Institute of Para-Enactment Research
Softcore Historicism and Embodied Heritage


Objects and Props

The term “prop” is defined by wikipedia as the n object used on stage or screen by actors during a performance or screen production.[2] Prop is an appreciation for (theatrical) property, and could represent “anything movable or portable on a stage or a set, distinct from the actors, scenery, costumes, and electrical equipment.”  For scholar Stefanie Samida , “the social use of things, the aesthetic experience of them, and their meaning in particular moments are all of utmost importance for what Gumbrecht (2004) refers to as the “production of presence.” 

Within the rise of Thing Theory, Material Culture, and Object-Oriented Ontology in the last time, further attention has given to the relationship we give to objects and props, as we invest them with meaning, fetischise them, and make them structural in our economic and cultural relations. Meanwhile the “performative turn” and the “affective turn” in cultural studies turned into the intangible and the relational, in all this processes objects do still play an important roll, which can be identified with the role props play on theatrical representations.  

In this relation, props and replicas produced for historical reenactments represent a huge business for historically-informed fairs and congresses and has an ever-growing nieche in reenactment hobbyists. This development underlines the ways in which reenactments contribute to the capitalization and  commodification of the past (the process in which the past is converted into a exchangeable commodity). Such commodification of the past includes traumatic events and periods whose representation through objects could hurt the sensitivity of specific communities.  The following excerpts written by Mark Auslander  refer to the problematization of historical replicas related with US slavery past:

“material objects associated with slavery reenactment may occasion considerable anxiety for many whites, in part because they threaten toextend beyond the controlled framework of the reenactment scenario. Advertisements for slavery-associated props usually are marked by some sort of qualification. For example, the Irontree Works blacksmithing company, which produces shackles and manacles of various sorts, proclaims on its website:  “The following items are for reenactment purposes only! When attempting to recreate the past, authentic props which may have negative connotations can be used to provide the desired effect of authenticity. These items are made for the express purposes of theatrical performance and historical recreation. Irontree Works cannot be held responsible for the misuse of these items.”

Future research into the status of things in reenactment could invoke taking a processual approach and to focus to a greater extent on moments of “becoming.”The entangled inter- relationships of actors, as well as entities such as things, space, and atmosphere, need to be considered. It is precisely this complex and open network of relationships, interactions, and transformations that should be analyzed. This special assemblage of humans, things, and other entities creates something new.” 

︎︎︎Auslander, Mark. (2013). Touching the Past: Materializing Time in Traumatic “Living History” Reenactments. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259713156_Touching_the_Past_Materializing_Time_in_Traumatic_Living_History_Reenactments [accessed Jan 23 2022].

On this other excerpt, Mads Daugbjerg discusses the dangers involved in props as new possibilities for consumin- instead of critically challenging- historical narrations:

“Proponents of re-enactment-based approaches stress the three-dimensional and multisensory quality of the experience, the possibility of dialogic engagement between re-enactors and audiences, and the chance to work physically and materially with historical or archaeological traces and theories – with implicit or explicit connections to the genre of experimental archaeology. Conversely, critics have pointed to the dangers of uncontrolled experimentation and play, conjectural dramatization, and the tendency among some re-enactors to focus heavily on material details (e.g. weapon types, uniform buttons, sewing styles) while ignoring larger historical or political contexts. In some cases, strong commercial and tourist-oriented agendas influence the alleged educational or scientific outcome. Indeed, this is a field in which a strict upholding of boundaries – for instance between entertainment and education, between the production and the consumption of heritage, or between experimental and experiential modes of engagement – can be very hard to control.”

︎︎︎Daugbjerg, Mads. “Re-Enactment and Engagement.” The Encyclopedia of Archaeological Sciences, n.d., 1–4. doi:10.1002/9781119188230.SASEAS0499.

︎︎︎ Berlin, 2022

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