Last Friday I visited the Archéosite d’Aubéchies, an experimental archaeology site where they rebuilt homes and objects from the bronze age up until the Gallo-Roman one, using mostly the same techniques as people used back then. We hadn’t even entered the site when our teacher told us that there were many parks like this, but not all had the same scientific value. With a hint of disapproval in her voice, she told us that many were more like amusement parks, focusing solely on the entertainment of visitors by history and not really on the actual historical aspects of the projects. I don’t believe that is something to disapprove of.
Yes, okay, I get it: the archaeological parks that focus more on entertainment will probably lose on scientific accurateness. It is an inevitable trade: when you want to reach the bigger public, you need to loosen up the facts to increase the degree of entertainment. And I understand how many historians, archaeologists and scientists are annoyed by this: in the end, it’s their passion and often the things that they dedicated their lives to that are fully adapted for the sole purpose of entertainment. I understand. Yet, those who are this offended by this, don’t see the other side of the coin.
See, the harsh truth is that not many people really care for history in general. Many don’t see its purpose, and think it is useless subject that only talks about past times. In Belgium there are even a few schools who fully replaced the subject of history, and instead teach something close to societal science. Not many people care for history, and that’s a dangerous thing: the abolishment of history as a part of the curriculum in some schools, is proof of that. Keeping this in mind, I strongly believe that these parks can be an important factor in changing this.
Yes, you might lose a part of the historical accuracy historians and archaeologists swear by, but by adding an entertainment value to archaeological parks like Aubéchies (people re-enacting the jobs, for example) more people will be interested in what is going on. People will know that it won’t just be a boring tour with boring old facts – they’ll see how things were back then. They will be fully immersed in history, in a way they’ve never been before. And, in some, this might even spark an interest they didn’t even know they had. And then they’ll be ready for the boring old facts we love so much.
See, I’m not saying you should hire some guys to play Romans with six packs to get the greater public involved. What I am saying is that historians and archaeologists shouldn’t just write off adding an aspect of entertainment when presenting findings to the greater public, because I strongly believe that can mean the difference for the image of history in general.
- L. Parole