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And May There Be no Moaning of the Bar...

...and some small apology to Tennyson, because I'm not talking about ships.

tashadandelion wrote an excellent post about what she looks for in a Laurel candidate, and in the comments section, someone commented (natch) that the bar is always rising, and that maybe this made things harder for new Laurels.  Respondents (including tashadandelion) rightly pointed out that the bar does raise over time, because more sources become available.

(EDIT:  I consider this a valid question, don't get me wrong; it's only when a fossilized Laurel uses it as an excuse for not keeping up with current research that it annoys me, as in the example below.  A proper understanding of where we are as a society in our research is essential to proper judgement of up and coming candidates.)

The point is important, I think, because while the bar for admission has been raised, the very neccessary corollary of this phenomenon is that as the bar rises, the baseline knowledge available to everyone has also been raised, and quite considerably.

I got into an awful argument with someone once who insisted that the criteria for Laurel should be the same as it was when they were made Laurel - in 1982.  To accept this, one has to also accept that general knowledge of any period covered in the SCA (especially well-covered ones) has not changed since the early 1980s.  Patently, this is untrue.

It is disingenuous to insist that our standards should remain the same.  When I started, The Intarwebs as we use them today did not exist - certainly all the websites I can access at the touch of a button right now were not in place.  If I wanted to start in Elizabethan costuming today, I not only have websites with oodles of good research, I have patterns I can buy, extant examples to look at, and a bunch of scholarly work I can access, all with the merest flick of my mouse.  If I decide I need a particular book (and assuming someone hasn't already scanned and posted all the relevant parts online), I can do a search on any number of book search engines.

For example, a while back, someone asked me about dolls in period - ten minutes of research on teh webz brought me a vast amount of information, dating from the Bronze Age to the 17th century (thank you, LACMA and The British Museum).  Try doing that 20 years ago.

No, there's much more information available starting out.  If you want to be a Laurel these days, you have to push the envelope.

Unfair! cries the dissent, but then - wasn't Laurel always about pushing the envelope?  People claim it was "easier" to get a Laurel back then, but they're thinking of the research from their current perspective of what's available.  When the only research you could do was to hope for the object you wanted to be on display at the time you visited a museum,  pray for an out-of-print book to be available through inter-library-loan, or beg for a reasonably quick snail-mail answer from a museum where they might or might not speak your language, research even at a more basic level was hard, and the awarding of Laurels reflected the dearth of easily available information.  Those who went above and beyond to try and research their art - those who pushed the envelope - were recognized for their work in bringing new information to the masses.

In Atlantia - and many other kingdoms, if not all (but I can only speak for the one I know), one of the absolutes of consideration for Laurel is teaching what you know to others in some form, preferably as widely as possible.  We have rather ruined the "trade secret" aspect of medieval guild work, but it has resulted in a widepread dissemination of information that has allowed people to learn about their chosen art without having to reinvent the wheel.  And so we all benefit, even as the bar is raised.

Take Elizabethan costuming.  The last time 16th century costume research was really fashionable was in the late 1800s.  There was a small revival in the 1960s of sociological analyses of the 16th and 17th ("early modern") centuries, but for the longest time, the two most accurate books on 16thc. English costume were both by Janet Arnold.  And one of them was prohibitively expensive.  Finding new things and new information was hard - especially in a society that is famously adverse to accepting new information.  Laurels had to work pretty hard for their bread and butter, as I recall.  In the mid-90s, Elizabethan England became hot again, and now all sorts of resources exist.  The work that got someone a Laurel in 1985 is no longer enough - it has already been done (and can be found all over the web).  Show us something everyone doesn't know.  It doesn't have to be completely new, just not well-known within the SCA community.

The bar will always rise - but remember the aphorism "a rising tide lifts all boats"?  Rising standards are a good thing - they mean that a newcomer has a good chance of getting the right information the first time around.  Less time is wasted, people look better, scholarship becomes more widespread.  Remember that teaching requirement?  When one person starts teaching about something new, everyone now has access to it, even if they didn't do the work to find it.  It's the original work, not the ability to memorize what other people have researched, that makes the Laurel.

So how does one make one's mark?  Happily, even in the most explored areas of the past, there are vast (huge!) tracts of information still unferreted (yes, even in Elizabethan costuming).  Scads of things still unreproduced (I'm working on one right now).  Areas unexplored.  If you have the stuff to be a Laurel, you'll find them.  It is harder to impress people now with generalized knowledge of heavily covered areas, but even the heavily covered areas are only superficially understood by most people - look at my explorations into coifs, and the Maidstone jacket.  Sure, making something really cool takes time, but if you don't have the patience, then you're not thinking like a Laurel.  

(I'd give y'all some ideas, but really, you need to think them up for yourselves.  Besides, I need projects.)

The past is still a vast undiscovered country (yeah, that one was from Star Trek - I quote both high and low) (Uh, and in its original unmodified form, from Hamlet.  FYI.).  Each newly discovered fact by virtue of becoming known, raises the bar, but again, this is a good thing.  If we kept our standards static, a Laurel would no longer be something to aspire to.  If it were easy to get, no-one would want it, right?  

Postscript:  Yes, our standards have raised, but any reasonable Laurel will not hold a new candidate to unfair standards - for instance, I weigh new candidates against the general level of work in the kingdom as a whole, not some unattainable Ph.D standard.  If they are significantly better than the average, then we're in business (and the serious assessment begins!).

 

Comments

( 132 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
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maricelt
Feb. 25th, 2008 03:08 pm (UTC)
::Standing Ovation::
Brava! Brava!! Author!

One thing I have found for myself is that the "good ideas" for research do come. Sometimes slowly, sometimes like a bolt out of the blue, but they do come. The key is to keep searching and to keep an open mind as you search.
attack_laurel
Feb. 25th, 2008 03:10 pm (UTC)
Yup. Sometimes it's as simple as a question from someone else that makes you realize that actually, no-one knows the answer, so you go looking. :)
(no subject) - maricelt - Feb. 25th, 2008 03:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
thornbury
Feb. 25th, 2008 03:12 pm (UTC)
I have watched many in their struggles, some who have made it (naturally) and many more who haven't. I have to say that I admire anyone who takes on the challenge to achieve great things in the arts.

For my part, I'm very happy that I possess no desire to attain the laurel leaves. ;-)
thatpotteryguy
Feb. 25th, 2008 03:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you Thank You THANK YOU THANK YOU! Amen, Hallelujiah, Priase be unto Allah, namu Amida butsu, and all that jazz.

As always, u roxors.
attack_laurel
Feb. 25th, 2008 03:16 pm (UTC)
*preen*
molly_world
Feb. 25th, 2008 03:19 pm (UTC)
Great post
Another thing that folks seem to miss is that their work in not measured against others, but rather how well do they measure against a _historic_ ideal. If you make a visually amazing outfit, but it's machine sewn with polyester veleteen and pearls by the mile, I'm not going to be as impressed as when I see someone who hand-sews a plainer garment using histoically accurate materials. It's just not the same thing. I don't expect people to re-invent the wheel, but you should at least be able to produce one. Especially if you want people to take your work and research seriously.
molly_world
Feb. 25th, 2008 03:26 pm (UTC)
Re: Great post
Grrr...spelling apparently eludes me this morning, grin.
isenglass
Feb. 25th, 2008 03:25 pm (UTC)
My feelings exactly. I'm glad you're putting the word out there. I hate it when someone tells me that the leaves are unachievable. Sometimes it just takes the right focus.
asim
Feb. 25th, 2008 03:36 pm (UTC)
[Let's try that w/better writing, shall we?]

This argument seems so self-evident, I'm baffled anyone would even make a counter-argument.

I'm running into something similar in some Mid-East SCA circles -- that there's a lot of tension about research and documentation of Things Middle Eastern, as well as a perception that we have to have the exact same levels of research as, say, Elizabethan English re-creation does. There's any number of reasons for that perception, yet the reality is quite different.
The issue, of course, is that Perception Wins. And it only takes one asinine Laurel to "prove" the perception "correct"...*headdesk*
attack_laurel
Feb. 25th, 2008 03:39 pm (UTC)
The intarwebs makes that phenom much worse, I find - the loud voice that is listened to is usually the voice that spends all their time on the 'puter and hasn't seen real reasearch in *years*. @_@
Open a book - molly_world - Feb. 25th, 2008 05:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Open a book - gwacie - Feb. 25th, 2008 06:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Open a book - molly_world - Feb. 25th, 2008 07:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - chargirlgenius - Feb. 25th, 2008 07:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lorebubeck - Feb. 26th, 2008 01:17 am (UTC) - Expand
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attack_laurel
Feb. 25th, 2008 03:41 pm (UTC)
Re: Have I told you lately...
Why the hell not, indeed. It's easier than ever before.

I find it frustrating when that kind of Laurel demands that everyone bow to their interpretation of how things should be because they were that way once. Like change is bad.

Ugh.
Re: Have I told you lately... - dorinda2212 - Feb. 25th, 2008 04:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Have I told you lately... - compass_rose - Feb. 25th, 2008 04:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Have I told you lately... - stitchwhich - Feb. 25th, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oh YES - the_celestia - Feb. 25th, 2008 04:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Have I told you lately... - chargirlgenius - Feb. 25th, 2008 05:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
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attack_laurel
Feb. 25th, 2008 03:44 pm (UTC)
:) I remember someone arguing vociferously that there should be more awards that are easy to get, so that people don't feel left out. My answer was that no matter how many awards you give to people, they always want the one they can't get easily.

Supply and demand, or more precisely, the scarcer something is, the more it is worth. *shrug*
(no subject) - gwacie - Feb. 25th, 2008 06:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - gwacie - Feb. 25th, 2008 06:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Feb. 25th, 2008 08:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
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attack_laurel
Feb. 25th, 2008 03:49 pm (UTC)
I wondered what that was...

Mmmm, warm and cozy head. :)
sarahbellem
Feb. 25th, 2008 03:58 pm (UTC)
Somehow I knew that comment would come back around to bite me in the ass... ;)

I'm the person you're referring to in Tasha's post, but you didn't read the follow-up to that conversation because I sent it to her privately. So, I'll tell you in a nutshell what I told her off-list:

The frustration I feel stems largely from the fact that I helped raise the bar in my area of interest when I was outside the SCA, doing research on my own. I came back to an SCA that had MUCH higher standards than when I left it and I really recognize that a lot of my hardwork over the last ten years has something to do with it. So, I raised the bar on myself. Now what do I do? Obvious answer is to keep forging ahead, but where I run into a roadblock is where I'm stuck now: No one can guide me because I carved this path so far ahead of the pack that I'm lost. I'm not apprentice material (I know, it's not required), but I need that mentor-apprentice dynamic to get me to focus.

So, that's what I meant when I posted about the bar always raising higher and higher and I'm just adrift out there, feeling like I can't quite get over the next hurdle for my own stupid, largely personal reasons. And yeah, it's frustrating. Not from an I-deserve-an-award standpoint, but from the what-the-hell-do-I-do-now? standpoint.
attack_laurel
Feb. 25th, 2008 04:09 pm (UTC)
I'm absolutely not twitting or making fun of you - it's a valid perception, and I wanted to clear it up in more space than would be polite in Tasha's comments section.

I won't pick something to focus on that I know the original writer will read if I think the writer is an ass. Again, it was a valid query, and I think it can contribute to a sense of "they had it easier back then". :)

As for you, if you're that far ahead of the pack, then turn it around and start telling people what you have done - not just the clothes you've made, but the research that's out there. Marketing yourself and the amazing hood research you've done is a great way to also put everyone still stuck in old ways of thinking on notice that there's a new idea in town. It takes time for people (especially Laurels *sigh*) to let go of a cherished old way of thinking, and so taking time to get your name out and known will do more than just get you known - it will get your idea known.

Sometimes we get so familiar with our circle of peole who all do the same sort of thing (LJ does this, too) that we forget that a bunch of people out there haven't heard about us yet. Web sites are good stuff, but people have to know the web site is there.

Sometimes, a mentor does not have to be a person more skilled in your art - they can also be someone more savvy about the SCA's bureaucracy, and someone who can market you to others. This sounds like more of what you need, and someone you can come to who will help you shape your goals and remind you of them when you feel off-track.

And show your stuff - I know you're thinking about entering your hood, so do it. Let everyone know you're a force to be reckoned with.
(no subject) - maricelt - Feb. 25th, 2008 04:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahbellem - Feb. 26th, 2008 04:07 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bantiarna - Feb. 26th, 2008 01:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahbellem - Feb. 25th, 2008 05:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - attack_laurel - Feb. 25th, 2008 05:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mmcnealy - Feb. 25th, 2008 11:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dorinda2212 - Feb. 25th, 2008 04:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - attack_laurel - Feb. 25th, 2008 04:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dreadpiratekurt - Feb. 25th, 2008 04:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - attack_laurel - Feb. 25th, 2008 05:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahbellem - Feb. 26th, 2008 04:09 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - attack_laurel - Feb. 25th, 2008 04:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahbellem - Feb. 25th, 2008 06:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gwacie - Feb. 25th, 2008 06:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - attack_laurel - Feb. 25th, 2008 06:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peteyfrogboy - Feb. 26th, 2008 02:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
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ornerie
Feb. 25th, 2008 04:07 pm (UTC)
I look at it like this...the bar has not raised. now, as with then, we want to see that our leaders are in the top 8th percentile. what's changed is the body of work in that other 92 percentile.

but then I'm a science geek :)
attack_laurel
Feb. 25th, 2008 04:11 pm (UTC)
Heh. that's it. :)
the_celestia
Feb. 25th, 2008 04:07 pm (UTC)
Cheers and thank you for yet another very insightful post.

Will you please do a series on 'laurels that have been resting on theirs for the past 25+ years'?

I'd be interested in your thoughts on this aspect of Peerage (in plain terms, the ones who say I got my Laurel so now I don't have to do any more AND everything I say is RIGHT (even when it isn't).

t_C
attack_laurel
Feb. 25th, 2008 04:12 pm (UTC)
I might have to disguise it as an Attack Laurel humour piece. :) I try not to come right out and say "you, you, and especially YOU - you are not as good as you think you are".

They might come after me in a mob and beat me up.
(no subject) - the_celestia - Feb. 25th, 2008 04:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ciorstan - Feb. 25th, 2008 05:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
heatermcca
Feb. 25th, 2008 04:10 pm (UTC)
Your post isn't the first place that I've heard this viewpoint, and it seems to me that it's definitely got its true points - heh, the other ones I can't really test out since I don't get into those meetings.

And yet I note that there are Laurels made who simply do very well what they do, and are very good about sharing that with others and active about using their art/work to support the Kingdom (along with the other "peerly qualities"). They're not making huge strides in new knowledge, but upon thought they definitely do stretch the margins of research as they are able, even if it's just in little ways.

All this reminds me that I need to pick that sub-subject I was looking into back up at some point and dig back into it. Though I seem to be plenty busy, otherwise....
attack_laurel
Feb. 25th, 2008 04:16 pm (UTC)
I think everyone who does something to a very high level stretches the envelope - what I did with the embroidered jacket was nothing I hadn't done before in smaller batches, but proving something can be done stretches everyone's horizons as much as finding out something completely new.

That's what I mean when I say it doesn't have to be new research - knowing it can be done has spurred large numbers of people on in ways that simply knowing something existed cannot.

Doing something that encourages people to emulate your work - using the right materials, techniques, and using those to produce period results also expands the worldview of the SCA. All of this is pushing the envelope - if no-one has done it before you.
(no subject) - ermine_rat - Feb. 25th, 2008 06:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
stitchwhich
Feb. 25th, 2008 04:26 pm (UTC)
I generally ask myself if a candidate is a 'go to' person in my mind. As in, "if someone asked my advice about X-subject matter, who would I send that person to in order to be comfortable that they would get good, solid information?"

So in a sense, my bar hasn't risen. :)
dreadpiratekurt
Feb. 25th, 2008 04:37 pm (UTC)
Personal Opinion: If you're trying really, really, really hard to get them thar Laurel leaves and pushing the envelope for the sake of the leaves and not because you're an obsessed lover of whatever your interest is and it's FUN (and you want to teach everyone else how fun it is, so you have playmates in your fun) -- you're doing it wrong.

/Not Even in the SCA anymore, but likes to watch

attack_laurel
Feb. 25th, 2008 04:58 pm (UTC)
I find it is usually the case that the people who want the leaves above all else don't have the staying power for that kind of research, and it shows.

YMMV, of course. :)
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