Okay, we are not LARPing. I know there are some out there who are gung-ho for the fantasy or mythical reality of the American Revolution but we are trying to teach history so historical accuracy is a must. At my events, I strive to be as accurate as possible with the following caveats:
- When being accuracy presents a danger to me or the audience, we don’t do it. The obvious example is that we use blanks in our guns but I also use commercially purified water when brewing and scrupulously clean and sanitize all my equipment. “Colonial Beer” as brewed by me is authentic in style and preparation on the “hot side” (mashing and brewing) but strictly 21st Century on the “cold side” (fermenting, bottling/kegging, and serving).
- When being historically accurate presents an impediment to audience participation in “hands-on” history, I don’t do it. There are many presentations where people bring out valuable artifacts which the audience may view and never touch. My policy is that this is “Living History” and part of Living History is that we actively use the materials in camp, on the demonstration table, etc. When it is safe (no weapons), I allow the audience to touch and try to use the equipment I use and experience what it was like to do the tasks I present. This means that the tools and instruments I bring out can be replaced if they are damaged by the participants (ie they are reproductions never originals).
- When being historically accurate presents a huge financial barrier. I would love to have perfectly period correct scientific and surveying equipment but sadly good reproductions either do not exist or are hopelessly expensive. Rather than deny my audience the experience of learning these skills I use “close” replicas or make my own using 20th Century tools. This is not museum quality stuff, it is made to allow people to touch them, use them, and if they happen to break something, I can repair or replace it.
- When being historically accurate is literally impossible, I know some people want me to try but I don’t do the impossible. The beer I brew is brewed with yeast, malt, and hops that have been genetically modified for the last 250 years. This is not Frankenstein, laboratory stuff but rather normal selective breeding. If Samuel Adams were brewing today, he would use materials similar to what I have but the materials Sam had in 1775 were quite different.
Otherwise, we strive to be accurate. My clothes are made in the same way as they were in 1770 with the exception of a few machine-sewn seams and modern clothes. My equipment is the same except I sometimes substitute stainless steel for tin clad steel and sometimes use polyester brew bags rather than French Muslin. The effect and presentation, however, is intended to provide you with the same experience that you would have if you met a brewer, surveyor, or scientist from 1775. Of course, this 18th Century person also knows much of the technology and history that came after the 18th Century so you won’t get arrested for witchcraft when you pull out you cellphone and you can ask how the 18th Century was different from today and get a cogent answer.