Some Notes on the Presentation of the Thirteenth-Century Narfing Iron:
A Brief Beginnerís Guide to Documentation

The annual Arts and Sciences competition approaches, and the Mistress of Arts is clamouring for documentation on all entries! Spurred by visions of the populace runs screaming at the thought, I present a few guidelines for SCA documentation, for those of you who are not sure what this entails (i.e. the ones who are screaming and running).

First, a brief contextualisation. The SCA is a medieval research and recreation society. You are, of course, absolutely and perfectly free to take part in its activities entirely on the recreation level - paying as much attention to medieval authenticity as is necessary to fling together a costume and attend events without destroying the atmosphere. And more power to your knees. You can also, if youíre into this aspect of the Current Middle Ages, make yourself various items, clothes, etc, which pass the 10-foot test - i.e. they look reasonably medieval from ten feet away, just donít look too close, that tunicís nylon, the swordís plastic, and the leg of chicken is Kentucky Fried.

On the other hand, if you are going to enter Arts and Sciences competitions, you are going to run into the research aspect - you are making things not only for your own enjoyment or use, but for a competition, and authenticity is one of the things that the Society is concerned with. You are going to need to supply documentation. This need not be intimidating or require months of your life in research; it can, in fact, be stimulating, exciting, and give you umpteen more ideas to play around with.

Right. After that brief message from our sponsors, on with the motley.

What are you trying to do when you document a project? In my possibly not particularly humble opinion, you are trying to present evidence that what you have made is a reasonable attempt at reproducing something that would have been made in the medieval period, using techniques and materials that would have been used, and producing an effect that is similar to effects seen in period. If, for some reason, you cannot exactly duplicate aspects of the item - materials too costly, process too time-consuming, or technique unknown in the modern age - you need to say exactly where you have deviated from your period example, and why.

So, letís say that youíre a keen amateur narfing-iron curler, and you have decided to enter a narfing-iron for the Arts and Sciences competition, based on a thirteenth-century narfing-iron because thatís what your persona would have used. What do you do, after screaming and running in circles a bit??

(1) You find some books. You may have them yourself - your favourite handbook on modern narfing-iron curling may have a chapter on the history of narfing-irons and the curling process. Your Friendly Neighbourhood Shire OfficerTM, may have books you could look at. You may have to wander into a city library and type ďnarfing-ironĒ into their computer index. If youíre really lucky, youíll have access to a university library, which is likely to have whole treatises on narfing-irons in sickness and health.

(2) Now look at the books you have. This is the point where you need to differentiate between primary and secondary sources, which sounds highly intellectual and academic but isnít really. Opinions on what constitutes a primary source differ slightly, but for the purposes of A&S competitions, you can probably assume:

A primary source is an actual example of the item, made in period and miraculously preserved (this is really difficult if your craft is cookery); OR

a representation of the item in an artwork created in period (reproductions in modern books are usually fine); OR

a description of the item in a book written in period (often a bit difficult to read, especially if itís in Middle English or Sanscrit).

A secondary source is anything written or drawn after the period of the article in question , describing the article with information drawn from a primary source. This includes translations of written primary sources.

Thus Baljockeyís seminal work on The Thirteenth Century Narfing Iron is a secondary source, because he wrote in 1922. Itís a good secondary source because it reproduces pictures of narfing irons, some taken from actual examples in museums, and also draws heavily on contemporary writers who describe narfing-irons in any way. Pondribblerís The Narfing-Iron is a poor secondary source, because mostly his information comes from Baljocky; also, Pondribbler redraws the thirteenth-century pictures of narfing-irons because he thinks their technique is a bit suspect, so what youíre getting is his impression of a contemporary impression of a narfing -iron. Bad idea. Look out for this, horrible numbers of historians do it. (If youíre into costume, donít trust Norris, he always redraws his pictures and hardly ever even mentions the primary source).

(3) If, after a brief scrutiny of your piles of books, you find you only have secondary sources, look at their bibliographies. They will give you details of the primary sources the authors have used, and you can probably track them down. If the authors have been kind enough to reprint actual period pictures, or reproduce large chunks of text from primary sources , you can rejoice: at this level, certainly, weíre not going to mind if your primary source is taken from a reproduction in another text, as long as itís reproduced exactly.

Right. You now have a large pile of information describing period narfing-irons. Hopefully youíve managed to get some sense of materials and technique as well as actual appearance, etc; this is often more difficult than simply documenting what the darned thing looked like. We will skip blissfully over the long, hard, curse-ridden process of actually constructing your narfing -iron, and assume that youíve curled it successfully and are ready to enter it in the A&S competition. How do you present your documentation?

(1) Define the scope of your project, exactly what you are trying to do: what you are making, when it would have been made, where it would have been made, who would have made it and used it, how they would have made it. You may also like to state briefly why you found it interesting or particularly useful to do this particular project.

(2)Concisely present the main aspects of your primary documentation: the 13th-century picture of the Lebanese narfing-iron, the photograph of the narfing-iron in Hakchoo museum, the two-page rant on the hideous temptations of narfing-irons by the Bishop of Ely in 1263. If possible, provide photocopies of the most important pictures. You can summarise written descriptions, but should probably quote directly the most important points. If, for some reason, you have been unable to find true primary sources - the most common reason would be that theyíre all in a different language - SAY SO! You will not be penalised for using a translation, as long as you make it clear that you KNOW itís a translation but had no option as you donít speak Sanscrit. In this instance, the best bet is to compare several different translations and discuss any important differences you find.

(3) Briefly and concisely summarise the opinions, statements and wild rants which have influenced your project from the work of secondary writers. Say that you used bronze not copper because Baljockey argues so persuasively for it. Briefly refute Pondribblerís laughable claim that the narfing-iron curled counter-clockwise in the thirteenth century. Bemoan the fact that you couldnít lay hands on a copy of Splottenwort, tantalisingly quoted by Baljockey, for further evidence.

(4) Briefly and concisely summarise the main problems you have found and substitutions you have been forced to make. Say that you know the handles should be cedarwood, but you couldnít afford it and used pine instead. Note how you used an electric oven rather than a forge-fire, and say how you thought this affected the end result. Discuss how much your design is an exact copy of a period original, and how much itís your own design done as you think a period narf-curler would have done it. Say how much you felt the project to be a success or failure, and mention things you might do differently next time, and why. For as much of the process as you can, note the differences and similarities between your work and the process your documentation suggests.

(5) Write a bibliography. This is an alphabetical list of the authors youíve used, with titles, dates of publication and publishers for each work.

And, finally, by way of horrible warning, some Doníts.

DONíT make your item first and then try to document it - your documentation must drive the whole process.

DONíT take all your documentation off the Web - this are usually secondary sources, and have a higher chance of being poorly researched and presented. If you do use web sources, make sure they refer to primary sources, or use secondary sources sparingly and critically.

DONíT use Conan the Barbarian, Braveheart or Aladdin as a source of any kind (aaaargh!)

DONíT assume that you donít need to tell the judge(s) basic information - play it safe and demonstrate that you do know, and maybe youíll also educate the judge(s)!

DONíT use the argument ďI used that because medieval people would have if they had it.Ē Judges have killed for less.

You can stop screaming and running now... Have fun!


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