How My Thesis Relates to Anything, Anywhere

This is what I’m writing my thesis about.  Well, not these huts exactly but the Civil War re-enactors who inhabit them. I know right, what the hell am I doing in a technology program with people studying things like free culture and media markets?  Funny you should ask…

For a long time I wasn’t exactly sure my thesis really fell in with the whole CCT-thing.  In fact, I have been hesitant to share the project here because it feels awfully out of place with conversations about GPS (a definite no-no in re-enacting circles) and Twitter.  It is time though because a) I have been living and breathing 19th Century re-enactments/re-creations for the last few days and b) I think revisiting the big “T” Technology and little “t” technology debate never gets old.

Dictionary.com (lazy but easy, I know) offers four definitions of the word “technology:”

1. the branch of knowledge that deals with the creation and use of technical means and their interrelation with life, society, and the environment, drawing upon such subjects as industrial arts, engineering, applied science, and pure science.
2. the terminology of an art, science, etc.; technical nomenclature.
3. a technological process, invention, method, or the like.
4. the sum of the ways in which social groups provide themselves with the material objects of their civilization.

On the surface I think it is awfully easy to look at th above photograph and say “oh, this is just a rejection of technology for rejection’s sake… use a dang heater!  It is February! Who cares about the real wood v. gas stove debate!?”  However, the re-enactors I’ve spoken with are neither anti-Technology nor technology.  Many, many groups have their own web pages, Yahoo! groups, or Facebook pages and a number of them use a variety of online archives to do research (that takes care of some of the big T at least).  Plus, this life style does not necessarily change the way that they deal with their daily lives.  On the little “t” side, I think re-enactors deeply value the now obsolete skills needed to function in a world pre-electricity and the Internet.  I met a man who makes his own rifles (whatever your thoughts on guns/gun control, that is awesome right) and many, many men who have learned to hand sew or knit as a result of the hobby.  That these skills are antiquated does not mean that they are not useful or valuable, just that they are different.

This, by the way, is the point where I turn from what I’m learning about all of them to what I’ve learned through my thesis project.  Although I had anticipated a ertain set of feelings toward the community, in fact I’ve been deeply impressed with their conscious relationship to technology and how they attach value to particular tools, practices, and skills.  As someone who very recently thought about closing her Facebook account and getting rid of my cell phone (and not because of thesis-induced panic) I can appreciate people who have a careful, considered, and self-aware relationship to older ways of doing things.

So, this is a long way of saying what does Civil War Re-enacting have to do with CCT?  well, you’ll have to come to my thesis presentation to find that out… but, I can say that in terms of technology the 19th Century and the Civil War wasn’t exactly without its own set of technological issues.

Here’s to putting the “t” back in Technology!

Ashley Bowen

Ashley Bowen is a former CCT Graduate Student.