Juliane Tomann (Regensburg): Performative Spaces? Historical Reenactment as a Form of Doing History

History, it seems, currently no longer wants to be just told, visualized, acted out, or represented; rather, we observe a comprehensive trend toward the staging, eventization, and individualization of dealing with the past in the present. The steadily growing popularity of historical reenactments makes this tendency particularly clear. As a globally networked subculture, reenactments have become an elementary part of popular and historical culture. Major events such as the Battle of Gettysburg in the US or Tannenberg in Poland attract thousands of reenactors and visitors and are intensively covered by the media.

Reenactments can be perceived as the opposite of the passive consumption of historical images. The bodies of the reenactors function in a sensual-emotional way as a tool for intensive empathy with the past. The longing for immediacy and tangibility of the past culminates in the desire for an authentic experience – both of past events and of one’s own self.
What happens in the reenactors’ role play with he imagined past and in the interaction with the audience is as complex as it is ambivalent. The lecture presents reenactments as performative practices of historical culture and focuses on questions of the staging, performance and embodiment of the past. It will be discussed how historical knowledge emerges in the embodiment and “making” of history and what scope reenactments offer for individual appropriation processes of the past.

Juliane Tomann is junior professor of public history and scientific director of the Center for Commemorative Culture (Zentrum Erinnerungskultur) at Universität Regensburg. Previously, she was a research associate at the Imre Kertész Kolleg at Friedrich Schiller Universität in Jena, where she headed the research area “History in the Public Sphere” since 2017. Her research focusses on performative practices in historical culture in Poland, Germany, and the United States (doing history), gender in public history, and postindustrial spaces and landscapes. Recently she published Historisches Reenactment. Disziplinäre Perspektiven auf ein dynamisches Forschungsfeld, DeGruyter, 2021 (together with Sabine Stach) and Transcending the Nostalgic. Landscapes of Postindustrial Europe beyond Representation, Berghahn books, 2021 (co-edited with George S. Jaramillo).