Living History Museums and the Construction of the Real through Performance 1000
The narrative fabric of modern history, writes Roland Barthes, tends to be woven with a certain amount of “useless” details, which, though they are ultimately “filling” (“catalysis”), nonetheless have “indisputable symbolic value.” As a consequence, the past two centuries have seen the “development of techniques, of works and institutions based on the incessant need to authenticate the ‘real.’” These techniques include photography, reportage, exhibitions, and, I would like to emphasize, “the tourism of monuments and historical sites”—the subject of this essay. Indeed, for the tourist, the symbolic value accorded the minutiae on display at historic sites, preserved or re-created for public display, seem to be the very elements that guarantee real history, despite the fact that many of these details are often the most conjectural elements.
1000 Scott Magelssen teaches theatre history and dramaturgy, advises the student-run experimental theatre group, and occasionally directs. His current research focuses on the performative and historiographic practices employed by outdoor “living history” museums in Europe and the United States.