What we Do
What exactly is Living History? Living History is a method in which historical events or a historic site are interpreted for the public. It uses live performers that wear historically accurate reproduction clothing and use reproduction tools, equipment, weapons, etc., to create an immersive historical environment in which the audience feels as if they have time traveled. The best living history performers use a "method acting" approach, in which they attempt to do everything as close as possible to how the person they are representing would have done.
The Institute strives to bring professional-grade Civil War living history experiences to the public. What exactly does "professional-grade" look like? We have taken inspiration from several museums who specialize in living history, like Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia. Many, if not most, Civil War battlefields, historic sites, and museums have little to no access to living history programs, let alone well-planned and well-supported ones. This creates a situation where most visitors to places like battlefields leave having seen an empty field or hillside, where they were told that great and terrible events occurred a long time ago, but without any true understanding. The Institute's mission is to bring Civil War historic sites to life by populating them with living, breathing people, and to make time travel a reality not by going back in time, but by bringing the past into the present.
What makes the Institute different from other living history organizations? Most organizations, no matter which era they portray, are strictly an association for hobbyists. Members are usually close friends, and new members are recruited via word of mouth. Each member is expected to purchase and maintain their own set of clothing and equipment, with some veteran members loaning some extras from their personal collections to incoming recruits. Recruits struggle to obtain quality gear from various sources, including safe and reliable equipment.
The Institute Difference
In short, the current living history environment proves to be inaccessible to new members, varying in historical accuracy, and generally an unprofessional system. Instead, the Institute's model aims to provide Accessibility, Accuracy, and Professionalism.
Living history is an exciting and unique activity to participate in, but it is not well known to the general public. Most people who might otherwise be interested in participating are not aware that this activity is available to the general public, or even how to find an organization to join. The Institute strives to maintain a modernized marketing presence, making use of social media and other digital mediums to ensure that the public is aware of our living history events and extending a warm invitation to participate to all history buffs, outdoorsmen, and anyone interested in experiencing an immersive historical adventure.
The Institute goes to great lengths to make participating in our activities easy for new recruits. With online sign-ups, simple pricing, clear and readily available instructions and information, a well-trained staff, and all necessary gear provided, the process for new recruits is designed to be straight-forward and free from the high cost-barrier of sourcing and purchasing your own gear, or the awkward process of piecing together a kit from multiple loaners.
Amongst the various Civil War living history hobbyist organizations, historical authenticity standards vary wildly. From nearly non-existent to extremely rigid, these standards can be bewildering for new recruits. The Institute removes this problem by providing all gear, which is carefully sourced to be as accurate while providing the opportunity to participate to as many people as possible at an affordable price. The Institute prides itself on an immersive historical environment, and we carefully control what modern items are brought to events. These are generally limited to items that are essential to the health, safety, and basic comfort of our participants. Any modern items that are used are carefully concealed to maintain the immersive environment for both participant and guest.
The Institute has worked tirelessly to create a unique system of training and education that is designed to produce a new class of living historian. Our trained and experienced staff have an extensive resume of skills and knowledge that they rely on to instruct and coach our participants as they become competent and professional living historians. We make learning this craft fun, easy, and just challenging enough to bring out the best in everyone. We hope that our audiences and the historic sites we work with are impressed by the knowledge, training, and professionalism of all our staff and participants.
What types of events does the Institute participate in? We participate in and host several different kinds of events, at multiple locations, both in our local area, in our region, and across the country.
Of course, all of our events relate to the Civil War, and many of our events occur at historic sites, battlefields, and museums that have a specific link to Civil War history. Our events generally fall into these categories: Enlistment, Training, Camp, Battles, and Campaigns.
These events are held as close to groups of new recruits as possible. They are designed primarily as a pre-participation intake activity, and generally last only a single day. New recruits are signed-up, their paperwork processed, and are introduced to the knowledge that they will need and the challenges they will face on their historical adventure. All of this occurs in an environment that simulates the experience that the real recruits of the Civil War faced; a time of excitement, patriotism, and the thrill of upcoming adventure.
Training events are also held locally, and are done in modern street clothes and our Institute branded gear (which you can find here). We practice our drill, maneuvers, and sometimes do a short presentation that prepares our members to carry out numerous living history scenarios. These afternoon events are casual and fun, but all participants are required to go through one training event prior to any Camp, Battle, or Campaign events. Regular members are also required to attend a couple training events throughout the year in order to stay sharp.
Our camp events are full immersive living history events, often held at a historic site, fort, or battlefield. These weekend-long events give us the opportunity to do additional training in full kit, including several scenarios that more intense or combat-heavy events would not normally allow for. Although we don't participate in battles at these events, it is not uncommon that some skirmishes could pop up.
Our hallmark events, Battles are where we get to burn some gunpowder! These weekend-long events bring us together with other living history groups at battlefields and historic sites where we get to march into battle alongside infantry, cavalry, and artillery. These events draw large crowds and are a literal blast! Don't forget, you have to have some training under your belt before participating in a Battle.
Possibly the best events you could ever participate in, these occur at historic sites and battlefields that are generally farther away from our home base. Often lasting three to four days, and including multiple battles and marches, these events garner national attention and include troops from all over the country. Held only once or twice a year at different big-name places like Shiloh, Manassas, and Gettysburg, massive crowds show up to witness the epic battles involving thousands of men and hundreds of horses. You won't want to miss these Campaign events, but you will definitely need to have some training before participating.
What kinds of places does the Institute go? We travel to multiple different places for our events, most of them being historic sites and battlefields. Some events are hosted by local towns, cities, and museums. Although some locations never had a Civil War battle happen anywhere nearby, we believe that should never get in the way of an opportunity to educate in a fun and exciting way! Historic forts are great places to train, and battlefields both near and far are destinations for Battles and Campaigns. Check our our Schedule of Events to see where we are going next!
How much does it cost to participate? The Institute wants to make participating in living history an experience that is accessible to everyone. By providing all the gear you need, we are able to keep your cost low. In fact, the price of our events is much lower than the equivalent price of most youth and adult camps and outdoor activities. An entire weekend of living history, including all gear, food, and consumables provided costs less than a hotel reservation. You can sign-up and pay for events individually on our Schedule of Events page, or become a full member of the Institute by enlisting.