Mark Baker having access to the Bayton, Wharton and Morgans papers, yet ignoring the purchase lists. And that's not a dig at Mark Baker, I just think his priorities were different. 5 people could read the same document and each will come away having noticed something different. This is why the consensus of multiple researchers is so important. 

The accusation of the existence of a 1990s "Longhunter uniform in walnut" is as valid as it ever was, including the current trend. It's clear to me a new one has taken its place, derived from some wholesome and some faulty historical research methods. Mostly faulty.

 Im not sure what trend he's talking about but I think I do. However, I see so much diversity in outfits now, more than what I remember seeing in the 90s and 00s at Manskers Station. Lots of color, lots of variations of garments. I think it's great. Faulty research methods? Have you read Neal Hursts paper on hunting shirts?

I remember the excitement of finding a new artifact, drawing, or first-hand account to better my impression. Sure, I too ended up looking like Daniel Day for a while, or Mark, but it was all part of evolution. I was always mentored, always improving, always encouraged.

 This is a common sentiment amongst people who tend to glorify the 90s. The 'always improving' idea. While we should always be improving, this just seems to counter his point. He's basically admitting that we are correct in our assessment, and while he's saying he improved, that might be fine for him, but most people didn't and willfully ignored loads of great research. "Well that was before the internet" is said by guys who mostly still dress that way. Imagine if your doctor was like "Yeah, but that was before anesthesia, now bite on this" as you try to explain that new techniques have been discovered and then he proceeded to operate on you. Just because something was done in the 90s at Manskers Station with good intentions doesn't mean that critiques of it aren't warranted. 

I'm not claiming that the new look is terribly wrong, but just as in the "days of walnuts," there is a new generational "look" appearing. This look seems to me to be derived from largely late-war military garments that appear as a few extant examples, and first-hand Revolutionary War military accounts. In short, much of the regional, cultural, and vocational context is missing or extrapolated as justifications, where clearl more research is needed. Some of it is ignored.

The focus of the hobby seems to also have swung to bespoke clothes/gear, over experimental archaeology, learning the crafts, and skills practice. Hang about the fort, over application of colonial woods craft. I love me some fine gear, lord knows I've spent a fortune on it. I love a good event and fine museum interpretation and historic sites. Don't we all??? So why crap on those who came before you? Many wouldn't be here if it wasn't for some of us doing the preliminary research. Yeah, things can improve and always do, when this many people are passionate about something.

 The "new look" is simply what happens when more information becomes available and more research is put together to form a consensus. It looks "uniform" because for most of human history this is how people dressed, uniformly. While there was plenty of variety on the frontier, the goal is typically to do the most common things while leaving the one off or odd impressions alone as to not start trends that never existed historically. Again, I think the hobby has never looked more diverse. 

 As far as the focus of the hobby, well, in the 18th century items were bespoke primarily with some mass production on a small scale. I'm not sure what events you are attending where bespoke clothing and gear is being geeked out over while we just hang around the fort vs the experimental and skills aspect. I do both and many many people do. Maybe they just aren't going to the tired old Market Faire/2 O'clock battle style events anymore. I don't know. 

 He ends the post talking about how in the good old days things were a tad nicer. I'm assuming he means more open, polite etc. I don't think it was, we just didn't have the Internet to platform every person with any opinion. 

My conclusion is this. The hobby has progressed leaps and bounds since the 1990s. Nobody I know that writes about this is knocking what was done then and most of them, like me has a great nostalgia and respect for it. They just don't want to see it continuing to be done when there are so much better options available today. They want to save people the trouble, spending money on gear they don't need or that is just not correct to begin with. Are there jerks out there? Of course, on both sides. But one has to actually asses the information being shared, not the attitude of the person sharing it.  

And for fun, here I am in 2003 or 2004. Dressed terribly. Hat could be better, some kind of strange wool overshirt with my dads old waistcoat. Just all around not a good representation of anything really, but nobody would have questioned it at Manskers Station in 1999. 

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