Living history is an activity that incorporates historical tools, activities and dress into an interactive presentation that seeks to give observers and participants a sense of stepping back in time. Although it does not necessarily seek to reenact a specific event in history, living history is similar to, and sometimes incorporates, historical reenactment. Living history is an educational medium used by museums, historic sites, heritage interpreters, schools and historical reenactment groups to educate the public in particular areas of history, such as clothing styles, pastimes and handicrafts, or to simply convey a sense of the everyday life of a certain period in history.
Living history portrayal often involves demonstrating everyday activities such as cooking, cleaning, medical care, or particular skills and handicrafts. Depending on the historical period portrayed, these might include spinning, sewing, loom weaving, tablet weaving, inkle weaving or tapestry weaving, cloth dyeing, basket weaving, rope making, leather-working, shoemaking, metalworking, glassblowing, woodworking or other crafts. Considerable research is often applied to identifying authentic techniques and often recreating replica tools and equipment.
Historical reenactment groups often attempt to organize such displays in an encampment or display area at an event, and have a separate area for combat reenactment activities. While some such exhibits may be conducted in character as a representation of typical everyday life, others are specifically organized to inform the public and so might include an emphasis on handicrafts or other day-to-day activities, which are convenient to stage and interesting to watch, and may be explained out of character. During the 1990s, reenactment groups, primarily American Civil War groups, began to show interest in this style of interpretation and began using it at their reenactments.
Living history may also be used to describe a method of teaching history whereby students try their hand at such activities and experience some aspects of period lifestyle guided by historical interpreters, albeit sometimes with less stringent standards of authenticity.
Photographs of living history exhibits are increasingly used in historical textbooks to illustrate aspects of daily life. Living history requires thorough research on the part of the museum staff, volunteers and interpreters.