Inks, papers, calligraphic styles

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> There's a rules-lawyerly fascination with the oddity which permeates the

> SCA's approach to the middle ages and documentation which I find

> unfathomable.

Your comments suggest that you believe (like Tadhg) that SCAfolk ought to

base their re-creative efforts on the norms of the cultures we are

studying. Do you believe that? If so, why? What is wrong with

re-creating oddities? That approach clearly will not provide a correct

picture of the culture as a whole, but it will still provide a correct

picture of some aspect of that culture.


Arval d'Espas Nord mittle at

From: jtn at (Terry Nutter)


Subject: Re: scrolls.....

Date: 6 Jul 93 22:47:22 GMT

Greetings, all, from Angharad ver' Rhuawn. Arval posted recently on scrolls,

asking Hossein several questions. Now, I don't talk for Hossein (he and I

do not always agree, and lord knows, he talks well enough for himself). But

I have a few responses of my own....

Arval asks,

>Why should we take chancery documents, as opposed to private documents, as

>the models for our scrolls?

Because the crowns sign them. Because the office that prepares them is

appointed by the crown and organized as a kingdom office. Because in some

kingdomes, the herald's office signs them before they go out as witness that

they are official. All of these are appropriate _only_ if the documents

issue from a chancery. If they are private documents, the signatures and

seals are out of place, and the heralds do not have even the dimmest and

most distant claim to any interest in them whatsoever. And they are

private business between a recipient and an artisan, and no Clerk of the

Signet (or your kingdom's name for it) has any business with it.

Either they come from the Kingdom or they don't. If they do, the appropriate

model is documents that came from Crowns in period. If they don't, then

none of this bureaucracy has any business mucking around in them.

Arval also remarks on Hossein's objection to using outliers as models:

>> The ability to cite outliers tells you nothing about the central tendency.

>> By the logic of "it happened once somewhere in the middle ages, it must be

>> period" the marginal note I once saw in a bible from the Abbey of Lorsch

>> ("Abbas cum Hlothario nefas fecit") implies that every bible produced in

>> every scriptorium in Europe had some scribe's accusation of the abbot's

>> sodomy scrawled in the margin.


>Come on Hossein, you know that doesn't hold water: There is a difference

>between saying "We can take this evidence as the basis for a re-creation"

>and "Everything we re-create must follow this model."

But every model cited in that book is an outlier. _Only_ outliers are being

provided as models. What message does that send?

>> There's a rules-lawyerly fascination with the oddity which permeates the

>> SCA's approach to the middle ages and documentation which I find

>> unfathomable.


>Your comments suggest that you believe (like Tadhg) that SCAfolk ought to

>base their re-creative efforts on the norms of the cultures we are

>studying. Do you believe that? If so, why? What is wrong with

>re-creating oddities? That approach clearly will not provide a correct

>picture of the culture as a whole, but it will still provide a correct

>picture of some aspect of that culture.

Not if the oddity is presented _other_ than as an oddity. It is an accurate

depiction of current US trends if you show a lot of kids, one or two wearing

Mohawks, and those treated as outliers. It is a radically incorrect picture

of _any_ aspect of our culture -- including those who chose that style -- to

portray it as the central tendency. If it were the central tendency, they'd

be wearing something else. That's the point; missing that is missing the


Also, if all you portray is the outliers, you not only misrepresent them, you

miseducate people who are picking up their sense of what is medieval from

what we reproduce. A huge proportion of the people who come into the SCA

develop their sense of what is, for instance, Norman garb by what people

who call their garb "Norman" wear. If what they're wearing has as little

to do with Norman garb as, say, Madonna's more far-out get-ups have to do

with current street wear, what we are doing is not only not educational, it's

counter-educational. That, I think, is a trend worth avoiding. We may grant

that there's a limit to what good we can do. Still, we should try to avoid

doing harm.


-- Angharad/Terry


From: mittle at (Arval d'Espas Nord)

Subject: Re: scrolls.....

Date: Wed, 7 Jul 1993 20:33:43 GMT

Organization: IBM T.J. Watson Research

Greetings from Arval!

My thanks to Hossein, Angharad, and Godfrey for their thoughts in this

thread. If I may summarize, we have seen the following facts:

1) The overwhelming majority of medieval charters are not decorated in the

manner of our award scrolls, the design of which is more closely based on

book pages.

2) In particular, chancery documents were rarely decorated in this manner.

3) Nevertheless, there are some charters which were decorated in this

manner. They are clearly not representative of the central tendency of

medieval diplomata (to use Hossein's words), but they did exist.

I think everyone in this conversation understands these facts, but they are

drawing very different conclusions depending, I believe, on what they are

interested in re-creating.

Hossein and Angharad focus on organizational aspects of SCA scrolls:

Scrolls are documents issued by the Crown and produced by its officers, and

therefore should re-create medieval chancery documents. Chancery

documents, in general, were not decorated like book pages; therefore our

official scrolls should generally not be so decorated. Angharad objected

to the use of exceptional examples as the models for our scrolls:

> _Only_ outliers are being provided as models. What message does that

> send? ...the oddity is presented _other_ than as an oddity.

Similarly, Hossein asked:

> What does the existence of outliers prove about the central tendency of

> medieval diplomata?

The key point in understanding their position is that they feel that SCA

institutions should be based on the common practices of medieval Europe,

not on exceptional cases. In effect, they want the institution itself (or

perhaps all scrolls considered together) to be a good re-creation.

Godfrey, on the other hand, appears to focus on a much finer scale. (I'm

drawing conclusions only from your position in this discussion, Godfrey,

and no doubt exaggerating it for my own rhetorical purposes. Please allow

me that liberty.) He finds sufficient satisfaction in the fact that each

scroll, viewed in isolation, is a good re-creation of _some_ period model.

The fact that the model on which it is based is an oddity doesn't bother

him. The institution doesn't concern him over much; the individual

re-creative efforts are the key to his enjoyment of the SCA. He wrote:

> I shall also stipulate that they were the exception rather than the rule.

> Nevertheless, they DO exist, which was the entire point of my original

> post.

There is a third view which has not been represented in this discussion,

which focusses at yet a finer level detail. There may be artisans in the

Society who consider it most important to re-create elements of a work,

without particular interest in the cumulative effect. They are perfectly

happy knowing that the script used on a scroll is an accurate re-creation

of a medieval hand and that the illumination is an accurate re-creation of

some form of medieval illumination; the fact that these two elements could

never have been combined in any medieval document bothers them not a whit.

It is important to realize that Hossein and Anghard on one hand, Godfrey on

the other hand, and my postulated scribes on Cariadoc's third hand, are not

re-creating the same things. They are re-creating in the same medium but

their aims are quite different, so it should come as no surprise at all

that their priorities clash or that their products are incompatible with

other goals. An obvious analogue can be found in many of the arguments

that Tadhg and I have had over the heraldic rules for submissions: Our

goals are quite different even though we are working in the same domain, so

it is not the least surprising that we come into conflict over the rules

governing our craft.

I think it is also important to realize that Godfrey's approach is the

predominant one in the Society today. Very few of us try very hard to make

our institutions re-creative activities in themselves. Most of us are

happy focussing on individual works of re-creation. That's also not

surprising: To make a single artifact a good re-creation, you don't need to

convince anyone that it is worthwhile. To make an institution be a good

re-creation, you have to convince everyone working in that domain to agree

on the same goal. That is an unlikely event.

The scribal arts are one of the most active areas of craftwork in the

Society for several reasons. First, our award system creates an

essentially unlimited demand for their product. A product in demand

increases in value; in our case, the value is embodied as esteem and

attractiveness of the craft. Second, the award system makes scribal

craftwork highly visible. Some people grouse that scrolls are displayed

once and then disappear forever, but scribal arts is the only craft of

which the product is regularly displayed in court. Visibility creates

further esteem, attracting more people to the craft. Third, scribal work

is a craft which is easy & flexible to practice, but which offers plenty of

room for developing expertise. It doesn't require a group of people

working together (though it can be so practiced). It doesn't require a

major investment to get started (though such an investment can be helpful).

It is familiar in the real world and many people bring basic skills with

them into the Society, but there is enormous range for research and

learning. Fourth, the scroll itself is a relatively small, self-contained

project. A scribe can go through a dozen scrolls in a year; each one is a

finishing point with all the associated feelings of accomplishment, and

each one is a chance to start anew in a new style, or with new tools, or

simply to put last months mistakes behind you and begin fresh. All these

reasons for the popularity of the scribal arts naturally lead to a focus on

the individual craftwork rather than the institution as a whole.

Hossein wrote:

> I don't think that a primary focus of SCA artisans ought to be scroll

> production at all. I think they should make the sorts of things that

> medieval artisans did.

I think that is a bit naive, Hossein. There is no comparable demand for

other products of scribal craftsmanship, nor could that work be nearly as

visible because it would have little practical purpose in the SCA. SCA

artisans understandably prefer to make items that can be produced at home

and used at SCA events. The scroll is the most practical outlet for their

skills and it is in demand. Until some equally-attractive option presents

itself, it is hard to imagine many scribes turning their attention


Hossein also wrote:

> A lovely hand executing a medieval-like diploma is a beautiful thing.

No doubt, but it is a beauty which is harder to appreciate than the beauty

of an illuminated page. To appeciate that beauty and to develop the skills

necessary to produce it takes more and harder work; it should come as no

shock that most of our scribes prefer the quicker route to the

highly-appreciated illuminated page. Some of our most learned craftsmen

have turned to the more-difficult path, but experts are few in any field.

Hossein again:

> The only reason for which I can see making so marginal a part of medieval

> diplomata the _model_ for SCA awards calligraphy is gratification of the

> modern taste for wall-art. I don't see sacrificing one area of our

> recreation where we _could_ be authentic, and at little cost, to that

> modern taste.

You are making a crucial assumption here: that _we_ are trying to be

authentic. That is rarely true. _I_ am trying to be authentic, _you_ are

trying to be authentic, and _Godfrey_ is trying to be authentic, but it is

extraordinarily rare for more than a handful of people to try to be

authentic together. The standard model of SCA activity is not people

working together to build a single collective re-creation, but people

working separately to build thousands of individual re-creations. The SCA

certainly has room for both models (and others), and I generally agree that

it would be more fun if we did more collective re-creation. That's why I'm

helping build the Company of S. Michael and why I like narrow-focus events.

On the other hand, I don't think it should be the predominant model of SCA

activity nor that it should be built into our rules. That's why I'm am

working so hard to relax the regulation of heraldic style in the SCA.

In a note which I received privately, but which I think was posted to the

Rialto too, Hossein wrote:

> I am interested in historical re-creation on a broad scale and because I

> take seriously the SCA's role as an educational organization. If

> oddities statistically predominate, then one is teaching people about

> medieval oddities, not the middle ages.
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