Check out Mark Auslander‘s new article “Touching the Past: Materializing Time in Traumatic “Living History” Reenactments” in the open access journal Signs and Society.
Auslander’s article includes a discussion of the reenacted slave auction in the March 22, 1865 Charleston emancipation procession.
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 authenticity on the part of reenactors and their audiences. Auslander gives 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.