Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Why I Am Involved with Living History

A little while back, I wrote a post on this blog telling why I enjoy studying and talking of history. I will link to that as this current post is a sort of Part 2.

A Passion for the Past or Why I Study History

When I first embarked on the venture of Living History, I looked forward to not only bringing history to life for others, but also getting into some deeper historical research for my own writing. It ended up becoming much more than that.

I've been doing this for probably a little over a year now (close to a year and a half), and in addition to getting an even better grasp on history than before (which really fuels the history lover in me), opportunities in music, acting, and writing opened up. I've also gained even richer insights to my already pretty nuanced views of history.

Speaking of my nuanced view of history, one thing I always make a point of doing in studying any era is to try and acquire a complete picture of all that was taking place in a given time, including the statutes of the day, the political climate, what happened previously that might have been the cause of such a political climate, and any other pesky nuances that might contribute to connecting with the past on a deeper level. This is in opposition to the more basic 'on the surface' view that many seem to have. In the midst of it all, I found myself wanting to tell these more nuanced views of history and therefore try and quell the many preconceived notions that seems to cloud our vision of the distant past. Yes, studying history can be overwhelming and perhaps that is at least part of why many tend to take that basic surface only approach that also feeds many historical myths. When asked where to start, I usually tell people to begin with Mary Miley Theobald's book Death by Petticoat: American History Myths Debunked along with her accompanying website. Of course, I don't necessarily agree with everything she says (you'll have that with anyone, though) but it is a great place to be opened up to seeing which historical events might need a little further investigation in order to have a more well-rounded outlook on bygone times.
As a subscriber to Jas. Townsend's newsletter and YouTube Channel, I find much of his insights extremely valuable (Jas. Townsend & Son is a great source, particularly great if you are looking to get into Living History), not only as a reenactor, but also as someone that considers herself a lifelong student of history. There was one issue of his newsletter that especially jumped out at me and if I may, here is a passages from it:

"It also doesn’t matter what your race or ethnicity is [when it comes to being a reenactor]. Eighteenth-century North America was made up of a rich and diverse mix of cultures and ethnicities. Society wasn’t as stereotypical as you think.
A more obvious example may be for Americans of African descent. We’ve had a number of people tell us that they do not want to portray a slave, believing that a slave persona is their only option. But the truth is there were many free blacks in 18th-century North America. There was even a black regiment that fought on the colonial side of the war. There are so many stories that are begging to be told, otherwise they could be lost and forgotten forever.
If you are concerned that reenacting and living history is only for men (admittedly, some groups and time periods of reenactors might have more of a reputation for being only men), the flintlock era is for everyone. The opportunities are amazing. Many of the military units accept women into their ranks. There are so many things women did in the 18th century that were important, and those stories need to be told. Women of this time period were not hidden away."

Now, I highlighted three sentences in bold-faced print for a reason, but the one out of all of them that is - in my opinion - of most importance is the statement of the many stories begging to be told, lest they be lost and forgotten. It is also these stories that can give a person - regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender - pride in who they are and where they came from (and I mean real pride, not the fabricated kind the media sells us as a way of dividing us). We can learn so much from these stories, both the good and the bad, the right and the wrong, but that can never happen if these stories are going ignored. Not to mention that while I'm sure that many who come to historical sites do so with an interest in learning more of the portrayed time period, a good number of these individuals seem to come in with preconceived notions. This is especially so when it comes to the women of the time. Even just from observing what many often say online, it seems to be widely believed that women were "hidden away" and "put in their place", lest they be burned as a witch for "stepping out of line." While there being more pronounced gender roles, more defined meanings of "women's work" versus "men's work", and a strong push toward all women marrying when of age isn't false, many early settlers were more worried about surviving in the new world than they were concerning themselves with 'John Smith's' wife helping run her husband's business instead of being confined to the hearth "where she belongs". In fact, 'John Smith down the road' having his wife help him run his tavern was not all that unusual, as - for many at that time - the home was the center of the economy, not only for that household, but the entire community. Many businesses were conducted from inside a family's home and often, the entire family contributed in one form or another (children as young as four were considered active members of the family, meaning they also did their share). But many today don't seem to consider that.
Here is an anecdote to hopefully demonstrate my point:
Two weeks ago, I was at the museum working with the blacksmith and of course, we get families that come to visit and explore the museum and the area's covered history. When I mentioned that, yes, there were women taking on the position of blacksmith and other trades back then (meaning the 18th century and Revolutionary War), each and every guest seemed surprised.
I've read of such accounts from other historical sites as well, when the tourist seems to think that women were merely subservient housewives (one reason why - according to Jas. Townsend and other sources - women are also hesitant when exploring the idea of being involved with Living History) and are often shocked when they learn of women working in a place like a printing press or blacksmith shop. Usually the tourist in question assumes that the museum is fulfilling some sort of 'equal opportunity clause' when in reality what they are seeing is historical accuracy. I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say things along the lines of "wow, that's the opposite of what you normally hear!" While I am always happy to clear those details up for them, it is troubling to see just how skewed a lot of it is.

Colonial Williamsburg's website has some excellent articles on the contributions of women throughout history and how, oftentimes, seeing a woman working at a printing press, owning a tavern, etc, really was not considered all that unusual for many in Colonial society:

Women's Service in the Revolutionary Army

Gentlewomen of the Press

With All the Grace of the Sex (also includes a brief podcast)

According to the article, "Gentlewomen of the Press":

 "Though creative research has produced evidence of women working at male-dominated occupations in the eighteenth century and before, there is undoubtedly more documentation out there, in newspapers, diaries, legal proceedings, and prints. What is more compelling is the lack of documentation that women were not allowed to work. Although religious practices and social norms might have restricted certain activities in some parts of the world, there were no laws prohibiting women from working a trade.
"Yet sometimes scholars and guests have a hard time accepting the notion that women did just that. Schumann says that "the greatest obstacle for the visitor is in accepting [Clementina] Rind as an eighteenth-century woman, and not a 'born-before-her-time' women's libber. She was in debt and had four young children. Fortunately, she was well suited to the task." A modern woman might choose to be a mechanic as an occupation, but an eighteenth-century woman might have had to pick up a hammer or work a press to make ends meet. Perhaps the notion of "choice" is where women's roles have changed in the workforce, but no matter what century it is, women have always done what is necessary to provide for themselves and their families."
It gives me great pleasure to bring the stories of these individuals to life through reenacting and storytelling and few things irritate me more than seeing someone take a rather holier than thou approach to how they view our predecessors. That is why I find it very rewarding to tell someone of Elizabeth Glover, who in 1638 founded the first printing press in America. Or share the amazing story of the partnership between Harriet Tubman and John Brown as they fought to free slaves, which ended in Brown being executed (something that Tubman is said to have agonized over). Or how about Elizabeth Thorn, who ran her family's grave digging business while her husband fought in the Civil War? I find it rewarding to see that person's face shift to an expression of being pleasantly surprised and then want to know more. I am also happy that historical sites like Colonial Williamsburg, that are even more prominent than the one that I do work for, can do the same.
As I always say, I think that there is more in history that can bring us all together than divide us. There were many incidents where women, men, and people of different races and ethnicities came together to fight adversity. There were many that did great things that can and should bring pride to all of us today. There were also terrible things that happened, incidents that we can learn from so not to repeat it. But it was also during those terrible times that people did come together to create a certain unity. And - as it is today - it was the media along with some in power that fought to rip that unity at the seams and put people against each other, which sadly many fell for, though many also did not. By Living History, I hope to tell of these individual's whose stories are on the verge of being lost forever only to be replaced by a simplified, altered version that does nothing but divide, conquer, and shame.

I will close by giving the last words to Jas. Townsend.
Til next time.


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Paperback copies of Descent (The Birthrite Series, #1) and Sacred Atonement:Novelette (The Birthrite Series, # 1.5) available together for the low price of $21.00 at my Official Website

My music projects are available at CDBaby
My filmwork is on IMDb
"The Birthrite Series" and other books at Smashwords and Barnes & Noble NOOK
 My books and music are also on Amazon and iTunes
Tiffany on Goodreads
Support great authors and independent bookstores at Smashwords and Indiebound

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Down By the Salley Gardens - Pittsburgh Historical Music Orchestra w/ Ti...

My first performance with the Pittsburgh Historical Music Society Orchestra took place at the Depreciation Lands Museum Ice Cream Social in Allison Park, PA on July 17, 2016.
For this gig, this was the only way to really position the camera without it getting in everybody's way, so hopefully next gig will bring a better view of us and our fabulous 18th century clothes!
Enjoy and more will be coming!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

More Reflections...

I saw something really refreshing just now when I logged onto Facebook. An avidly anti-Trump Facebook friend made a post inviting Trump supporters into a conversation on why they feel he would be the best candidate. And after reading through that thread, I gotta say: What a great conversation on that thread! And yes, many valid points were brought up. There was no "but...but...he'll make Amurrica gr8 again!"
While I'm not a Trump (or Hillary) supporter (if I had to describe my beliefs, I'd say they are along the lines of "Green-Libertarian"), it made my day to see this type of open dialogue. This is EXACTLY what I was saying a few days ago. Most people are media worshipers (whether they will admit to it or not) and we have been conditioned to not trust each other, knee-jerk react based purely on emotions, have immediate hate (yes, hate) for those that believe differently than you (and yes, that includes politics), etc. Yes, I know Trump supporters, Bernie supporters, even a couple Hillary supporters, as well as my third party people. And you know what? NONE of them are bigots or freeloaders, looking to game the system or put women "in their place".
Now I'm not saying that there aren't people supporting these candidates that hold those kinds of beliefs. But, the ones that I have met are mostly very reasonable people that WANT to see things improve. They just have different ideas of getting there. That is why we NEED open dialogue. We NEED to at least try to understand why and how people come to the conclusions they do. Otherwise all you are left with is venom and THAT is a big reason why nothing ever changes or gets done. And while social media has been amazing in many ways, it has also added much fuel to the fire. And of course, the mainstream media will only have you seeing the worst of the worst.
Case in point: the media is NOT your friend, nor is it there to give you a fair and accurate description of what's going on. It never has been. Most of the ugliness of society is due to people listening too much to a biased media source of choice, getting together in an ideological hive mentality echo chamber with a group of 'yes men and women' and refusing to listen to others because those 'others' my have a different viewpoint. THIS is what keeps us divided and at each other's throats.
To those that say "I have no interest in hearing that other person's perspective,' well, you are part of the problem. But those like that Facebook friend who opened up dialogue on his page, even if he didn't agree with it, I thank you for trying to be part of a solution.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Blood Will Tell, by C.S. Donnell

As those that follow my blog and my work likely know, I took part in a couple online cyber cons put on by Brain to Books this passed spring and earlier this month. In addition to meeting some really cool other authors and potential readers, I also snagged a few books to review.

The first book I am reviewing is C.S. Donnell's Blood Will Tell. As far as genres go, this one is a tad difficult to categorize. Though I would be more likely to place it in the categories of crime thriller, romance, and family drama with a touch of horror.

Family ties. A good thing, right? Not if you come from Amy's family. Amy escapes her gilded cage only to find herself alone. One by one, everyone disappears from her life, including her baby daughter on the day she was born. Eighteen years of futile searching end when a letter arrives and leads her through a maze of shifting identities, kidnapping and attempted murder. Will she find the answers in time?

I will start by saying that the story gripped me from the very beginning. There was just enough intrigue within each chapter that left me wanting to read the next and find out what was going to happen. The characters were very well-written, appeared to have many layers, and the love story that is intertwined with the mystery and drama added a great touch.
When I first started reading it, the story reminded me a little of the popular V.C. Andrews book, Flowers in the Attic (minus the all the incest), having a similar dark family secret theme of someone being locked away and shut off from the rest of the world. Add to that some beautiful, poetic prose, the author immediately had me roped in. I will say, though, that while the first half was a definite win for me, the second half of the book lost a bit of the magic that made the first half so great. As I read on, the plot seemed rushed and I didn't feel that the writing was on par with the lovely prose present in the first half of the book. For me, this was rather jarring and it seemed like the author was trying to cram every last person's story and point of view in at the end. This left me wishing that more time had been taken to develop the characters and their stories further (there was HUGE potential to do so there, especially with the very complex plotline). Sure, this would have made the book longer, but I also think it would have allowed me to empathize more with the characters and feel as if I were part of their journey like I did in the beginning of the book. Instead I just felt a sort of disconnect in the latter half. This was especially so with one particular key character that seemed to be just 'thrown back in' at the end.The premise of the conclusion was great and there was still some good characterization, but I think that a little more fleshing out would have taken it up a few notches from being a good book to an excellent book. And yes, it was certainly a good book. C.S. Donnell has a talent for putting words together beautifully and creating complex storylines and characters. She had me wanting to continue reading and see how it would all come together at the end.
All in all, it ended up being quite a fun and enjoyable read. Blood Will Tell is one of those books that is great to chill out with and read while sitting outside on your porch during a summer night. So I say add it to your summer reading list!


Check out Blood Will Tell on Amazon


For first access to giveaways and other content not seen by the rest of the world, sign up for the free Messages from the Labyrinth Newsletter!

Paperback copies of Descent (The Birthrite Series, #1) and Sacred Atonement:Novelette (The Birthrite Series, # 1.5) available together for the low price of $21.00 at my Official Website

My music projects are available at CDBaby
My filmwork is on IMDb
"The Birthrite Series" and other books at Smashwords and Barnes & Noble NOOK
 My books and music are also on Amazon and iTunes
Tiffany on Goodreads
Support great authors and independent bookstores at Smashwords and Indiebound

Friday, July 8, 2016

Some Words on Recent Events...

My brain is swimming with so many thoughts after what's happened in the last couple days. No, I don't have all the answers but there is one conclusion that I CAN come to. We are very compartmentalized, very ideological and tend to generalize EVERYONE and EVERY GROUP. At least once a day I see Facebook statuses along the lines of "if you don't agree with me on A, B, and C, just unfriend me now." That's it. No discussion, no trying to understand how the other person thinks or how he or she might have come to believe what they do. Nope, just assume that you know EXACTLY why (and of course it's always because they're a freeloader/bigot/misogynist/anti-cop/fill in any other favorite 'ist' or 'ism' of choice) because apparently everyone on Facebook is not only an expert on human psychology but able to see into the minds of all humans, past and present. I also find it interesting when I or others post articles or other pieces (contemporary or historical) showing humans from all walks of life coming together or something like women in the 17th century being respected business owners, those postings only get a handful of likes (if that). But some oh-so-clever meme or click bait poking fun at Donald Trump's hair (because if that's not important, I don't know what is)? It's getting hundreds of likes and shares. Again, if it doesn't fit in with a specific narrative, most don't seem to want to hear or read it, regardless of what it is. And it leads me to think that people really don't care about the issues at hand as much as they say they do and instead are more concerned with being the one that can say 'haha! see? I'm right!'
I know this sounds very cynical but frankly, I'm sick of it all.
EDIT: I will add to those of you at least trying everyday to make an effort to spread a positive message instead of blind finger pointing: you guys rock.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy 4th of July Everyone

A very poignant song for #4thOfJuly with lyrics to really listen to. In the midst of all the turmoil, be thankful for what we all do have and never take any of it for granted.

Goodnight all and stay safe.