Sensing World War II: Affect, Ritual and Community in Historical Re Enactment

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Re enactments of the past have become an increasingly popular mode to engage with war related history. In contrast to conventional modes of historical inquiry, re enactment offers a “body based discourse” through which the past is reanimated through physical and psychological experiences (Agnew, What is Re enactment: 330). So far, most studies have focused on re enactment’s epistemological potential for the individual (Agnew, What is Re enactment, History’s Affective Turn; Braedder and others, Doing Pasts; Daugbjerg, Patchworking the Past; and Gapps, Mobile Monuments). This article will specifically explore how affective encounters in re
enactment are not merely acquired individually, but also collectively. This study is based on a sensory ethnography of two re enactment groups portraying the Volksgrenadierdivision and Army Nurse Corps and aims to analyse how re enactors create intimate encounters with World War II through collective multisensory experiences. The analysis demonstrates how re enactors use authenticity as discourse to mediate their affective experiences. It shows how physical and emotional sensations associated with the “discomforts” of war are considered authoritative and experiential evidence and mediate one’s position within the re enactment community. Further, by drawing on Victor Turner’s (Liminal to Liminoid) concept of the liminoid, I will explore re
enactment as a ritualized practice in which shared experiences of hardships serve to access certain sentimental and emotional states, in particular a sense of belonging. The analysis will also show how these immersive experiences are susceptible to conflicts, when re enactment moves from play to obligation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-73
Number of pages23
JournalClose Encounters in War
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2021

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