Or how do you prove it is real?
By Remus Fletcher
Or how do you prove it is real?
By Remus Fletcher
What is documentation? Documentation is one of the more confusing subjects in the SCA. Documentation is the end result of research and not the research itself. There are many arts practiced in the Society and each provides its own unique challenges for documentation. Few of us have access to actual period items, manuscripts or books. Still fewer are active in actual archeological digs or item preservation. Most of us are lucky to ever actually touch more than a handful of real period pieces. Documentation is useful for helping to educate our fellow medievalists about some new cool thing that we have found. Documentation is required for many A&S competitions. In most A&S pentathlons points are given for both documentation and authenticity. Since documentation proves your authenticity, failure to provide documentation will place you at a great disadvantage. It may be real, but how do you prove it is real? What is documentation?
Documentation is the information that goes along with the object. It describes what the piece is and how it was used. Documentation should also describe the process of creating the object. We use documentation to inform and educate the viewer. If you are doing something new to the audience, you need to share what you have learned. There is a format for presenting documentation. First there is a short description of the piece. This is the information that would be placed in the display case with the item in a museum. The description is then supported by examples, followed by references.
The best type of example is called a Primary Source. In the strictest sense this is an actual period item. Period books and treatises describing how something was done are also considered to be primary sources.
The marble throne of St. Griswald is an excellent example of a five-legged chair. The reprint of the 1567 printing of Placewayâs, “The Brewers Answer Book” is a readily available source for the Mushroom Ale recipe that was served at the last event. The Helmet of the Duke of Emsworth proves that barred-faced visors existed in 1497. The Habit of St. Robert the Competent is a surviving example of religious dress from 1255.
A Secondary Source is one step removed from the source. This is commonly a quoted source or reference. A 1937 publication of “The use of Cotton in Iceland in the 9th Century“ may be an exciting book to someone recreating Viking garb, but unless it has photos or very good descriptions of actual surviving items, it could just be a cruel joke. Paintings and other artwork are also secondary documentation. Paintings are only as good as the artist and only show what the artist wanted to show.
The 1564 painting by Von Hanson of The Duchess of Weatherfield wearing a black dress with purple polka dots can be used to document a similar dress. The dress may not have actually existed; Von Hanson may have added the dots at the request of his patron along with her jewelry and musical instruments in the back ground to impress people with the Duchessâ great wealth. The painting of the wedding of Lindsey IV shows that the King wanted everyone to think that he had seventeen musicians play at the feast and not just the four that were actually there. A 1972 English translation of Geoffreyâs 1565 Latin classic “Marinus Tacticus” would be a secondary source. A printout of the microfilm copy of the 1565 printing would be a primary source. Copies of both editions of these should satisfy most A&S competition judges.
Mistress Catatonia says, “orange and blue dresses were worn in Milan in 1537”. This may or may not be a true statement. Some people become so famous that they are used for documentation. A better statement would be, “Mistress Catatonia showed me a great source for orange and blue dresses”. Other problems occur when people misinterpret or place too great a value on someone elseˆ¢s actions. “I saw Mistress Cat wearing a purple hat with orange feathers at the Big Event”. The problem here is that Mistress Catatonia may have a Laurel and a Doctorate in Medieval English, but she may not know anything about hats. Maybe she has a great sense of humor and made the hat as a joke because her friend the Queen loves orange and purple.
The last two types of sources we have are fictional and non-existent. Every source quoted in this article fits in the fictional category. The latter is all too common. Everyone ”knows“ that the item is period. If everyone ”knows“, then it should not be hard to document. Maybe everyone is wrong. You cannot assume everyone knows, you have to show them.
Where do I start?
Read a book. Talk to people; ask Mistress Catatonia where she found the cool hat. We are all piggy backing on the work of others. As the saying goes, ”We are dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants“. Look at paintings. Visit a museum or a library.
If you find a secondary source, does it have a bibliography? You can't judge a book by its cover, but a large bibliography is great place to start. Work your way backward from the references. Make friends with a librarian. Libraries can inter library loan obscure books.
Experimentation is sometimes required to figure out how something works. We all extrapolate from the information we have at hand. Include information about how you got it to work. Don't be ashamed of the flaws. They add character to the piece. In period times, it is likely that an apprentice in a guild would have studied more and spent more time practicing the techniques than you have. If you are using period materials and period techniques, you are making period mistakes.
What, Where, When, How?
The way to approach documentation is by asking your self, ”If I never saw this item before, what would I want to know about it”? What is the piece you are entering? Is it a common item or a one of a kind piece? Where did it come from? What country or city? If it's something new that no one has ever seen before, where did you find it? When was it used? Who would have made it? Who would have used it? How was it used? How was it made?
This is an example of documentation for a very hypothetical A&S competition entry:
This is an example of a musical instrument known as a snarfer. The snarfer was the official instrument of the court of Duke Simon the Blue of Glastburg, 1423-1457. Most known examples have six finger holes. This is copy of the five holed tenor found in the Glastburg castle renovation in 1994. The snarfer is played by blowing across the top like a pop bottle and the five holes provide a pentatonic scale. The snarfer was carved from a two pieces of sycamore and then glued together with rabbit skin glue and covered with blue leather. Sumptuary laws limited the ownership of snarfers to Music Guild members. Guild rules restricted the manufacture of snarfers to full journeymen.<
Supporting documentation would include pictures of the snarfer from the Glatsburg Museum Catalog. A copy of the 1437 wood cut ˆ£Musicians playing snarfersˆ§. Sections of the 1442 Glatsburg Music Guild charter with all rules pertaining to snarfers with translations. Copies of the Glatsburg Sumptuary Laws from the 15th Century with translations. A set of photographs with descriptions showing step by step your recreation of the snarfer. A snarfer-fingering chart should also be attached. The attached bibliography would include all the books mentioned above.
In a perfect world we would have all this information. In our world we may not have copies of the all of the examples. But, we do have the Museum catalog showing both the snarfer pictures and the wood cut along with a fingering chart. Share what you have done and what you have learned. Documentation should be educational. Be proud of your work. You have spend time studying the books, the paintings, the photographs and visiting the museums. You spent time putting the project together. You have learned new techniques and developed new skills. Let everyone know how and why you did it.
Remus Fletcher is a 15th Century English Squire, veteran of the battle of Poitiers (no I was not hiding in the windmill). Also served in Scotland and Yorkshire. Educated as a Churchman, can read Latin and Saxon. Troubadour and Church Cantor, tenor voice, plays recorder, crumhorn and whittle and dub.