Hera brings hands-on learning to medieval festival

Published 10:05 am Sunday, February 18, 2024

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The Alabama Medieval Fantasy Festival (ALMFF), scheduled for Mar. 2-3, is more than a celebration of knights and maidens — it’s an educational experience that aims to bring history to life. With elaborate garb, festive music, delicious feasts and jousting, the festival offers a glimpse into the past that is both engaging and informative. Organizer Nancy Ardoin has worked tirelessly to create an event that is not only entertaining but also educational.

When laying the foundation for Greenville’s very own fantasy festival, Ardoin knew the course she wanted to set. Remembering faires from her childhood, she wanted this one to be less commercial and instead focus on the history. 

For that reason, Ardoin created Hera, Historic Recreation and Education of Alabama, a group of over 50 volunteer experts and researchers who help make ALMFF as educational as it is engaging.

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“We spoke to people and asked them what they thought was the perfect family-friendly event, and time and time again, we consistently got the same answers,” Ardoin said. “They wanted something affordable for the little ones to do, they wanted the older kids off of their cell phones and doing anything hands-on educational, and the older folks wanted people that were willing to stop and speak with them. The parents were so supportive, so those are the things we wanted to make sure we covered. Hera grew out of that outpouring of support from parents.”

Whether patrons are at the Viking encampment, hanging with the Pirating Boss Crew, learning to cook without modern conveniences or learning how to dye fabric, they can be sure that of getting the most historically accurate information possible. Dame Marquess, magistrate of the Queen’s college and director of Hera, emphasized that the group uses a variety of qualified teachers to ensure that they are relaying the most accurate versions of history possible.

“We’re always adding new research opportunities. Recently we’ve gotten eight new instructors with everything from decades of practical experience to Ph.D. ‘s and multiple master’s degrees in their field of study,” Marquess said. “Every group has both professionals and members that are still learning, which is great because they’re learning skills that aren’t really taught anymore.”

Marquess went on to explain that the members of the group volunteer their time to help a new generation be more connected to their past.

“We’re not doing this for money; you actually usually spend way more than you ever make,” Marquess said. “We’re doing this for a love of history and teaching.”

Ardoin has recently begun the process of applying for 501(c)(3) status, making Hera a nonprofit entity. This status would open the group to the possibility of grant funding, which could significantly expand the services they are able to offer.

“This would really expand what we are able to accomplish. We already hold workshops…the next one coming up in midsummer, is a foraging workshop led by the Montgomery Botanical Garden, but we would be able to hold more workshops,” Marquess said. “We would finally be able to work with local schools and clubs to teach students hands-on history. We have a real drive to present history that is tangible. History that you can see, touch, taste, and actually try what you’re learning.”

Ardoin agreed with Marquess’s sentiments and stressed the importance of being able to reach children at a young age. 

“Capturing a child’s attention early can give them a love of learning that will last their whole life,” Ardoin said.