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Laurel, Laurel, quite contrary...

You know, it's been a while since I've talked about SCA stuff. I was re-reading some old posts of mine from 2008 on mooching, and it reminded me that once upon a time, I was going to use this journal for SCA stuff.

Well, that train came and went, didn't it? I think a good half of my readers aren't in the SCA anyway. Fortunately, a lot of the stuff I talk about for the SCA is applicable to other areas. The one exception is when I talk about the award structure – specifically, Laurels.   

 An award for artistic endeavour is always going to bring out strong emotions, because unless someone is doing the exact same thing as you, comparing skill levels and quality is an apples and oranges enterprise at best, and more often feels like comparing 21st century architecture in Saigon to the aerodynamics of hand-propelled bananas.  

 It's tough sometimes, is all I'm saying. And because it is done by humans, people get missed, fall through the cracks, have their recognition delayed, or see someone else recognized who demonstrates a less than superior skill level, but knows everyone. Visibility is a big thing, and yes, there is politicking in awards, even ones for the people you genuinely think deserve them. After all, people have to know who you are, right? You could be the most skilled banana-thrower in history, but if no-one knows it but you and the couple of friends you take banana-hurling with you on Saturdays, you're not going to get recognized. 

 And yes, we've talked before about the
rising tide of information, and how it's harder to get a Laurel these days for just having a wide range of superficial knowledge about an area, because there's so much data for the easy taking on the Intarwebs. I still maintain that this is an awesome thing, and that it's not really harder to get a Laurel; the skill set you need is just different from twenty years ago (15 in my case).

 And this came up in a discussion I had with Bob the other day; I think the next generation of Laurels will come from the people who are specializing in great detail in their field of interest.  

 Take costuming (I certainly did). I've been researching and working on costume and embroidery since I started in the SCA (though I did not get my Laurel for that), and I've been finding out stuff all along the way, but the field of Elizabethan costume is popular, so therefore it is difficult to get a Laurel for Elizabethan costuming in this kingdom (Atlantia) for simply being a whiz with the nice clothing.  Lots of people do it, and even a newcomer can access the information to make a really good Elizabethan outfit without doing any first hand research.  All that information is there for the taking, but using other people's learning doesn't make you Laurel material.  You need to stand out from the crowd. 

So, at first glance, due to the huge amount of information already available on the subject, it may seem like you'll never get a Laurel for doing Elizabethan clothing, which sucks if that's what you like (and I admit, I'm not helping y'all any by doing my own continuing research; but I like Elizabethan clothing too, and I like doing cool stuff). However, you're not stuck with changing your field to something more obscure, you just need to look at things in a different way. 

 The answer is to go deeper. When I say that the next generation of Atlantian Laurels will be the ones who specialize, I mean just that. There are lots of things that simply aren't well-known or disseminated throughout the SCA on 'bethan clothing, and the field is rife with opportunities for research. In addition to learning how to make pretty 'bethan stuff (hereafter shortened to BS, because I have a juvenile sense of humour), which you can pick up quickly and easily by playing for an hour with Google and the various costuming websites out there*, start looking at the areas where people are saying "well, we don't know exactly what they did…". There are tons of things – the SCA is full of BS (har), but a lot of that BS involves a fair amount of guessing.   Find the gaps. There are bigger gaps in some fields than others, but all fields of historical research have gaps.  For the purposes of this post, I picked BS (hee) because it's pretty heavily covered, what with Janet Arnold and all, and a lot of people think there isn't anything new to be discovered.  This is simply not true.

 Good thing, too, or else BS (giggle) research would be pretty boring. 

 "But Laura, how do I find out what those gaps are?" I hear you asking. Well, I've found some pretty glaring gaps in BS (you get the picture) myself, but I'm not telling you what they are, because that would be cheating. To find those gaps and earn that Laurel, you need to change your way of focusing on a subject. Look sideways, and see not what's there, but what isn't. Is something accepted practice, but no-one knows why (
coifs with brims, heart-shaped coifs constructed out of multiple pieces of buckram)? Is there an area people keep avoiding (embroidered jackets)? How about a piece of "common knowledge" that turns out to be completely wrong (attifets)? How do you prove your theory? What do you need to do to convince people who don't want to be convinced? Why should people even care? These are the things you need to think about when you're looking at your chosen art. 

 Research has always been a detail-oriented thing. Even in a field as well-covered as BS (blah blah blah), there are all sorts of details that are elided** and fudged, because they have not been properly researched. And that's some exciting news for the next generation.*** 

 Go on – your Laurel in BS awaits you. **** 
  
 
*Because if you're going for a Laurel in costuming, you'd damn well better be well-dressed.
 **Glossed over. Big word sound S-M-R-T.
 ***OLSCA:tNG – the adventures of a plucky crew of misfits who really, really obsess over the details. On (a) Lifetime (of)Mondays, 9pm.
  ****Yes, I had to do it. 
 



Comments

( 62 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
pinkleader
May. 10th, 2010 07:12 pm (UTC)
Laurel in BS. *snert* *snorfle* *giggle*

Thank you! :D
florentinescot
May. 10th, 2010 07:22 pm (UTC)
Thanks! While I love costuming, embroidery is my thang. I had a laurel friend tell me that SHE was told to *not* do embroidery because it was nigh-on impossible to get a laurel in embroidery.

I just laughed. I told her I wasn't doing it to get awards/etc; I was doing it because I loved it. If they had a problem with that ... *shrug*
stitchwhich
May. 10th, 2010 10:09 pm (UTC)
*snort* *giggle* really? Impossible to get one in embroidery? really? Who'da thunk that?
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peteyfrogboy
May. 10th, 2010 07:40 pm (UTC)
Is it really necessary to break new ground to be considered for the Laurel? If you have sufficiently deep knowledge of your craft, the skill to execute it and the ability to pass your knowledge on to others, does it matter whether you're doing something novel?

This is not to say that I don't think new research isn't important. In fact, anyone who reaches the level of skill necessary to be considered for the Laurel is most likely going to be seeking out new challenges and unexplored areas. I just hesitate to make it seem like it's a *requirement*.
gwacie
May. 10th, 2010 08:29 pm (UTC)
I think that an important part of the character of a peer is the striving; if you're just repeating what has already been done... are you striving? You should -want- to push the envelope and be looking for new and better and spiffier; not because it's a requirement, but because that is who you are; a peer. It's a journey, not a destination.

(Maybe I don't want to be one after all... sounds like work! heh.)
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cbellfleur
May. 10th, 2010 07:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you. That's probably exactly what I needed to hear to help me focus. I feel I've been floundering for years, not knowing where to go next, while others who started doing Elizabethan years after I did have gone way beyond me. (The gown in the picture was started before POF came out. I had put it on "hold" because some questions could not be answered with available sources - until POF!)

I do like reading your costuming posts better than the social issues. Please do more!
ornerie
May. 10th, 2010 08:44 pm (UTC)
I think the next generation of Laurels will come from the people who are specializing in great detail in their field of interest.


its interesting. for now, when asked to comment on a candidate, I like to see expertise in their chosen medium. if its costume, they should be a whiz bang tailor and draper and know what accessories go with what and be conversant in the primary source materials (tailors handbooks, manuscript illos, etc).

ditto food, etc.

but we are starting to come to a time when someone may be a mastery of "production", ie using modern interpretive work (already worked out commercial patterns, a book of already reconstructed recipes). as the commercial availability of these things becomes better and better, eventually we are going to hit a time when the current expectations of original research and/or ground breaking discoveries isnt neccessarily the base standard.

not quite yet, though, IMO :)
jillwheezul
May. 10th, 2010 09:22 pm (UTC)
What I have been finding is the explosion of on-line resources in early books and manuscripts. There is so much to study and modernize that it makes my head whirl. That's a direction I am recommending that my apprentices consider.

I may want to develop a class in how to find these kind of original resources. For example, I want to refine information on my 16th century persona, who is from the town of Werdau. Werdau's records burned, but the city 6 miles away, Zwickau, has an amazing archival history, and the court records are microfilmed and available. I thought about digging through the probate records for inventories and clues. There's also an undated sumptuary law that I want to see as well. Of course, being able to read the handwriting is a skillset all on its own ;-)

Also to note is the recent proliferation of photos of English monuments in churches for costume details. That was pretty much an untapped resource that some have thought to pursue. All it took was an idea and a camera (and loving the subject enough to have the creative spark).
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femkederoas
May. 10th, 2010 08:50 pm (UTC)
LOL. When I graduated from college I got a card from the 'rents that said "Nobody derserves a BS more than you."

I actually revel in finding the crevices. I glory in new portraits, things I don't see on other people, etc, etc.

I'm finally getting my website up and running. If you have an interest in 16th century Dutch stuff, let me know and I'll send you the temporary url.
dragonfly_sidhe
May. 10th, 2010 09:01 pm (UTC)
I love reading your insight. I'm a baby laurel and am rather horrified at what I might experience in my first circle, for while I certainly have my opinions on what I like I certainly can't make claims to know the skill levels of everyone in their prefered craft. Eeep!
mistressarafina
May. 10th, 2010 09:58 pm (UTC)
As a relative new laurel myself (I was announced at Pennsic 3 years ago), the advice I have is not to worry. Plenty of old timers will gladly give you their [unsolicited] opinion on how to evaluate candidates. Over time, you will come to develop your own style. :D

What kingdom are you from? I'm in the Middle.
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jillwheezul
May. 10th, 2010 09:08 pm (UTC)
Almost every time I read something I find little questions that could turn into dissertations. For example, I can't recall anything written in particular depth about Elizabethan footware. Textiles is still a quite open field. Just what is 'puke', how was it woven, what did it cost, who wore it, in what colors could it be found etc. etc. Lovely interesting things to research for a Laurel in BS (giggling too).

In terms of the politicking - (there can be) I do prefer thinking about this aspect in terms of wordfame. Research should be accessible and helpful to others but the methods of delivery can differ. Sometimes it really helps to sit down and plan out a project for oneself including how it might be shared with others. One would still do such a project for love, mind you, but keeping the study to oneself can rob one of much joy (and information) that comes from the sharing. I think the sharing is the best part! For those that are shy, the public can be harder than the research, but it is also something that must be tackled.
sstormwatch
May. 10th, 2010 09:25 pm (UTC)
I feel most for those who don't have the wealth of info that is being dumped into our laps. The time periods long before Arnold's info, for example, require a lot more research into what little there might be, and often someone willing to buck the status quo on what is accepted.

It is hard enough doing Henry VIII's time frame like I've been doing, which has been helped by recent books and research. But the earlier I go, the less there is, and definitely very little of it is extant. And I have friends who are stuck in their chosen time periods like 10th or 11th century or earlier.
holyschist
May. 30th, 2010 08:09 am (UTC)
I've run into a language wall: I don't read Chinese or Russian (and don't currently know any ridiculously nice people who might be willing and able to translate that much scholarly text), so while I've found amazingly useful pictures and drawings of 13th-15th century Mongol artifacts in archaeological journals, as far as contextual information goes, I'm much more limited in what I can find. Still, the amount of stuff published in English--especially extant garments--has something like quadrupled over the past 6 years or so, which is exciting.

Compared to that, the gaps in 16th century England are almost straightforward. At least it's still the same language! (On the other hand, I think 14th century English clothing is more difficult to research because at least with the Mongol stuff there are a handful of very well-preserved extant garments. So the challenge depends on a lot of factors.)
ermine_rat
May. 10th, 2010 10:23 pm (UTC)
While I agree that there is so much more available to read and research online, it does really bias that level of research towards the later period where so much more survives and was written about. Unless you see late period laurels in BS being almost exclusively a scholastic endeavor. The achievements tend to become smaller and smaller and about minor things. At some point the level of specialization become ridiculous, and as others have noted, it actually discourages people from becoming involved in our activity... that wasn't really the goal, was it?

I like to think of the sca as a organization that creates things out of books and museums and make them real, useful and functioning again. For that to really mean anything, the general populace should be able to notice the fruit of your labor.
asagormsdottir
May. 10th, 2010 11:40 pm (UTC)
As stated in Margaret Atwood's Edible Woman, the graduate students "trying to extract the last pimple of significance" from a much-studied body of literature.

It can get ridiculous but I don't think we're there.

Asa
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baronesspixie
May. 10th, 2010 10:35 pm (UTC)
I agree with you, and am frankly excited about it - and the reality that I'm seeing my household, who are largely already Laurels, doing some amazing research. I had a fabulous lunch with one of them today, where we just went to town on what we were studying and experimenting with... we're working with very different periods, but both of us have a lot of cross-over knowledge, so it's fantastic to play off one another

But there are a few things to play devil's advocate about -

What about the person doing original research who is generous and sharing - who then watches someone else more geared toward showmanship walk off with their research and lay claim to it?

What do you do when long-established artisans who are acknowledged SCA experts simply say "you're wrong" because your work doesn't match their work, which perhaps isn't as recent as yours?

I've seen both these things happen in the SCA, and it makes me wonder about the human component in all of this.
attack_laurel
May. 11th, 2010 02:22 am (UTC)
I do intensely dislike the phrase "devils advocate", because it seems to imply one is being contrary for the sheer hell of it. Your questions seem in earnest, however, so I'd prefer to take them seriously rather than as an opportunity to prove me wrong (which is a bit useless in a speculative post about the future).

In my post, I pose the question about dealing with people who won't be convinced - what would you do if your new knowledge was refused, point blank? I've had it happen to me more than once. My answer was to provide bulletproof research or really in-depth knowledge of the period, and ask them for their side of the proof. In the end, what they choose to believe is up to them - I don't care if they can't handle the knowledge that they might be wrong. My job is to educate the people who want to be educated.

Yes, it sucks if those people are Laurels, but they can't be the only ones - reach out to others, in other kingdoms if need be. The award structure is people driven, and you're always going to have asshats. There is no answer to that except to try and work around it. Sure, we can come up with hypotheticals until the cows come home, but that just sends people into a death spiral. Some people are going to get hosed - my job as a Laurel is to try and minimize that eventuality by counteracting the asshats.

Now, if someone steals your research, then documenting is key. If you ever have someone do that to you, tell all the friendly Laurels you know, and bring your documentation to prove your research. No-one likes a plagarizer. It is also incumbent on every person to honestly acknowledge the inspriations for their work.

The human component will throw a spanner in the works, but you can't give in to the idea that the asshats win. Sure, people who manifestly don't deserve it sometimes get awards, but it's not the award that matters, it's the person who has it. Believe me, there are tiers of Laurels, and not everyone is respected.
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weavedancer
May. 10th, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC)
I agree and am inspired by many of these points. I would point out that this enthusiasm for finding new information may be a by-product of learning one's expertise/craft of interest to the extent one would associate with being a Laurel, rather than a criteria of its own.

BS also stands for banana slinging. Coincidence?
attack_laurel
May. 11th, 2010 02:12 am (UTC)
Clearly not. It's an under-researched field. :P
dagonell
May. 11th, 2010 12:09 am (UTC)
I think we disagree on this. Long story short: A Not-SCA organization had acquired a full-size replica of a 16th c. merchant ship and was looking for people to crew. Naturally, a number of SCA people applied and got chosen. For one individual, he had *Found His Niche*(tm). His SCA persona because ship's navigator. He *built* and taught himself to use *period navigation instruments* including sextants, astrolabes, etc. He even translated Chaucer's paper on the astrolabe into modern English, which means he not only slogged thru Chaucerian English, but also Chaucerian mathematics. I tried like hell to get this man a Laurel because he *was* a 16th c navigator. I couldn't get people to look at him twice, because they had no clue how to judge a navigator; calligrapher, they can judge; costumer, no problem; but a navigator was completely outside their experience, so he got ignored. To be a Laurel, you have to stick to the tried and true, not break new ground. :(
attack_laurel
May. 11th, 2010 12:28 am (UTC)
I have to disagree on the part of my kingdom; I cannot speak for yours.
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quatrefoil
May. 11th, 2010 12:49 am (UTC)
Excellent advice. I'd add the following - it should take you no more hours of endeavour to get a laurel than it did 15 years ago, nor should you have to be more original in your research. The quality and availability of the information means, however, that the quality of the output should be much greater.
attack_laurel
May. 11th, 2010 02:13 am (UTC)
You have to make sure, though, that people know how hard it was to do museum research 15 years ago! :)
chargirlgenius
May. 11th, 2010 03:37 am (UTC)
I think and hope that you're right. There's always going to be some pushback from folks, but I think we're headed towards a more academic model. The further you go, the more you specialize. A bachelors degree is general, a PhD is very specific.
mistressarafina
May. 11th, 2010 12:40 pm (UTC)
We are still hobbyists in the end though, even if there are some professionals. I would hope that it wouldn't take a PhD to get a laurel. :)
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vikingsparrow
May. 11th, 2010 04:42 pm (UTC)
I'm not a Laurel but I recently received my Pearl last fall. I have to say that the amount of research that probably got me the Pearl was very specialized and it was absolutely on par with my Masters Degree thesis written for the program at Johns Hopkins.
stephanie_d_g
May. 11th, 2010 05:24 pm (UTC)
I was asked to become an apprentice last February so this topic has come up several times in conversations. I think people are going to set up bets to see how long "it will take" for me to "earn my laurellate".
The problem I'm actually having is that I love so many different aspects of the fibre arts and sewing I wouldn't even know what my "specialty" would be.
At this point in my life I feel that I will go where my heart leads me. An award is all fine and good but it isn't why I do it. I'm an artist. If I don't have outlets for the creative energy, I think I'd explode :-)
swwoodsy
May. 11th, 2010 07:06 pm (UTC)
The email list in my barony just had a discussion about this very subject. A lot of our local Laurels chimed in and explained their personal criteria for Laureldom, but no consensus was ever reached. One Laurel with exceptionally high standards even confessed that other Laurels tend to refer to him as "the East German judge." (This is funnier when you know his persona is German.)

And being a relative newbie, I really appreciate the information and etiquette for the "unwritten" stuff. Happily, we were rarely if ever the moochers. And we bartered with the pirates who camped near us: they brought Smoking Barrel in the evenings (ingredients: rum, rum, rum, rum, Blue Curacao, and rum) and we fed them coffee and breakfast in the mornings. We might not have won any points for authenticity, but we were hell on wheels with hospitality.

And folks who walked through our camp to the water spigot without announcing themselves had to do a shot. (OK, we never MADE anyone do a shot, but the challenge was always made. 8^D)

So thank you, as always, for the informative and entertaining post(s)!
de_chanson
May. 12th, 2010 04:21 pm (UTC)
My worry is what then do we do with the "craftsman?" How do we, as a Society, also encourage the person who, while not breaking any new ground, is doing above-the-bar creative work? The kind of person who may not be doing "new" things, but is hand-sewing beautiful work, who has built a stellar encampment, who constantly teaches and help folk to excel in the "everyday life" aspects of our Society--research is not their game but they have educated themselves and perfected their techniques and give back by sharing knowledge to all and sundry...how do we also encourage these folk?

Scholarship is wonderful--I researched for fun even before I found the SCA, but I fear that we MIGHT leave behind the good solid craftsmen who are doing AMAZING work for the lack of novelty or scholarly depth.
ayeshadream
May. 13th, 2010 04:01 pm (UTC)
But, I love the big picture. :)
I've been struggling with this in that I love research and pursue it passionately, but it's hard for me to choose only one thing.

My ultimate goal is to get as close to full immersion as possible as a 1570's Venetian Patrician class woman, and I'm totally enamored of trying to get as much of the big picture as possible. This means, clothing, food, money, civic and religious ritual, health care, sexuality and social mores.

The research that has come out of that so far has been working on appropriate clothing for years (which in the last 5-8 has become much more popular), drafting my own patterns based on portraits as even meeting curators in Florence and Venice has confirmed that there are no extant examples of gowns, teaching a class on how styles evolved from 1500-1600 in Venice, Co-teaching a class on the Venetian courtesans (reality vs. fiction), extensive food research including ongoing interpretation of every recipe in the Anon. Venetian, compiling a spread sheet of data from that source to compare with later sources (Scappi, Messisbugo)in hopes of evaluating food trends, and researching medical practices from diet to surgery, especially focused on fertility, gender determination, pre- and post-natal care. Seriously, how cool is that? I'm having so much fun!

I've been told that I need to pick just one to produce something super shiney from to "help myself in council", but it's almost like all my research passions are my children and it's hard to completely ignore the rest, or choose a favorite. I'd rather follow my passions even if it means I may not get external recognition, and I'd hate to set goals for myself regarding something I have no control over. :)
holyschist
May. 30th, 2010 08:18 am (UTC)
Fantastic post.

I don't really think of it in quite the same terms--I'm not trying to earn a Laurel and I am unlikely to ever manage to specialize--but to me, filling in the gaps and testing out ideas is the difference between A&S and craft.

Of course both are absolutely necessary to the SCA and extremely valuable. But they are slightly different, and I think filling in the gaps is one of the most exciting things we can do. Not necessarily on every single project (lots of projects are probably going to be straightforward What We Know projects--not everything can or should be novel), but the excitement of trying out a hypothesis about how they did something and finding it works well?

Best thing ever.
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