Saturday, August 24, 2013

Authenticity in Historical Recreation

In a recent thread on an SCA group on Facebook, a number of people discussed modern sources of light that could be disguised as period, including LED "candles" complete with flicker. My contribution was to mention my wife's policy of trying to always get the dinner dishes washed before it gets dark. It occurs to me that this raises a more general issue: What are the reasons for authenticity of various sorts in the SCA or similar contexts?

One reason, and the one that the commenters pretty clearly had in mind, is to avoid damaging the ambiance, the appearance of a medieval environment, for other people. That consideration gives us the ten foot rule, the idea that everything should look period if seen from at least ten feet away. It also gives part of the requirement for participation in my encampment at Pennsic—nothing that is both obviously and unnecessarily out of period.

Fake candles, coolers concealed in chests, cameras built into something that looks period, all solve the problem of damaging the ambiance for other people but not the problem of maintaining the ambiance for the people who are using them. It's harder to imagine that you are a medieval person when you are turning on your candle by pushing a button and not worrying about whether it is too close to things that might burn, or when you are putting ice in your cooler or photographing a battle. If what you are doing poses no problem for other people, other people have no reason to object to it. But it still poses a problem for you, which is a reason why you might choose not to do it—in order to enhance your own experience.

A further reason to prefer the real medieval solution to the modern solution disguised as medieval is suggested by my wife's policy. Medieval people faced a different set of constraints than we do, and one of the differences is that they had no easy way of producing good artificial lighting. By imposing that constraint on ourselves we put ourselves in something closer to their world and give ourselves a push into figuring out how they dealt with it.

By, for instance, arranging to do anything that requires good lighting in daylight.

8 Comments:

At 7:32 PM, August 24, 2013, Anonymous Rebecca Friedman said...

Or learning to wash dishes in the dark.

 
At 1:14 AM, August 25, 2013, Anonymous Antonia di Lorenzo said...

totally agree. I've covered the same argument in an article on my own blog

http://mymedievallife.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/escape-from-gilligans-island-escape-from-gilligans-island-the-value-of-a-medieval-mindset-in-re-enactment/

 
At 10:41 PM, August 25, 2013, Blogger Liutgard said...

As I noted on Facebook, some of the constraints are things that are out of my control, such as the length of court, or the end of the fighting. At Sport of Kings, my options for scheduling the dinner party were Friday (classes classes classes, with a torchlight tourney in the evening), or Saturday (classes classes classes, Grand Tourney, and Royal Court). Both had problems, since more than half of the dinner guests were fighters. If it was just dinner for the household, it might have been different. But this was a feast.

(We ended up with Friday, by the way.)

I think part of what we're facing has to do with our context. In a longer event, such as Pennsic, the opportunity to settle into a more organic frame, and a mindset and flow that is more like medieval life, is much broader. But in 2 or 3 days in a weekend, taken up with meetings and contests and tourneys and court... there simply is not enough time for me to slip into a medieval mind. Sometimes that makes me mad, because that's what I wanted when I got into this damned organization (Ha! 24 years and I still feel like a noob sometimes), but the reality is that I can't often find it at events.

--Liutgard

 
At 11:20 AM, August 26, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yo DAVE, when you gona finish that book on laws bro? i really liked yo book on machinery of freedoms, want MOAR !!!

 
At 12:31 PM, August 26, 2013, Blogger Power Child said...

I fear that I offended people the last time I commented on one of your SCA posts, since I'm not a participant in any of that stuff. At the risk of being a repeat offender, I'm chiming in again because I continue to find the topic interesting.

At first, my reaction to this post was that if you wanted an experience most assured to have its ambiance remain intact, you'd go out to the woods with only those core members who are equally dedicated and isolate yourselves from all vestiges of out-of-period-ness.

But then I remembered that part of the experience of going back in time to the middle ages would surely be interacting with lots of other people who are also in the middle ages.

Thus, you've laid out what I perceive to be the core dilemma of historical reenactment: is it done for others, as an educational spectacle, or is it done for oneself, as a quest for understanding and/or escapism?

Or maybe I've got the horns wrong, and it's more like social anachronistic immersion on the one hand and personal anachronistic understanding on the other.

In either case, are the two extremes interdependent? If not, are they mutually exclusive? What compromises are possible? What compromises are desirable?

 
At 1:30 AM, August 28, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Fake candles, coolers concealed in chests, cameras built into something that looks period, all solve the problem of damaging the ambiance for other people but not the problem of maintaining the ambiance for the people who are using them."

Except that, if you are willing to use a disguised camera, you clearly do not want to fully maintain the period ambience, so there is no problem. My view is that it is perfectly fine to say to others, if you want to have out-of-period things it's fine by us as long as you are discreet so as not to spoil our experience of the period ambience.

 
At 9:44 AM, August 28, 2013, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree.

But I also want to say "here is why you might find it more fun to maintain the ambiance for yourself as well."

 
At 7:29 PM, January 05, 2014, Anonymous Gerald Loosehelm said...

"Thus, you've laid out what I perceive to be the core dilemma of historical reenactment: is it done for others, as an educational spectacle, or is it done for oneself, as a quest for understanding and/or escapism?"

For me it is self education and a bit of escapism. I think this idea would warrant a blog post just by itself! =)

 

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