Accepted paper:

Stuff, stuff, stuff - tracing the past through objects in WWII historical reenactment


Kamila Baraniecka-Olszewska (Polish Academy of Sciences)

Paper short abstract:

Historical reenactment movements are organized around traces of the past. In reenactment practice they are incorporated into performances recreating history. Such a performance, in turn, can be used as critique or appreciation of the past, dependently on the performative potential of the traces.

Paper long abstract:

In WWII historical reenactment original material objects: belt buckles, bayonets, forks or brooches are particularly valuable - they gain almost sacred status as actual remnants of the past. Since they embody and evoke history in the present, the past can be touched, among others, through such material traces (Daugbjerg 2014). Drawing on my research on WWII historical reenactment in Poland, I state that reenactors' practice is organized around traces of the past. A single material trace - a cartridge shell contemporarily found on a WWII battlefield or a set of original uniform buttons bought on internet auction - enables reenactors' immersion in the past. "Personalized history" - a way of recreating past and the selected content of recreated past - often depends on such traces. Moreover, material trace, although powerful in itself, in reenactment practice gets incorporated into performance of the past. And the most powerful traces appear in performance - enacted by reenactors' bodies. They become what Schneider (2011) calls "body archives" and allow the past to act in the present in a form of its "remains". Tangible traces of the past owned by reenactors constitute bridges with the past. Owning them, touching, wearing empowers reenactors, since recreating the past is a strictly bodily and directly sensorial practice. A practice which can be used in order to come to terms with the past, as its critique or appreciation, dependently on the usage of the performative potential of material traces of the past.

panel P142
Knowing Historical Traces, Eliciting Possible Futures