Re-Enacting as a research method for historical fiction authors

I have been trawling through old photos today to have a looksee at some of those gems which I took thinking, ‘I’ll write a blog post on this when I get home’ and never did, and I have found SO MANY.

Sharpe's Rifles | Historical Research for Authors | Philippa Jane Keyworth

My favourite moment – meeting the men who played alongside Sean Bean as Sharpe’s 95th Rifles!

These ones I didn’t really take just for a blog post, it was for myself to remember it all, but I thought as I looked back through them, ‘Why not post these?!’ They were taken at a re-enactment day which included re-enactors from the Norman period right up until the Vietnam War but the ones I’m showing you are mostly from the periods I’m interested in i.e. 18th and early 19th century!

Is Re-Enacting a useful research tool?

Purple Carrots! | Re-Enactment Historical Research for Authors | Philippa Jane Keyworth

Purple carrots! Re-Enactors are very careful to be as authentic as possible, often researching primary sources themselves

Now, there is an academic debate on whether re-enacting enables or hinders the production of academic research – I settle on the side that it enables. I really do think that if you try to do something the way they did it in the past it can inform your understanding of the past providing you with real insight. In fact, a good friend of mine, M.M. Bennetts, advocated practical research for historical fiction authors. How else was one to know how it felt to be laced into a corset? Or to tie a cravat? To fence? Or to shoot a musket? All things, I hasten to add, which M.M. did.

So, I ended up popping along to this event with her and her lovely daughters quite some years ago now, and you may even see me trying to hold a musket straight (they are bally heavy I tell you!)…

In the first photo I was just double checking which end was the pointy one…the musket was definitely an interesting one. It was as big as me! I’m not that tall, but still, it was honestly almost my height and it weighed a ton – just think of young lads enlisting having to load and hold one of those up to face the French. (You can tell these photos are REALLY OLD because I have reddish hair which was years ago – it’s all blond these days).

Napoleonic Wars | Re-Enactment Historical Research for Authors | Philippa Jane Keyworth

The chap who showed me the sword looked very spiffy I had to take a photo – he was in fact in charge of this particular regiment and a true gent

Making camp – they had a camp set up in which they were sleeping for the weekend-long event and it was from here that the troops set out for the battle re-enactments:

Napoleonic Wars | Re-Enactment Historical Research for Authors | Philippa Jane Keyworth

They were very well drilled and their uniforms spotless

Regency | Historical Research for Authors | Philippa Jane Keyworth

The officers’ wives in stark contrast to the rest of the women of the camp

Then came the fighting – a real sight let me tell you – and this was one of those great learning moments. I had learnt a little of the slowness of loading a musket from watching the Sharpe TV series, however, it wasn’t just the muskets which were slow. The whole pace of battle was totally different to what I thought. It isn’t like movies where everything is going off at once, but neither is it lethargic, it’s just different and I’m thankful I went to this event to find out. If you’re interested you should go to one too and support these great guys who do it all for fun!

 

Why Re-Enactors are great people

All the re-enactors I met were SO FRIENDLY and willing to SHARE their knowledge which is just wonderful as an author. There’s nothing more pleasing and exciting then having someone explains historical things to you with an avidness that matches your own!

The battles were great – firing muskets and canon and manoeuvring. All fab.

Ready. Aim. Fire

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Napoleonic Wars | Re-Enactment Historical Research for Authors | Philippa Jane Keyworth

The French won the particular altercation I was watching – it was rather disheartening – however, I was assured that the British would be winning later in the day!

This was a really useful day for me as an author – not to mention so much fun – I highly recommend this as a way to research your books if you’re an author or historical fiction lover!

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Re-Enacting as a research method for historical fiction authors

  1. Rowenna

    As a reenactor myself(American Revolution/War of Independence, take your pick on terminology), I couldn’t agree more! I’ve actually found errors in academic work stemming from misunderstanding of the minutiae–the practical, how-does-it-work information that good living history can teach. Of course, there are poor practitioners of any methodology, reenacting being no exception. There is a bit of caveat emptor here–some reenactors do disseminate information that is incorrect (whether misinformation, misplaced rememberings, or all-out historical myth), and so if you’re bent on accuracy, fact-checking can be necessary. Overall, however, I’ve found my forays into “experimental archaeology” useful on academic and literary fronts!

    For what it’s worth–visiting and talking to reenactors is a great boon, but if you want to get even more hands-on, many groups do welcome guests and/or new recruits. Most organizations have webpages where you can dig up info on how to give the hobby a try. If you’re ever in the Midwestern US, look me up and come guest with us! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Philippa Jane Keyworth Post author

      Thank you Rowenna for your lovely and thoughtful comments. All your points are so valid and I agree – living history is a very worthwhile practice. I do avidly follow your dress-making exploits so I will certainly look you up when I’m in the mid-west US!

      Reply

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