Making Medieval Choices

Introduction

As a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, I am part of a world-wide medieval reenactment/recreation organization.

The focus of the SCA is the study, and education of pre-1600 European cultures, as well as cultures Europeans were in contact with. This often takes the form of reproducing goods that would've been made in this time (often described as "Period" goods). This production of goods is often the more thought of facet when it comes to study and education. While it is important to produce goods in a Period manner, it is also important to help those who may not have the most-accurate gear to make more authentic choices. It's one thing to make an authentic good, it's another thing to know *why* it is authentic.

Medieval Choices

It should never be an expectation for those who may be newer in the SCA to wear fine clothes, expertly crafted. As one who has been in for nearly 5 years, I can personally attest to the difficulty in obtaining such fine goods. Instead, those who have spent more time in the SCA (yes, myself included) should be a gentle nudge towards authenticity.

-Hand-hemming a garment as a nudge towards fully hand-sewing.
-Suggesting the use of a spiced vinegar-based sauce for a meat dish instead of a tomato-based sauce.
-Giving a gift in the form of some natural-fiber cloth to help displace synthetic fibers in the making of clothes.

Small things like that can help make a difference in the experience of another.

Pitfalls

One of the biggest, spikiest thorns is that of "Period-Nazis". This is a term used to describe people who strive, with great effort, to be as authentic as possible, and seek for others to do the same.

My problem with not with those people, per se, but rather the term, and how one gets branded as such.

First, appending "-Nazi" to something is prickly in its own right, and rightfully so. I will not go into the horrifying connotations here, as I'm sure it's been covered in better depth than I could ever muster elsewhere.

The second, how one becomes labelled as such, is often the work of another. Persons so called are often thought of as those who cast aside modern goods, ingredients, etc. with a scoff and wave of the hand at best, and berating at worst. This leads to a foul perception, and can skew how one sees the SCA as a whole.

Lesson Learned

Whenever I think about this issue, I recall an instance of my own thorniness. It was a "discussion" on the merits of "The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby Kt. Opened" (to be referred to as "Digby" from here on) as a source of information in the SCA. The matter was mostly between a Laurel (highest recognition for work in the study of Period Arts and Sciences) and myself. The focal point of the matter was the production of mead.

I had put forth that Digby shouldn't be used as a resource, as there is a 13th Century recipe from a treatise on magnetism by Petrus Peregrinius. This 13th Century recipe is essentially the same recipe that Digby uses. My issue with Digby is that it was published in 1669, beyond the 1600-1650 "Grey Period" that allows for some flexibility in research, and well beyond the 1600 cut-off.

I had expressed my frustration with Digby remaining a staple text, despite it's temporal location. The Laurel responded with something along the lines of, "There's little difference between the two recipes, so why not use Digby?" As I thought it was my hill to die on, I repeated my stance on the issue, the ensuing back and forth between the two of us got a bit nasty.

When it was finally put to an end, I wasn't happy with how this Laurel acted, but even more so, I wasn't happy with how I conducted myself.

-Was I right to suggest a more authentic source? Sure.
-Was I justified in my frustration with this stubborn Laurel? Sure.
-Was it proper to share my information on this more obscure text? Most certainly
-Did I conduct myself in the best way possible? No, not at all.

And that last bit overshadows everything else. My behavior was atrocious, as I let my anger and frustration get the better of me. When people see that, it makes them less inclined to approach people who may be "just the person they are looking for" on a particular topic. It can also turn them away from the SCA as a whole.

What Can We Do?

The short answer to that question is what many people refer to as "Rule 1: Don't be a jerk." This is a broad statement, but it fits especially well. Being aware of both what we say, and how we say it, can drastically change the view of onlookers. We need to nudge more, and shove less. The idea of a "compliment sandwich" comes to mind, good thing, then *constructive* criticism/feedback, then another good thing. More often than not, that first good thing can be a nice jumping off point for the critical discussion. Note, I use the word "discussion" here, as it really should be a two-way talk, not just a monologue of criticism.

We all need to be a little less thorny (yes, even myself). We all have our moments of snark and sarcasm when we are with our friends, but there's something to be said for temperance and awareness outside of our circles of friends. It's a long road, and one we shouldn't ever get off for too long, but if we're all on it, the journey won't be so tiring.

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