Looking Ahead to the 225th!
By Mark Tully
It HAS BEEN said that during the American Revolution about 15% of the people were
FOR independence, 15% were AGAINST it, and the remaining majority of 70% were totally
indifferent. I have been a member of several non-profit organizations over the years
(most of which have had nothing to do with living history) and have found that all
of these organizations seem to share one thing in common–like our forefathers during
the revolution, a small
percentage of the memberships were proactive and worked for positive change, a small
percentage were reactive and opposed any change whatsoever, and the vast majority of the memberships remained totally indifferent!
I’d like to think I have always been part of the proactive segment (though some may argue that point) and as we enter a new year and a new millennium, I humbly offer the following thoughts for your consideration.
Starting any organization from scratch is a monumental task and I think the group of people who got together 25 years ago to create the NWTA did an outstanding job. The NWTA’s constitution and bylaws have been fiddled with a bit over the years, but the original documents were very well written and insightful. For example, take a look at our mission statement:
“The North West Territory Alliance is an educational organization composed of volunteers who strive to present, as accurately as possible, a realistic portrait of military life during the American Revolution.”
What a great sentence! In just 30 words the founders of the NWTA really nailed the essence of what it is that we do. I especially like the phrase “as accurately as possible” quietly sitting there between those commas. It almost seems like it was thrown in as an afterthought, but it is the one ideal that separates us from many of the other living history organizations. This simple phrase has also fueled much of the debate that has gone on around our
campfires and in these pages over the years.
But just how accurate is “as accurately as possible?” Some folks claim we can never be truly accurate unless we all suffer from small pox, body lice and/or dysentery (as if there were no healthy people in the 18th-century). Perhaps these folks would prefer our mission statement read: “as accurately as we feel like presenting it, and just so we’re not put to any personal inconvenience.” I don’t think most of us really feel this way, and until such a change is made our paid membership in the NWTA means that we are all obligated to continue our research and put forth our presentations “as accurately as possible” (within our 20th-century constraints).
But why bother? Why is historical accuracy so important? Who even cares?
The NWTA’s founders even anticipated these questions and addressed them with a simple slogan: “That Others May Learn.” This is another great phrase packed with wisdom. One friend and fellow re-enactor feels this should be changed to read “That We ALL May Learn,” and that may be so–I know I learn something new about the American Revolution just about every day. But even though none of us knows absolutely everything about our period, each one of us knows a lot more about our particular impressions than just about anyone else does. We are all “experts” in some aspect of the hobby–be it uniforms, weapons, field maneuvers, how to throw a tomahawk or start a fire with a flint and steel–and it is this collective body of knowledge that is really important. Some impressions may be more “authentic” than others, but ALL of the various impressions put together–good, bad or indifferent–are what create a living, breathing, 18th-century environment so “That others May Learn.”
Many of us have heard fond recollections of the bicentennial years from our long-time NWTA members. We are now stepping into the 225th anniversary of the American Revolution and with it is likely to come a renewed public interest in our period. The 225th offers us new opportunities for sharing our collective body of knowledge with new audiences, and it also offers us an excellent opportunity to attract new members. But effectively capitalizing on the 225th means that we have to work toward increasing the NWTA’s proactive percentage. Do your part to uphold the ideals laid down by the founders of the NWTA. As the 225th anniversary of the American Revolution approaches why not pick up a new book, share a bit of documentation, learn a new 18th-century craft or skill or teach one to someone else–perhaps at the upcoming NWTA symposium! If each of us puts in just a little extra time and effort over the next few years, the results will quickly multiply and everyone–including the public–will benefit from it.
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