Embodied Simulations of Pasts The Past as Present to WWII Reenactors and Living Historians

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Anne Brædder


Building on theories from body phenomenology, new materialism and a theoretical concept of historical consciousness, this article argues that embodied simulations of pasts used in reenactment and living history in open-air museums make reenactors and living historians experience pasts as present and make the actors reflect on pasts. This is an argument for saying that historical consciousness has an embodied dimension that has not yet been explored in depth because most research about how ordinary people use pasts exposes how pasts on a reflexive level are present and usable to them. But what the research does not reveal, is how pasts are also physically present to people and that this process of materialization also has an effect on how people interpret, use and reflect on pasts. Two different kinds of reenactment done in Denmark are analysed and compared to build up the argument: World War II reenactors and volunteering living historians in different open-air museums communicating life and work in Denmark in the 19-20thcentury. Firstly, the material space they do their simulations of pasts in is analysed; Secondly, the things they use to simulate the pasts; Thirdly, their embodiments and their bodies’ movements, senses, habits and performances in their simulations of pasts. In conclusion, it is discussed how the reenactors and the living historians reflect on pasts in their embodied simulations of pasts.

Reenactment; Living History; World War II; Historical consciousness; Embodiment; Materiality

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