“In the beginning” is perhaps the most difficult part of the story to find. How can we look back and say, “This was the start,” when there are so many interwoven strands that make up the full tapestry of history? To separate out just a few lines, a few events, a few personalities, is challenging–but somewhere, there must be a beginning.
I have long been fascinated with the events of the early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Stories of “the pioneers” occupied me entirely. I easily imagined myself walking the streets of Kirtland, or seeing the Temple rise in old Nauvoo, or making the trek across the plains to see the Great Salt Lake. I often wished myself born in an earlier time, or found myself dreaming of a time machine to take me back and witness the past in person. I felt a very strong connection with the people of the past, and longed to know more.
Those desires did not lessen with maturity. I found myself a student of history, but growing increasingly bored with the textbook renditions of the past. How could academic life reduce those glorious stories and adventures to mere dates and names between the covers of a book? Surely, there was a better way to communicate, a better way to help others catch the spark of true affection for our ancestors and their lives?
Everything changed when I was introduced to something called “Living History.”
Here were fellow lovers of history, dressed in the clothes of the past, actively seeking out the people and lives behind the names and dates! I quickly came to love the enthusiasm and determination of “Living Historians,” and determined to join them.
Now, nearly two decades on, I am still as excited about the past as in childhood. It thrills me to handle artifacts, and hear in my mind the voice of the man or woman who used them. I love dressing up in accurate historic clothing, and taking on a character or persona to share with the public. Bringing history to life through word and action is absorbing, and as entertaining and educational for me as it is for those I meet.
A few years ago, I experienced another “in the beginning” moment: my local congregations determined to undertake a youth conference handcart trek, and someone on the committee happened to know of my rather odd line of work researching and teaching about the clothing of the past. I was asked to give some guidance with regards to historic clothing for the kids and leaders… and I came home from the first meeting delighted to be helpful, and determined to steer people toward the best resources available–and by the “best”, I meant: the most historically consistent items, made with accurate shapes and historic techniques, designed to give the wearer a rounded experience far beyond their everyday lives.
Living history gives us all, presenters and visitors together, a chance to step back a moment, slow down, and see how very much we have in common with the people of the past. Their stories of trial and triumph can serve as encouragement for our modern experience. Connections with their griefs and joys help us feel compassion for past and current struggles. We never know just what connection may be the connection that helps another person feel that magical spark, the knowledge that we are all part of the same great master work.
There are opportunities to portray early Latter-day Saints all around us. Taking advantage of these opportunities, and getting involved with Living History, may seem like an unusual way to connect with the people around us, but take a chance—it’s a wonderful experience!
What is Living History?
Living history help people form connections with the past, and those connections are vital. Humanity has not changed significantly! When we are able to tap into the connections between ourselves and those who came before, we expand our understanding of our own heritage, and our appreciation for the struggles, triumphs, and joys of the past.
However, it has its own unique set of burdens: there is a prominent need for historical, as well as theological accuracy! The burden of historical integrity is huge; the public has a reasonable expectation that what they see, what we present, is “the truth.” They deserve to see and experience as much of history as we can possibly share with them, right down to the very threads of the clothing we wear… and that’s where the book, Clothing the Saints, and this site, come into play.
Enjoy your time exploring the site. If you have questions, let me know. I’m here to help, and eager to get others as excited about accurate portrayals of the Saints and pioneers.
Elizabeth Stewart Clark