On Stage

Living History

Staging a Civil War conflict


When Civil War re-enactors David Imburgia and Matt Clemens step in front on an audience Thurs., March 6 at the Burlington Public Library, entertainment won’t be the only focus of their performance.

As part of the library’s ROOTS Project Living History Series, “The Civil War: Defining Our Nation” presentation will also lean heavily on the educational aspects that are part and parcel of the project’s aim.

While the costumed duo will call on their theatrical chops to portray two close friends who are heatedly debating the issues and political climate of the times—zeroing in on the events that led up to the outbreak of the War Between the States—those behind the scenes hope attendees also come away with a deeper sense of what it meant to be living in our country during those troubled times.

“The Civil War period was a pivotal time in our nation’s history,” ROOTS Project Coordinator Margie Wilson says. “If an American today traveled back in time they would not recognize the states of the 1860s. They would abhor the existence of slavery. They would be surprised at the struggle to maintain a united country.

“Civil War re-enactors, by their authentic costuming and detailed study of period history, are able to transport audiences back into time. Not only does the audience experience on an intellectual level, but also on an emotional level—this is what it felt like to be a Confederate or Yankee soldier. This is what our Civil War ancestors truly believed then and were willing to die for.”

Wilson says “Defining Our Nation” is also a reminder to citizens that democracy is an evolving experiment, and that it can take generations for ideologies to take hold and define a country. She also points to the fact that civil wars are still occurring in countries around the world, making the subject even more relevant.

Because the ROOTS Project was created with students in mind, the living history performances are just a small part of what the program encompasses. Working with the Skagit Valley Genealogical Society and Burlington-Edison North High School, 12th grade students come to the library each week to learn research skills and work one-on-one with volunteer mentors to discover more about their own family histories.

“Family historians are also social historians, meaning you cannot just view your ancestors in isolation in time, but must understand the societal influences that the individuals are experiencing to truly gain a fuller appreciation of our ancestors’ lives,” Wilson says. “The ROOTS Project therefore wished the students to understand the social history—the life and times—of their ancestors as well, so a series of living history dramas was incorporated into the project to accomplish this.”

Previous living history performances included those focusing on late-1700s feminist Abigail Adams, as well as “Northwest Passages,” which portrayed a young Swedish woman who came to Washington state in the late 1800s, and delved into the difficult experiences many immigrants had when they came to the United States—including dealing with language struggles, war and the influenza epidemic. 

“The series spans the time from the founding of this country, to the Civil War that defined out nation, followed by the immigrant experience, and finally to the 1930s and the works of the Civil Conservation Corps,” Wilson says.

“All of these time periods teach us what it meant to be an American then, and who we are today as a nation. These programs remind us that the values we hold dear as U.S. citizens did not come without personal sacrifice by our ancestors. And, finally, this educational series of living histories renews our pride in being part of a collective American heritage that all of our ancestors contributed to.”

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