person delivery is a method of speaking with spectators and other
re-enactors as if you are the person and living during the 19th century.
You discuss situations which involve you in the present tense as opposed
to discussing the life of someone who lived during the times in third
person. Conversing in first person requires practice and its success
depends on several factors the most important of which is how well you've
researched your subject and the various aspects of his or her life. Since
spectators sometimes aren't prepared for such a delivery it can be helpful
to have another interpreter on hand to set the stage for you and to answer
questions so that you don't have to step outside your first person
perfect knowledge of the character is not mandatory when you first begin
to portray the character. You should feel more comfortable with it as you
continue to research the character and add to your general knowledge base.
A first person impression is like clothing and other aspects of living
history - it is progressive and if you are good at it, you will continue
to improve as you go along. Don't be discouraged if your first attempts
fall short of your expectations. The success of first person delivery can
also depend on the setting. Walking about a historical home in the
character of the owner or a family member can be relatively comfortable
for the living historian who has researched the home and the family who
lived there. Diaries, census records, land deeds, marriage records,
obituaries, and other such documents will help you piece together the
fabric of the family's life. You may become so familiar with them you
feel quite comfortable discussing situations which faced them. In such a
situation the setting itself helps spectators to get in the mindset of
having this person speak to them eliminating confusion about what is
the other hand first person delivery in a large re-enactment setting can
be more difficult because spectators have no preconceived idea of who you
are or what you're doing, and may not understand the theory of a first
person delivery. Unless done well it could be quite confusing to them.
This might be a situation in which a staged presentation might be better
understood by the spectators. Perhaps a recreation of the Lincoln Douglas
debates, a Temperance rally, or a Ladies Sewing Circle in which spectators
may view the activities taking place and the conversation associated with
such a setting might be more effective than an impromptu exchange in camp.
A first person
character may be a well known historical figure, an ancestor, or a
compilation of several different people from the period. It might be
totally fictional but based on numerous historical accounts. A general
character may allow for more adaptability of setting and conditions at
hand. Research is the key in either situation to a successful
interaction with spectators. Portraying a well known person from
history may bring you in contact with a spectator who knows as much
about your character as you do in which case it could put you in a
compromising situation if you aren't fully prepared.
Such portrayals may bring you in contact with a
descendant of the person you portray in which case you should be
prepared for your portrayal to be judged by the spectator's personal
knowledge. This should not intimidate anyone from doing such a
portrayal, however, it should encourage thorough research.
A first person
scenario may be a recreation of an actual event from history or it may
be a generalization based upon extensive research. An example of this
might be a group of soldiers sitting around camp conversing, perhaps
preparing an evening meal. Dialogue would be based on a thorough
understanding of the activities in that particular area, the unit's
participation, and what you imagine men would have discussed in that
given situation. Cemetery dramas in which
"ghosts" discuss with spectators a significant event in their life are
an excellent setting for first person portrayals. Guides are able to
relate to participants that actors are going to portray certain
individuals and thus allow the "ghosts" themselves to give their
presentation in beautiful first person delivery. A soldier might tell
how he died in battle, or a woman might tell of the grief she suffered
at the loss of a husband or child and the hardships she endured.
Your character should be able to converse with a
knowledge of general conditions of the period, hardships endured in a
particular area, etc. Socioeconomic and political factors effecting the
lives of your character are of prime importance.
persona for yourself early on can be of immense assistance to you in
choosing a wardrobe and other items used in your portrayal. A rural
Southern woman for example would dress far more plainly than a woman
portraying the wife of a politician or prominent businessman. A
specialized impression such as that of a minister or nun would carry
with it guidelines for clothing and should be adhered to as closely as
possible. Clothing should fit the persona you choose for yourself to
make your portrayal more believable. A rural working class couple would
not attend a ball in the height of fashion, nor would a wealthy couple
attend a social function in everyday clothing.
between camping wearing clothing from another era and being a
participating living historian is a thorough knowledge of the era and
the ability to relate it to spectators. Research is the key and you
should be able to adapt your character if your research reveals
information you did not know previously. If you portray someone who
died at age 25, for example, as you age too much to give a believable
portrayal of the character at that age consider assuming the identity of
the character's parent. The information will be the same, you will just
be delivering it in a slightly different manner.
diaries, books, census records, and other documents will give you a
basic understanding of what occupations and crafts were being pursued in
the 19th century. A living historian should have a purpose for being
and pursue it - people who lived during the 1860's did far more than
just sit around and so should you.
occupation or craft and use it to transform yourself into a character
from the past. Taking a 21st century interest and molding it to fit a
19th century standard can be the key to developing your first person
impression. For example: a woman who is an avid knitter might do some
research into period knitting patterns and knit socks for the soldiers
as part of her impression, or a man who is a knowledgeable gardener
might use that knowledge to grow heirloom vegetables, display these in
camp, and be able to discuss period agricultural methods.
A first person
persona doesn't evolve overnight, but you can expand it as you research
and learn more. Have fun with it and add to it as you go along.
list is given as a research guide for use in developing a first person
impression. These are not the only factors influencing your character's
life, but they are a good place to start. As you continue your research
you may well make discoveries which will allow you to add to your
knowledge base. Adaptability is the key so be prepared to remold your
character as needed to reflect the information you discover along the
1. Your name
2. Your Date of Birth
3. Your Place of Birth
4. Your parents' names
5. Your parents' places of birth
6. Your siblings
7. Your siblings' history - are they living or deceased, older or
younger, married or single, do they have children, are there any
distinguishing events which had an effect upon their lives? Do you have
brothers in the war?
1. Your place
2. Be able to relate what conditions are like in the area where you
3. Know the history of your town or city, county, and state
a. When was the town founded?
b. Who were some of its earliest settlers?
c. What are the economic conditions of your area?
d. What industry or trades were present?
e. What are the political ties of your area?
f. How did your area participate during the war - Union, Confederate,
g. Were there outstanding events in your area your
character would be aware of?
4. Who are the prominent citizens in the area you call home?
5. Know the socioeconomic conditions for your area. Was it primarily
industrial or agricultural? What industry was in existence, what crops
1. How well
educated are you?
2. How well educated were your parents and siblings?
3. What are your interests? This might
include an occupation, domestic arts, etc.
4. How well traveled is your character? Wealth will determine this to
some extent. 5. Are you married? If so be
prepared to discuss your spouse using these guidelines to establish
6. Do you have children? Live or deceased? If the latter, how did
7. Health. Were there medical conditions which plagued your character?
If so, research into the condition and its treatment during the 1860's
would be of immense help in portraying this.
1. Are you a
religious person? If you intend to use this as part of your impression
research the early origins of the church and its leaders.
2. Do some research and determine whether your religious faith was
established in the area of residence. If not, perhaps you attended a
different church because it was all that was available to you
3. You might have a basic understanding of early religious leaders of
your faith or those present in the area you call home.
4. If religion is an important part of your impression you might be
familiar with churches and cemeteries which were present in your area
during the time in question. Many of these may no longer be in
patterns, clothing, and activities would be somewhat predetermined by
the persona you have chosen for yourself. Speech patterns for rural
families would not be the same as those from larger cities, and dialect
would be different North and South. The more prominent a family was the
more attention they might have paid to the social graces and the more
research you might want to put into the etiquette of the period.
1. Be aware
enough of etiquette of the day to make your character believable.
2. Dancing - if you enjoy this activity learn as many period dances as
you can, perhaps be able to discuss their origins
3. Dining habits - this would be somewhat determined by one's station
4. Conversation - rural families' conversation might have centered more
around the basics of crops, needed clothing, the availability of food,
illnesses, etc., whereas a wealthier person might be more enlightened
and able to discuss recent news, friends' activities and travels, etc.
5. Arts - This might also be determined by one's station in life. A
wealthier woman might have had time to do fancy embroidery while a rural
woman might have been more concerned with basic clothing for her family.
6. Literature - again somewhat determined by one's station in life. A
wealthier family might have more access to current literature - either
American or English. They might have a large collection of books and be
able to add to it as others are published. A family of less social
standing might rely on newspapers or the Bible for its reading material.
7. Music. If you possess a talent look for a period instrument and
music and use it to present the music of the period. You should do
enough research to know the origins of the music and how it was
received. Rural families might not have been familiar with newly
How did your
character find financial support? A woman might have relied on her
husband's income prior to the war, but have had to support herself after
he enlisted. Women often had to manage farms and find ways to feed
their families - especially in the South. Soldiers had lives before
they enlisted and the survivors returned to these occupations when the
hostilities were over.
1. Choose an
occupation for your character either based on an existing interest, or a
desire to know more about a certain craft of the period. A man might
have been a farmer, merchant, physician, store keeper, banker, etc.
while a woman might have pursued a living as a seamstress, midwife,
herbalist, etc. Be aware women often pursued occupations not previously
open to them prior to the war.
2. Be familiar with terminology associated with a certain occupation or
craft, know how to use necessary tools, and consider collecting enough
of them to display or demonstrate.
Be aware that
conditions were vastly different in the South than in the North.
prevented Southern families from obtaining luxuries and often even basic
necessities they had known prior to the war. Southern families who had
been wealthy prior to the war often soon found themselves reduced in
circumstances and this situation worsened as the war progressed. Your
impression might reflect these changes - prewar dresses might have given
way to homespun and lavish meals might now consist of very coarse fare.
You might reminisce about the carefree prewar days and family members
or friends who have died in battle. A study of Southern diaries will
give you an understanding of these changes and how Southern women dealt
with them. The same may be said for Northern women - mourning itself
knew no regional boundaries.
Women both North
and South did what they could to provide for their troops. Southern
ladies often worked in the form of Ladies Aid Societies while Northern
women might have worked under the guise of the U. S. Sanitary
Commission. Be aware of regional differences and use these in your
- Past Into
Present: Effective Techniques for First Person Historical
Interpretation. Roth, Stacy F. University of NC Press. 1998.
Employments of Women: A Cyclopedia of Women's Work. Penny,
Virginia. 1863. Reprint: Mrs. Martin's Mercantile, 4566 Oakhurst
Dr., Sylvania, OH 43560