Monday, July 25, 2016

What is Living History?

Gettysburg, although it is considered a small town, is a very active town with plenty of things to see and do.  Visitors come from all over the world to see one of our nation’s most historic national parks.  There are several ways to see the battlefield, and learn about the events that unfolded here in the summer of 1863. 

One of the most interactive and engaging methods is through living history presentations and encampments.  So what exactly is living history? How is history brought to life? Many people may be familiar with places such as Colonial Williamsburg, where paid staff recreates life as it was in the 1700’s. Admission into their ‘town’ allows visitors to see how people lived, worked and went about their daily life.  In essence, this is living history. 

Living history in Gettysburg is a bit different.  There is not a specific place where you go to find living historians.  Many times you’ll see them walking around town, shopping or maybe dining at a local restaurant.  A few museums, such as the Gettysburg Heritage Center, and the National Park Service hosts living history groups during the peak season. The town of Gettysburg does not have paid staff to dress up in Civil War attire.  The men, women and children you find dressed in 1860’s clothing do so as a hobby.  The uniforms and dresses are an investment into their hobby, and are bought by each individual person.  Depending on the uniform or dress, costs can run into hundreds of dollars easily.

One of the biggest misconceptions about living history presentations and presenters is that they recreate battles.  Living historians typically do not engage in ‘battle’ or recreate the fighting that took place during the Civil War.  Instead, most living history groups focus on a specific regiment or unit, and talk to visitors about the history of that group.  Individuals may portray a specific person of the time; many doing extensive research on that one person.  Living history camps are open to visitors, allowing them to talk to the soldiers and civilians about the war, the weapons, the home front, medicine, uniforms and clothing, battle maneuvers, etc.… There are countless topics that you can discuss with presenters.  It is like taking a step back in time, and being able to see first-hand what life was truly like for those who lived during the war. 

The Gettysburg Heritage Center hosts living history groups most weekends, from May through November.  The camps are free and open to the public.  Depending on the weekend, you will find different groups such as Union or Confederate troops, civilians, medical camps and more! Don’t just read about history – experience it! 

For more details about Living History programs at the Gettysburg Heritage Center, visit  Check the events page for the most up to date schedule!