Increasing Spectator & Civilian Interaction

Inviting Spectators to participate 

It is important to offer an opportunity to try an activity to a spectator or visitor. Inviting them to participate opens the door for a more complete experience. Since live historical interpretation differs significantly from traditional museum and gallery displays, visitors may not know what to expect or what opportunities to make the most of. Often guests will be interested in trying what you are doing but will either be to shy to ask or unsure of what is acceptable. This is why it is important to invite spectators to participate, clarifying the possibilities of the experience for them.


Spectator friendly activities

  • Sewing – Invite spectators to try working on sample sewing and handiwork projects.  If you are working on a treadle or hand-crank sewing machine, invite them to try the machine. If you are quilting, have an extra needle and thread started for them to try. If need be, you can remove the stitches at the end of the event.
  • Spinning and Weaving – If you are working with fibers, have a drop spindle or small loom on hand for them to try. Children will benefit from the tactile experience of feeling the wool, silk or cotton fibers and comparing them to the finished yarns.
  • Knitting – Have an extra ball of yarn and a set of needles for spectators to try.
  • Food – Have them churn butter. (This is one of the few food related activities that are allowable.)
  • Laundry – If doing a partial laundry impression without the hot water and caustic chemicals, spectators can participate. Scrubbing wet clothes and hanging them can be a favorite for children.
  • Games – Almost every child and many adults love to play with period games. If your children are playing, invite a visiting spectator family to play as well. This will give the adults plenty of question and answer time as well. Parlor games are fun and often new to adult spectators. Invite them to join your game of conundrums or tableax vivants.

Potential Spectator Hazards

  • It is generally best not to have spectators handle original items outside of control situations with the proper surface and gloves.
  • Spectators should not be allowed to handle or taste food.
  • Spectators, though very interested, should not be allowed handle sharp or hot objects.
  • Spectators should not be allowed to handle loaded firearms.
  • Spectators should be kept a safe distance from fires.

Working with School Groups & Encouraging Student Interest

  • Younger spectators relate better to the character, personalities, and personal stories of people rather than facts, details and technical concepts.
  • Presenting a concept, event or series of events from the perspective of a character helps a student connect and develops a story-line.
  • Give students the opportunity to think critically and voice their perspectives on issues and events.
  • Link past events with present day experiences kids can relate to. Example – Soldiers’ aide groups gathering supplies for CW soldiers compared to student groups gathering items for care packages for soldiers.
  • Provoke curiosity and creativity.
  • Themes that can work well with students include
    • Choosing between different options, right and wrong
    • Dealing with pressure from peers and superiors
    • Needs, wants and problems solving – ex. How to provide food for your family if there wasn’t any available to purchase? What would a soldier do if he saw a cool stream of water during a hot day of marching?  


Tips for Teaching the Civil War

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