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Title: Playing the past : historical re-enactment societies and the performance of identity in Scotland
Author: McNeese-Mechan, Amy
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2002
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This thesis is a contribution to the anthropology of performance, and an attempt to further studies of identity formation and maintenance, through exploring the imagined and intentional communities of reenactors in Scotland. Through the production and consumption of clothing, tools, food, music, and bodily practices such as dance or combat, reenactors evoke earlier historical periods. Because almost any belief or lifestyle can be ‘situated’ in the past, it both forms a vast reservoir of materials for construction of identity, and a means of validation and confirmation. I argue that the ability to evoke ancestors is an important in 21st century Western societies as it is has been in other cultures and earlier periods. Ownership of the past is hotly contested, and historical reenactors are in the thick of this battle, ‘playing’ the past in order to say something serious about the present. While the deep mine of ‘histories’ provides a seemingly inexhaustible resource for creating meaning, the value of this resource adds to its volatility, and to struggles among reenactors themselves over what I will term ‘the holy grail of authenticity’, contrasting this to the notion of ‘nostalgia’. The research spotlights both public and private performances, as well as the full ‘performance sequence’ - training, workshops, rehearsals, on-stage ‘shows’ and off-stage ‘cool-down’. It is in these ‘backstage’ encounters among group members that reenactors are created, beliefs are expounded and practices passed on. Here the cultural world is constructed and its laws and internal logic - its habitus - emerges. Motivations range from the serious, often nationalist, ‘politics of the past’, contesting interpretations of history, to the ludic: “Let us Play”. Private performances can resemble ritual practices, and the embodiment of the past often creates a sensory experience whose metamessage is “Let us believe”. History was long the preserve of the powerful, but a democratisation of access to this resource has allowed new ways of creating meaning and identity.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available