|The author reenacting the European Seven Years War in the United States|
This post has been bouncing around in my head for some time, brought to the fore by planning a European Seven Years War event at a historic site in Virginia next year. Since I began reenacting the European Seven Years War in the United States during 2015, I have seen and heard a number of criticisms of this practice. I want to take a moment today to respond to these criticisms: first by answering five common criticisms, and then by giving five reasons I believe that it is useful, and even important, to reenact the European portion of this conflict in North America. As a Ph.D candidate in who studies this era, and a reenactor who has developed a number of impressions between 1740-1789, I have a great deal of interest in this topic.
Five Common Criticisms:
1. Reenacting the European Seven Years War is wrong in North America, because the fighting in that part of the conflict took place in Europe. This same criticism could be leveled against reenacting World War One, or World War Two in North America. No shots were fired in anger during those conflicts by large formations of troops in North America. By this logic, the only appropriate reenactments should be training exercises and prisoner of war camps. Although I am not personally involved in the reenacting of either of those conflicts, I believe that events like Newville are immensely useful and enjoyable for those who take part. Beyond this, Europeans frequently reenact wars which occurred in North America: such as the American Civil War, or American War of Independence.
|A recreated Prussian drummer from Prussian IR 13|
3. Reenactors who reenact the European Seven Years War in North America aren't Progressives/Harcores
As a historian of the Seven Years War era who identifies as a progressive reenactor, (a term which means a serious reenactor, for all you non-reenactors reading this) I find this criticism inane. Among those who reenact the European Seven Years in the United States, there are individuals who have horrible commitments to material culture, and those who take their responsibilities to the past as seriously as the most serious progressives in reenacting the French and Indian War or the American War of Independence. There are a range of commitments, just like in every other era and genre of reenacting. (I mean, have you seen the state of F&I reenacting?)
Secondly, most of the reenactors who are interested in European reenacting before 1789 have their work cut out for them. In order to reenact these impressions well, these reenactors take on the challenge of having to research in one or more languages other than English in order to properly understand their impression. I know a reenactor who has acquired a complete set of Hans Bleckwenn's 30+ volume study of the material culture of eighteenth-century Prussia. A commitment to research is something that occurs on a individual/unit wide level, it is rarely enforced by an umbrella organization, and that is true in all eighteenth-century reenacting I have taken part in.
|A Gemeine of Prussian IR 13 (Itzenplitz)|
4. Reenactors of the European Seven Years War in North America aren't committed to portraying history responsibly, or is just plain silly.
As a reenactor of the Seven Years War, I have spent dozens of hours hand-sewing reproduction clothing, and hundreds (and hundreds, and hundreds) of dollars acquiring accurate accoutrements and weapons. From drafting gaiter patterns to dealing with The Rifle Shoppe, I pursue my hobby as seriously as anyone in eighteenth-century reenacting. Also, I "do history" for a living, so I do have a genuine interest in portraying the past in a responsible manner. If you want to reenact the European Seven Years War in North America, you need to take extra care to select sites and events which are appropriate for your impression.
On the point of sillyness, far be it from me to criticize any group of people who want to spend their weekends camping in handsewn wool clothing firing blank ammunition at other groups of campers, but when it is done well (see below), it is no more or less "silly" than any other form of reenacting.
5. The European Seven Years War isn't really related to the History of the United States.
Nothing could be further from the truth. While FM Leopold von Daun or Frederick II of Prussia might not be household names in the United States, the Seven Years War had a wide impact on the modern world, and the United States. The debt created by the war helped cause the American and French Revolutions, gave the British control of Canada and India, and created the possibility of a North German center of gravity in the Holy Roman Empire. Figures like Frederick William de Steuben and Frederick de Wotdke who traveled to fight for the United States had previously served on these European battlefields. Beyond this, knowing a bit of history outside the history of the United States might not be a bad thing.
|A Prussian Musket from the era of Frederick William I on display at Fort Ligonier|
Five Reasons why you should reenact the European Seven Years War in North America
1. The Seven Years War was a global war. There are museums relevant to the history of the European Seven Years War in North America. Museums such as the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, VA, Fort Ticonderoga, and Fort Ligonier have objects or collections relevant to the history of the European Seven Years War. When these sites want to emphasize those collections or objects, having volunteers with a high standard of material culture benefits both the museum and the visitors. Not all of these museums accept the European Seven Years War reenacting, but importantly, some do. European Seven Years War reenactors have been invited such as Fort Ligonier, where they have developed a positive working relationship with the site staff. Reenacting this part of the war assists these museums by lighting specific portions of their collections, and by driving up attendance numbers with events.
|An Early Modern Germanic Farm House at the Frontier Culture Museum|
2. Portraying different theaters of a global war provides a transnational perspective, which is helpful for addressing myths which develop around specific national experiences.
Understanding the Seven Years War and American War of Independence through the lens of a particular national experience can lead to the public missing the wider story of a war, or believing various local myths which develop about the nature of a conflict. Understanding the broader context of a war allows for the public to see the way in which the eighteenth-century world was globalized. The story of the Seven Years War is not an exclusive European, North America, or even Asian story, but was born out of all of these places. By reenacting the European (and Asian) portions of the Seven Years War in North America, the wider war is presented to the public.
Check the index of the Bouquet Papers for Prussia
or Frederick II, sometime.
4. Developing an understanding of the European Theater of War assists in understanding the specific context of war in North America.
As a reenactor with a foot in multiple theaters of the Seven Years War, and American War of Independence, I believe that my understanding of the material culture of the European Seven Years War brings aspects of the American War of Independence and French and Indian War into clearer focus. Reading descriptions of material culture in Central Europe is helpful in understanding the context that many French and Indian War soldiers came from. Most of the soldiers of the 60th Regiment of Foot during the French and Indian War, for example, were born in the 1730s in Central Europe. Understanding the European context of their experience (say, by reading memoirs of European soldiers drawn from similar regions) allows you to better understand their origins and motivations.
The author and Dr. Thomasz Karpinski at a
reenactment in Germany
5. Reenacting the European Seven Years War in North America makes you a part of an international community of reenactors.
Joining the community of European Seven Years War reenactors puts you in contact with people from across the Atlantic World who are interested in the same topic. In the process of working on my Seven Years War impression, I have met and worked with reenactors from Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Russia, and the Netherlands. These individuals add immensely to your understanding of the period, as well as just being enjoyable friends. I have had the wonderful experience of communicating with serious reenactors from all over Europe, as a result of my decision to reenact the European Seven Years War. In the process, I often get questions regarding warfare in North America. Who knows, perhaps your reenacting in North America will someday translate to attending European events.
|A recreated Austrian officer from IR 4 (Teutschmeister)|
If you are going to reenact the European Seven Years War in North America you should take the time to do it well.
I would argue that like any type of reenacting, you should attempt to tailor your impression to fulfill a specific goal. Be intentional with how you design your kit, seek out help to make your impression the highest quality possible, and most importantly, choose when and where you choose to reenact the Seven Years War with care. It would be best to reenact this conflict at museums and historic which invite you to do so, at events specifically designed to explain the nature of the global conflict to the public, or at immersion events where the public is not present. It is important to keep in mind that some people in reenacting will react negatively to what you are doing. Don't mind them, and be confident in your decision to do the impression well.
Finally, for those of you reading this post who disagree with this practice, I hope I have at least explained some of our rationale for pursuing this part of the hobby. At the end of the day, you may not agree with my points, and that is alright. European Seven Years War reenacting in North America is here to stay, and I hope we can coexist is this crazy hobby.
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