Wow James, you ask a lot of questions and I can see this is a serious discussion you wish to begin. Hooray! I'll answer some of the questions that I have an opinion on but I hope other people with lots more experience than me will write consummately.
As you can tell by my screenname and my love of a replica longship to the right, my particular field is Norse and Norse-Gael from approx. 900-1000. I've had but the one school year of experience in MedRen, but I'm a history nerd and I've been kicking around with American Revolutionary/Civil War re-enactors all my life and hanging out at Renfaires since I was thirteen or so.
When the public sees re-enactors, sorry to anyone who thinks otherwise, they see a bunch of history nerds. Whatever time period, whatever level of accuracy (past a minimum of course), the public sees people who are serious and maybe a little out of touch with reality. The more history-inclined may think "Hot damn that's a neat hobby" or "I wonder how long it takes to get into that outfit". The average person probably thinks "I wonder what those people do during the week" or "What a scary looking weapon that is!" The history illiterate likely think "Losers", but that's why we don't worry about them
I think re-enactment is all about reminding modern people that history is/was made up of real people too. Let's face it, museum mannikins are creepy. You don't want to look at them too long, and it's very difficult to be able to imagine a wax figure actually struggling to light a fire/wield a sword/dig a trench. With flesh-and-blood people, the public can see them actively demonstrating skills, can ask them to slow down to better show the activity (though this isn't recommended with combat
), and can ask all sorts of in-depth or crazy questions. It's not a stuffy curator in a professional suit answering questions to the best of their ability, it's a sweaty Norman or a gritty Volunteer talking about their
People take from re-enactors what they want to. Those who would never be moved or interested by a history museum would be bored by even a fancy display. But those who like history, who enjoy seeing 'the way they did things back then' and hearing about everyday life in a different time, are moved and excited by the 're-enacting
' they encounter. If it makes them think differently about their modern lives, great. If it makes them want to try re-enactment themselves, even better!
Re-enacting, to me, is all about getting into the mind of my ancestors. (Cue the sappy music.) I take ancestor-worship pretty seriously and I like to honour the men and women who came before me by discovering how they worked, played, fought, ate, and slept. (I'm not talking about direct blood ancestors - I'm not a bit Manx while my latest persona is - but rather the people who came before everyone who is alive today.)
Some day, re-enactors will be honouring our memories by building computers and cars and demonstrating them for the public. We want them to take our lives and culture seriously, so I take my chosen era seriously too.
Again, I haven't got much
experience with Irish re-enactment, so I hope others respond with their twenty-two cents (or more). Good topic James!!