Ryan, Alison (2021) Learning within medieval re-enactment in the United Kingdom. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This thesis looks at learning within medieval re-enactment in the United Kingdom, specifically looking at participants who portray various characters from the historical period 1300-1500. It seeks to make an original contribution to knowledge about how the acquisition of skills and knowledge needed for these portrayals in areas such as combat, costume, spinning and dancing is carried out by the participants.

The study uses aspects the theoretical framework of communities of practice and the legitimate peripheral participation to look at social relations within these communities. Apprenticeships were also considered, both as an aspect of learning in the medieval period and how far they could be identified within the skill development of modern re-enactors.

The study used an ethnographic approach which enabled the study of the way that communities of practice supported this learning. This focused on interviews with 22 participants with varying degrees of experience of re-enactment. Participant observation was also used, as I am a re-enactor. This took place at a number of events attended by myself and participants over a 2-year period between 2016 and 2017.

The analysis showed that within these communities of practice re-enactors were undertaking detailed and scholarly research in their chosen areas, with an emphasis on the use of primary sources to try and ensure authentic reproduction of both artefacts and role portrayal. There was a central role for both individuals, who acted as masters and mentors within the re-enactment community, and the support of re-enactment groups as repositories of expertise. This knowledge was rarely codified, with a reliance on the oral tradition in passing on skills and knowledge though this was supported in some instances by the use of social media. The study showed that contested areas, such as authenticity, along with factors affecting participation such as gender, were aspects that the re-enactors were very aware of and felt that their own research and participation helped to contribute to these debates in the wider fields of medieval history and heritage.

A wide variety of learning was evident, not only that which the participants had undertaken in order to fulfil their character portrayals, but also in their interactions with the public at events. It was this aspect of their skill development that many of the participants had found most significant, with confidence and the development of their new identities being central to their learning and participation.

The contribution of re-enactment to the personal satisfaction and life enhancement of the participants, was found to be of significant value and the learning gained through involvement in the hobby gave a sense of pride and achievement to all involved in the study.

FINAL THESIS - Ryan, Alison.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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