Typically when I decide to make a thing, I do a little research to show me which of several design alternatives I should choose, and then I make it.
Almost always, the thing comes out well enough that it inspires me to do some back-documenting, during which I learn that there were variables I didn't know, or context...I learn a lot. The thing isn't museum-perfect, but I use it, and people like it, and tell me so, at which point I tell them all the stuff that's 'wrong' with it until I realize that I've passed the 'geek' line, and shut up.
Up until now, I've angsted about this. I've felt I should do one of two options:
1. Remake the thing. I can nearly never do this...my curiosity or practical need was satisfied with the beta version, and I am just not that crazy about the activity to do another one immediately. This turns the making into work.
2. Hold off making the thing until I've done the research. This doesn't work either...I'm not that interested in the research alone...know-it-all's are so tiresome...and darn it, I want my thing! Clothes to wear, or gear to use...I'm in love and I want it now. Besides, the research goes winding all over the place, and sometimes the book to use isn't available...this turns the researching into work.
I do not play SCA to work, I play SCA to have fun. I do not play historical re-enactment, and I don't want to.
So recently, faced with yet another situation where I've dashed ahead and made a compelling thing which turns out to want a good deal of research, I've had a couple of talks with people who know a lot about teaching people, and have come to the conclusion that I was doing the process right all along.
Do you remember in school, where the textbook or the teacher would say, "write a short essay about X" or "define the following new words" and then after you'd done that, then they'd give you the related reading to do? That order always used to confound me, because I wondered how I was supposed to do a very good job on this task without the background. Now I understand.
Demanding your brain to do a task, makes you focus better on the reading forever afterwards. It makes you invest in the concepts, and then the reading is very interesting. You're passing judgement on yourself, giving yourself your own context. That sort of reversed order makes it all stick. Very sneaky.
Furthermore, in SCA A&S context, I have been completely inspired by projects that I thought, "I wonder if I could do a better/different job of that, because I know something about that which isn't presented here." I am so grateful to those projects, because they drag me down roads I would have never considered before, and I think that's what SCA is about. Furthermore, I am grateful and impressed by the people who produce projects that they know aren't as perfect as they can make them, just because that vacuum is there allowing someone else to step in and learn/contribute/explore.
Screw the points...I'm gonna be making stuff. If I have a very good time making stuff, perhaps I'll make more of similar, and then my points will go up. But the important thing isn't having close-to-perfect stuff, the important thing is the LEARNING.
I had some time to burn before catching a flight recently, and found myself in an academic rare/used bookstore. Today I picked up the package of books I asked Alcuin Books to send back.
Can I say how lovely it is to walk into a bookstore, be asked "can I help you", say "I'm looking for 6thc archeology, particularly Kent, or Anglo-Saxon textiles, but also the Mediterranean" and be handed a folding chair and pointed to three places? Just smashing.
In the box for me were:
(St. Agnes - I love how her over dress is hiked up to show the terrific sash end and undertunic embellishment. I'm sure Julian could tell me what that sash is called. Brenna - this is what I meant when I said that I was really curious about how the collar and cuffs might work...I so look forward to your interpretation!)
Early Christian Mosaics from the Fourth to the Seventh Centuries: Rome, Naples, Milan, Ravenna. Fourteen Plates in Color. Translated from the German, 1946.
I bought this because the quality of color reproduction was the best I've seen so far of early mosaic. It has the common image of Empress Theodora and her retinue...but also some great garb shown on saints. The detail, considering its made with bits of stuff, is amazing and wonderful.
(Ah, sprang. I have Collingwood's book, and someday I will get to play with this technique. So very interesting. Did anybody else notice that in the recent CGI Beowulf, Wealthow wears a sprang cap in the confab scenes in her bedroom? Very cool.)
The Bog People: Iron-Age Man Preserved. P.V. Glob. 1969, 3rd printing (1975). Translated from the Danish. Great black and white pictures of finds, not so great on dating, but good maps, and very accessible writing.
(Whoopsie, kind of large...but this way you all can see the little beasties, running around the cabochons. So much fun, all the animals in this placetime...I'm going to have a hard time choosing decorations for my camp gear!)
Archaeologia; or Miscellaneous Tracts Relating To Antiquity, Published by the Society of Antiquaries of London, Vol. 98 (1961). This is a collection of topics...but has a 46-page article on "The Jutish Style A. A Study of Germanic Animal Art in Southern England in the Fifth Century A.D." Fabulous detailed descriptions, black and white photos and line drawings showing bucket mounts, belt plates and slides, brooches, strap ends, "tubular object"...lots and lots from Kent. Here's a typical description of the pic above, to show the quality:
4. Bifrons, N.E. Kent. Maidstone Museum; Tomlinson Coll. (pl.xv, c, fig.8, 2). Pair of pendants: 3 and 3.25 cm long respectively, made from very thin beaten silver. The loops, which are of different legths, are folded over at the back and taper to a rounded end. At the base of each loop at the front are two small lobes ornamented with incised rings. The main part of each pendant is pear-shaped and in the center an oval collar has been raised by hammering to contain a piece of blue glass set en cabochon. The lass is now missing from one of the pendants. At the base of the collar on each is a ring of semicircular punch-marks, and outside this, on the flat flange, a panel of animal ornament, consisting of a short procession of little creatures three on each side of the collar, facing up towards the loop. they are separated from each other, and from the edge of the pendants, by narrow boarders decorated with incised hatching. The remaining spaces below the loop and above the collar on each pendant are filled with punched dots. The little animals are again a cross between hippocamp and quadruped, having square jaws, round eyes, couched front feet, and curled hind-quarters. Eight of the animals have a triangular panel on their bodies which is filled with incised strokes, and some have additional puched dots on the tail. The others have only a line of dots along the body.
This volume also contains papers titled:
The Wilton Diptych - A Re-examination. (14thc)
The Trewiddle Hoard (this looks of EP interest, too - Anglo-Saxon, 5th-9thc.)
The Palace of Westminster Sword. (Lots of Anglo-Saxon swords)
The Earlier Royal Funeral Effigies. New Light on Portraiture in Westminster Abbey. (ends with Henry VII, Anne of Denmark, Mary Tudor)
The bookstore had several other volumes from the Archeologia series, though no others held so much promise for me, I'd expect other researchers to find lovely things in them. The owner of the store said he'd be happy to read off titles, or even scan/email title pages. I paid $50 for my volume, and consider it fair value for at least the one paper, but there are three of ultimate use to me, so I think I got lucky!
Europe is thinking big and has launched Europeana.eu, a huge digital
library inspired by nothing less than the ancient library of
Alexandria. Users will have direct access to some 2 million digital
objects, including film material, photos, paintings, sounds, maps,
manuscripts, books, newspapers and archival papers selected from that
which is already digitized and available in Europeâ€™s museums,
libraries, archives and audio-visual collections.
[This entry is feeling hard to write, because the project did really well, and good things happened to me, and I don't know how to say it without the results seeming like I am blowing my own horn. But I want to share with you all, so suffice to say that I feel really really validated and humbled. At the same time. Which is pretty awesome, from my side of the line.]
I got really great encouragement, comments, suggestions, and prodding as to "where to take this next." Even better, I find I've still got enough interest in the topic to keep going in those directions, some of which are Very Ambitious. So this isn't the end of Coptic tapestry weaving...not by a long shot.
I also got a terrific score: 19/20.
And I won my level, which was Beginner. I felt odd registering as Beginner, since I know I'm very different from most beginners, but the criteria is "have you been awarded a Meridian Cross?" Since that answer was a fact, and a "no", then it was out of my hands.
I've been finishing up the documentation and display for my first Arts & Science entry, to be shown this weekend at Midwinter A&S. For the non-SCAdians, think Science Fair, but for medieval crafty types. I'm having a blast.
Per usual, the gory blow-by-blow appears on my LJ blog, and I got a couple of questions that I thought might be universal enough to address here, and keep a category about. So I introduce "Documentation" to the increasingly long category list at right, and the preceding two posts are about that. There may be more.
It occurs to me that not everybody has 1) a master's degree that required them to learn to write a book; 2) a mother who publishes articles in information science, and discusses it over the dinner table; 3)graphic design education; 4)a blogroll for 'learning about learning'; 5) other possibly OCD traits that demand shuffling and reshuffling data in order to Analyze It More.
Because everything tastes better Analyzed, you know. (Winky thing.)
Anyway, so if you all want to ask anything more about how I write papers, or design classes, or read and analyze books/films/buildings/charts/whatevers, have at it in the comments, and I will reply here for everyone's benefit.
How do I keep track of books and other references? In digital lists, which contain items that look something like this:
ITEM CITATION (as appearing in a standard bib, whatever format I feel
like, probably an amalgamation of APA and was it ALA we did in high
Who owns it - Me? Which library did I borrow it
from? Who can I get it from? Have I seen it, or just heard about it?
From whom, and are they important/superknowledgable?
book is generally good for; my own description. (Now I'm ready to
assemble an Annotated Bibliography, which if I ever encounter one in
other people's work, gives them Major Brownie Points in my opinion of
them. Annot. Bibs save major academic time.)
a. Image/quote 1
= Images and quotes that I think I need, along with the point I'm
trying to make when I need them. Because Very Frequently the axe you
think you're grinding at the beginning of the process turns into a
Kitchenaid mixer by the end of the thing. I find I need to be reminded
of what my original point was. Page or figure numbers of said images,
so you can find it again. b. Image/quote 2 c. Image/quote 3
2. NEXT ITEM CITATION Owned by Whas' it good for a. Image/quote 1. b. Image/quote 2. c. Image/quote 3.
do this process enough, and it becomes 'dropping breadcrumbs so that
someone else, or a future version of you, can follow your mental path
and replicate your results.' Just like science experiments.
wish I could throw up a real life example nicely organized like this,
but these things tend to exist in fragments littered throughout my
computer, and that distribution tends to HELP my creative process
rather than hinder it. I've tried to line them all up neatly in one
place, and that is a useful exercise during part of the process. But
it's also incredibly wonderful that I'll be doing something else
completely unrelated, stumble over one of my bits from a new point of
view, and that yields very rich insights that I've learned I can't get
merely by trying harder. Fortunately the 'search' function on Windows
seems to be getting more powerful. I try not to keep paper copies of
research unless it's part of a bound book, because my paper filing
performance is not as powerful as the 'search' function. Someday
I will have a Fujitsu ScanSnap and it will make me very happy.
that Microsoft has a program called EndNote that will organize your bib
stuff for you, and republish in whatever format you need it to be, for
whatever picky journal editor you need to please. I don't have it,
because I don't have to do that for my job. Mom does, and does.
I wonder if it has all the fields I would want - my master's thesis
used dance films, books, articles, maps, DOT charts, building
construction drawings...I do use Microsoft's OneNote, but not as well as I would like.
And all of this, by the way, is what
one goes to a thesis-writing graduate school program to learn. Which
they don't actively teach, really, but by the time you write the book
and defend it (read: reconstruct it) umpteen times in real life, and
then once in nerve-wracking ceremony, you figure it out.
(excerpted from a worry thread on my LJ in 2008, before presenting my first A&S entry at Midwinter A&S)
I like to produce a 'works I actually used for this project' list and a
'other sources you may find useful to follow me' list, because people
who are new to the field may need to read more widely to catch up to
the context I'm in. The latter is what I mean by 'extended
Funny thing happened at Menhir - somebody asked
me to repeat the two-hour class that Gwen, Maudey, Una and I had just
presented on the development arc of early period costuming. I'm afraid
I let my cold speak a bit too loudly - "See that bibliography list over
there? Get all those and read them." Of course that isn't right, one
could read that impressive list of books and by not having any sewing
construction experience, or not having read general histories, or not
understanding weaving physics or dyeing chemistry, and one wouldn't be
able to 'come to conclusions'. Which of course is why you take a class
from someone who HAS done all that. Something I find in my general
experience of humanity - people want fast answers, and you don't get
the good stuff out of studying anything without putting serious time
in. In 'learning about learning' channels, I've seen estimates of
10,000 hours to become an 'expert' on any topic, and that's after
figuring out what the topic is!
Keep in mind, this is my first
piece of documentation for A&S, and in order to decide what goes in
I'm leaning heavily on my teaching experience from graduate school
crossed with the 'populace education' market demand I've encountered in
the SCA. People are already asking me for bits of this documentation,
and I'm trying to construct a document that will be the most useful to
the most people. Since of course I'm going to keep it published
('information wants to be free!').
That said, however, I'm
frustrated that the whole paper is not as good (clear, helpful,
enabling) as I would like it to be. Oh well, something to improve.
I'll see what sort of questions this thing generates and the next
version will be better.