Is re-enacting history more than just playing war?

Lise Zurné in Trouw on re-enactment as a learning tool
Soldiers during a re-enactment
War reenactors

In a world where digital media and museums nowadays seem to be the primary sources of historical knowledge, the work of Dr. Lise Zurné, researcher at the Erasmus School of History, Culture & Communication, offers a fresh perspective on how we can experience and understand history. 

During her PhD research, Zurné investigated why people participate in re-enactments and the role these activities play in promoting historical knowledge and insight. One of the case studies in her research is the 277th Volks-Grenadier Division, a re-enactment group that recreates German anti-aircraft units from World War II. For a report with Trouw, Zurné visited the group.

Immersive historical experience

Re-enactments, where historical events are recreated, are more than just "playing war," as is often assumed. Participants, such as the members of the 277th Volks-Grenadier Division, strive for the most authentic representation of the past possible. This includes wearing historical uniforms, using reconstructed weapons, and reenacting military maneuvers. 

Zurné emphasizes that these activities are not just for entertainment but also offer a powerful form of learning and experiencing history. By replicating military maneuvers, re-enactors claim to gain knowledge that they cannot find elsewhere, such as what it feels like to march thirty kilometers with a helmet on. "Re-enactment is a form of history that you can physically experience and where everyone involved has some level of agency," says Zurné.

Lise Zurne

A broader perspective on history

Zurné's research also shows that re-enactment groups often have to navigate complex social and political perceptions. Although the choice to reenact German soldiers sometimes draws criticism, participants emphasize the importance of historical accuracy and education. They aim to present a nuanced picture of the past, highlighting the human side of history. 

In her research, Zurné notes that these activities can even contribute to the emancipation of certain groups within the re-enactment community. For example, women play an active role in reenacting historical events, breaking traditional gender roles and providing the public with a broader view of history. Nonetheless, Zurné believes that re-enactment is primarily a hobby that should bring enjoyment. "Sometimes I think re-enactment is really just scouting, but with the rules of history."

More information

Read the full report via Trouw.

Related content
What drives re-enactment groups to reenact battles? Lise Zurné spoke to members of several groups for her thesis.
Military personnel line up to put on their boots.

Compare @count study programme

  • @title

    • Duration: @duration
Compare study programmes