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.