On retroactive documentation

A question to the Kingdom A&S Minister, Master Philip White:

“Hey! Master P! I just finished this really fun project and I’m very happy with how it turned out! My friends are really impressed too. I’m thinking I should enter it in a competition. They’ve encouraged me to do it. How do I go about documenting it before I enter? Can I back-document it?”

A reply from the Minister:

First? A few comments!

We are really happy that you are working on projects that you think are fun and that you’re proud of completing. Congratulations!

That’s an experience that we hope for everyone learning and exploring the arts and sciences.

We are also happy about your interests in A&S competitions and documentation. Both of these things, entering competitions and completing documentation, are great ways to share your research, to teach others, and to learn more about your studies.

Now? An observation to share.

Many A&S competitions are designed to support and encourage research driven projects. That means that the entries that score better are often built from the ground up and historically informed every step of the way.

The difference could be, for example, asking yourself “is this pretty” and “is this pretty in a historical way”. These two questions could create completely different projects. Both would result in “pretty” objects. But one would more likely end up looking historically informed. And that historically informed project would more likely end up performing better in a competition.

This also means that the people who typically enjoy these competition experiences the most are the people that started their projects with research and continued researching as they completed their work.

True, getting a “good score” on your project is not necessarily the same thing as having a “good experience” with a competition. People enter all the time with no expectations of winning. They may just want time for exposure to talk to people and to learn more. And that’s not just okay but also encouraged.

Also! Another observation to share!

Documentation is not just a tool for competitions.

Documentation is a communication tool. A way for us to share with others what we have learned. A way for us to teach others. And a way for us to show what else we have to learn. A way for us to make our ideas concrete. A way for us to stay organized.

We can do documentation all the time. Not just for competitions. We can do it for our award documents and our feast menus and our largess and our site tokens and our heraldic objects and all sorts of things. People can learn from all of these kinds of projects.

Documentation can be written down for a competition. But it can also be a blog post. It can be pictures on a webpage. It can be comments on a picture posted to social media. It could be an article published in the gazette. It could be notes on the back of an award document. It could be a piece of paper attached to largess. It could be notes on the back of a feast menu.

This is documentation that we use for educational purposes only and not also for competition.

What happens when we try to use it for competition, too?

That’s where that “back-documenting” part really comes into play. And that’s where people sometimes run into challenges.

What do I mean? Basically, when someone finishes a project, and then, after the fact, tries to work through all those steps of how and why they made the project. But they try to make those past decisions appear to be researched based and historically informed.

That’s hard to do. Why?

Because if an entrant doesn’t already have a well-developed historical eye, then the finished project may come out more modern than authentic.

It is possible, true. Some highly experienced people may be able to create projects that are strongly based in previous research that now basically lives in their mind. They have trained themselves to have a historical aesthetic. A period “eye” if you will. “Pretty” and “historically pretty” could be the same thing for them based off of their training. The objects that those people may be well-positioned to enter A&S competitions.

For most of us this may be really hard to do. And that’s when we start seeing entrants that may try to start “justifying” their decisions. And that doesn’t work too well. Here’s an example with clothing. This might be when people start with one inspiration, say someone else’s costume they find as a picture on the internet, or maybe a costume from a movie or a TV show, one that may really be more fantasy based. But then later try to work out how their project could have also been inspired by a clothing found in a grave find. A judge can tell that the work was not historically informed.

This is when entrants start having less fun entering competitions because their entries may not score as well. And we don’t want people to experience that feeling. We want them to have fun.

So, what do we suggest?

We think you should be proud of your work!

You started out on a path, you worked hard, you learned along the way, and you finished. Enjoy that feeling! That’s great!

Also, please do document your project. Talk about who/what/when/where/why/how. Share those things with people. It is a good way for you to help teach other people.

And, yes, please consider entering a competition. But, make sure that this project is the project you should enter.

And remember, not all competitions are the same. And not all competitions are focused on research-based projects. Your entry could be perfectly suited. Not sure if it fits? When in doubt ask the competition organizers. They will help you!

Maybe this project is one that you set out for a display. And not for competition. That way you’ll get to still teach people. You’ll still get to learn. But the historical aspects are not judged.

Then, you can take what you’ve learned, and prepare for a competition with a historically informed and research based project from the very beginning.

Remember… Have fun! Learn! Teach!

Your Servant to Command,
~p.w.