Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Serena’s Reflections Upon the Work of a Laurel. Chapter One: Be a Scholar

Serena’s Reflections Upon the Work of a Laurel

This series will focus on MY opinion of the job that you agree to take on when you accept the accolade of The Laurelate. Being a Laurel is not just an award, regalia, or a title which is bestowed upon you. It’s a job. A good candidate will already be doing the job before they are elevated. 

Disclaimer: I am not, in any way, pointing fingers and saying “You are a bad Laurel” to anyone. At some times, I feel like I am being a bad Laurel by not being able to fulfill my own expectations. That’s just life, and I’m okay with it. You should try and be, too. 

Chapter One: Be a Scholar

In my opinion, the job of Laurels in the SCA is to be the scholars. Laurels should be the locators, organizers, and disseminators of medieval information. As a Society that attempts to accurately recreate the middle ages, scholars are needed to guide people who are just starting out, to teach those who are working on elevating their art form, and to gently redirect those long on the path when new information arises. 

In the past decade, the SCA as a whole has upped its game. People are making, wearing, and doing things in a much more period manner than ever before. This is undoubtedly due to it now being easier than ever to find information (thank you, Internet!) plus our innate desire to raise the bar. A great example of this is Duke Ullr of the Middle Kingdom. His Grace has accumulated extensive knowledge of Norse culture and has used this insight to incrementally improve his garb, fighting kit and encampment over the years. His Grace has inspired others to do the same with what he calls “The 10% Challenge.”

To quote Duke Ullr, “I present the challenge this way; make an effort to improve your kit by 10%. Maybe that’s 10% a year, or war season, or by improving a skill or item in your kit. Ultimately, a small investment leads to a better overall impression of your era in history. It's simple, try to change small things to be historical. Shoes this year, linen cloth instead of polyester next year. Learn how to do a new thing this winter. Teach others in the spring. Little steps to achieve a better Society." 

I think this is a great challenge for everyone to consider, and I know plenty of folks who have successfully met the challenge. Because of their efforts, they are more authentic every year, a little bit at a time. By and large the typical SCA participant today looks relatively authentic and can create some very lovely items in a period fashion. What it comes down to, is that it’s not enough to just look authentic and make neat stuff anymore. To be a Laurel, you must also be a scholar. It’s your job. 

Not everyone has the drive to be a scholar, and that’s ok. It takes work, long hours of research, and a lot of reading and pondering your subject. It takes a creative and forward thinking mind to collect a body of evidence, see holes where no information exists, and then fill those holes with “I think it was probably done this way, based on this evidence and that sample.”  It’s not just reading the available research and memorizing facts and figures. It’s having the ability to connect the dots between those figures that is critical.

A scholar is hungry for knowledge and never stops learning, or reevaluating that which they think they already know. When new information arises through new archaeological finds, or texts, or extant samples, the scholar says “Ah! I see I was close, but I was wrong! This is how it was done! Check it out!” It may be very hard to accept the “I was wrong” part of this equation, especially if you’ve invested many years, and an enormous amount of emotion, into your art. A Laurel, being a Peer, should have the humility to put aside personal feelings and focus on the facts. This can be very hard when you’ve nurtured your art, watched it grow, shared it proudly, and received praise for it. However, artists must try to remember that negative comments on their art are most likely not personal attacks on them as a person. Without a doubt, this can be the hardest aspect of being a Laurel – removing emotion from the discussion. That’s not to say you should remove enthusiasm or passion! But you should try to remain objective and not become defensive when your positions or beliefs are challenged. It’s only through challenging what we already know that our collective knowledge can be furthered. 

Another vital part of being a scholar is being able and willing to share your information. In the SCA that means teaching a class, participating in a craftperson’s faire, or maybe simply bringing (or actively doing) your art to an event. This sharing of information makes all of us all more authentic. It makes the SCA a richer experience for everyone, for both those participating in activities and those observing. 

I’m not saying that ONLY Laurels can be scholars. However, to be a GOOD Laurel, you should be a scholar. So before you get elevated, crack a book, do your research, and study up!

:: Questions? Comments? Feel free to comment here, comment on the Facebook post (if you got here from Facebook), or email me at directly at serenasbugs@gmail.com. Thanks for reading!


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