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Vol 23 No 2 : Reprise. Xavier Herbert: Forgotten or Repressed? Peer Reviewed. Copyright Notice.

Historical Reenactment: Fro - Researchers - ANU

Author Biography. References Agnew, V. Allbeson, T. Arrow, M. Hughes-Warrington and B. Austin, T. Barlow, T. Bennett, T. Bennett and P. Joyce, Routledge, London and New York, , pp. Bhabha, H. Birch, T. Brugioni, D. Chakrabarty, D. Clark, J. Courtney, M. Curthoys, A.

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Davison, G. Davison, D. Dunstan and C. McConville, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, De Groen, F. Dixon, R. Drescher, S. Duguid, C. Edmonds, P.

Elder, C. Agnew and J. Collingwood , p. As an offshoot of affective history, reenactment, specifically, seems to offer a framework within which large-scale processes may be reduced to a comprehensible scale and historical grievances redressed in the present.

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Yet it remains an open question as to whether affective history understands its historical mandate in the kind of ethical and political terms that were once hotly debated, but also self-understood, by scholars and cultural producers dealing with modern German history. By focusing on German versions of the British historical reality television series House, I will argue that, if anything, German reenactments tend to elegize certain aspects of the past and elide what remains uncomfortable and troubling.

Whether these reenactments advance new historical knowledge thus seems doubtful. Drawing on a distinction made by Helmut Peitsch about the dual valence of the term.

Vergangenheitsbewltigung, I argue that this approach is tantamount to an act of mastery, not one of confrontation with the past. These reenactments promote a form of understanding that neither explains historical processes nor interrogates historical injustices. What they do instead is deal with Germany today and, in particular, with the aftermath of unification. The examples discussed below thus demonstrate that history is the conceit for what could be called Gegenwartsbewltigung, or coming to terms with the present.

Inside History The historical reality television show House first aired on UK's Channel 4 in to immense popular and critical acclaim. The winning formula involved transplanting a group of people into a historical setting where they took on the domestic roles of one century earlier. Although the series claimed a high degree of historical professionalism a consultant historian added an air of credibility - it was also avowedly populist.

Instead of using 'talking heads' and professional actors, the show would depict 'ordinary people' and their daily lives. Prospective participants were thus vetted for their psychological robustness and their capacity to identify with the subject matter - to draw links between, for example, their own biographies and those of the historical characters they were to inhabit.

At the same time, participants had to demonstrate a sense of naivet and a capacity for personal transformation. The director, Ross-Pirie, explained that experts were generally unsuitable as reality television reenactors because of their tendency to 'just get on with it'; laymen, on the other hand, could actually show the audience 'what the past was really like'. When casting the butler in Edwardian Country House, for example, the role thus went not to one of the Queen's eminently qualified employees but to a man whose knowledge about service was limited to what he could recall about the formality of his grandfather's table Ross-Pirie A similar logic underlay the way in which the various series were structured.

Participants were subject to new and ever more challenging situations so that their surprise, incompetence and sense of dislocation could be registered by the viewer. This testing generated what has come to be referred to in the language of Hollywood script writing as the 'inciting incident' that gives the series their dramatic shape Baker and Weinstein ; McKee , pp.


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Such directorial choices are instructive. They define history not in terms of narrating past events and large-scale processes, but as the substance of transformative experience and staging. Although reenactment often centers on the iconographic moment and presumes an understanding of the past 'as it really was', reenactment is, one might say, always a performance in search of a storyline. This is particularly true of historical reality television, where the apparent lack of a script and openness of form foster a dependence, first, on the psychological development or anatomization of the participants and, second, on the materiality of their setting.

Thus, we find that each of the House series traces a similar arc - estrangement from familiar surroundings, depravation in the historical setting, the precipitation of a crisis, followed by resolution or expulsion from the group , and finally reintegration into the present.

The circularity of this movement. The German series, for example, go so far as to use the word 'adventure' in their titles and characterize reenactment as a form of 'time travel' Zeitreise in which the participants access the past via a 'time lock' or 'time tunnel' Zeitschleuse; Zeittunnel Windstrke 8; Abenteuer; Abenteuer In ways that recall the eighteenth century's juxtaposition of time and place - voyaging to the Pacific was supposed to be like going back in time - contemporary reenactment often gives the past an exotic or remote spatial location.

To use Lowenthal's phrase, the past is literally a 'foreign country' that the reenactor - as eyewitness and ethnographer - tours, stages and describes on behalf of the audience Lowenthal It is House's emphasis on both the quotidian and the exotic that helps explain its tremendous portability. Each of these series makes use of similar structural components, a fact that contributes to a striking leveling of historical and geographical specificity: s Mecklenburg - Western Pomerania comes to look like Edwardian Britain and the transatlantic voyage of the migrant ship the Bremen uncannily like the voyage of the Endeavour to the Pacific a century earlier.

This sort of leveling is perhaps to be expected from a genre that tends to be more psychological than historical. Yet there are also important ways in which these series differ. As I will show in my discussion of the German House series, the main difference lies in the larger meaning that these series hold for their respective national contexts.


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It is the local stories that are not told about the past and the conflicts that do find voice in the present that contribute most forcefully to the series' specificity and thus to their contemporary relevance. In making Abenteuer , the director and producer cleaved to the Wall to Wall format: the casting, location, narrative structure, even the filming, editing and voice-over all followed a similar McHistory approach to historical representation. A family and their servants would spend eight weeks living in a country house called Gut Belitz Belitz Manor located not far from Rostock in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg - Western Pomerania.

As the producer, Thomas Kufus, pointed out in an interview, the series would deal with the challenges posed by living under strictly 'historical' conditions and in the absence of modern conveniences.

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For the servants, this 'living history project' would mean mucking out the water closets and stables, overcoming qualms about slaughtering a pig, and learning the price that hard physical labor exacts on the body and mind; the country gentleman, his wife and children, in turn, would perfect their table manners and social etiquette and end up enjoying themselves a little too much. Kufus stressed that this. How do I deal with the fact that the scullery maid has to work ten, twelve, fourteen hours while everyone upstairs enjoys a banquet with music?

But also, how do I deal with the fact that I am only allowed to stand for something [reprsentieren] when everyone else has to work hard and contributes to society? Production Notes, Abenteuer n. For reasons already discussed, it comes as no surprise to learn that this reenactment hinges on sympathetic identification among viewer, participant and historical subject: the genre itself does not permit the kind of critical detachment that Bertolt Brecht thought requisite for social and political change Brecht , pp.

What is striking, however, is the way in which reenactment has a substitutive character that allows viewers to choose from a variety of pasts in response to a conflicted present Agnew , p. In the examples discussed here, the present-day viewer is aligned with a specific set of historical class interests that most viewers do not in fact share Agnew Viewers do not identify with their historical corollaries - the governess, housekeeper and tutor, who represent early twentieth-century Prussia's middling sort - nor do they see themselves reflected in the exploited servants.

Rather it is with the nobility, or, in this case, the bourgeoisie Grobrger that viewers are expected to identify 'Interview mit Thomas Kufus' n. As a result, the task of reconciling bourgeois privilege with bourgeois morality becomes the responsibility of the viewer as well. The central conflict is defined, in other words, as one in which capitalism's costs are ethical ones that are borne by the wealthy, not existential ones borne by the working and lower middle classes.

The wages paid out to the employees have no discernable source of origin and the employees have limited means of disposing of their wages; the estate produces nothing, yet goods appear like manna. It goes without saying that this never-never-land has no bearing on the economic realities of Germany around In the follow-on series, Abenteuer , the distinctions between upstairs and downstairs are even more rigidly drawn. The series - also set at Gut Belitz - centers on a single woman hosting five musicians and writers for the summer.

While the servants scrub floors, peel potatoes and mow the estate's lawns with a blunt scythe, the guests learn to dine, dress and amuse themselves s style.