Taking the Visitor by the Hand

A good living-history display takes the visitor by the hand and shows him around. It introduces him to a historical period and shows him things he or she has not seen before. I believe that taking him by the hand is essential. There are many ways to take a visitor by the hand. I mean it is about attracting him with something which he knows and then to go own and surprise him with something which is essentially new.

There are many examples how this can be done. Everybody has seen a canon, maybe even a medieval one. But when you see a Company of St. George demonstration, you realize our guns are breech loaders and they shoot bloody fast. Unlike anything a casual visitor would expect in the 15th century with a firing rate of multiple shots per minute.

Roger Campin, the Nativity, 1420, Musée municipal, Dijon.

Go to the tailor and find a more subtle example: The tailor sews with thread and needle. But the inquisitive visitor will be told that the needles are made from brass. That the needles work more or less the same, but that it takes a bit of practice to use them - and whenever they become soft, you hammer them hard again with gentle strokes.

Whatever the example, it is always the same basic pattern: You show them something they know and then you show them something which is new. This is what I mean by taking a visitor by the hand.

Of course, this is nothing new and I believe reenactors and museums have been doing this for years. But when I went to Chillon last week to talk with director Jean Pierre Pastori about the possibilities of an event in his castle I wanted to take something which makes this point in a simple manner. I thought of taking the canon, but that's such a hassle and to talk about brass needles might come across as somehow freakish.

Nothing compares to the spocklike feeling you get from a three-finger mitten (Photo Christian Folini)

But then my eyes fell on my mitten and I realised that three finger mittens are the perfect example of good reenactment: You put on a mitten and take the visitor by the hand. Everybody has seen a mitten before, but then this medieval one is different: Three fingers are like nothing a casual visitor has seen before. And before he realises it, he has arrived in the well-known and not so well-known world of the 15th century; taken by the hand with leather mittens.

One of the questions that remains is a typological one: Is a three-finger mitten already a handicapped glove - or is it still a mitten?


By Christian Folini, Veteran Company member.

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