Part 1: What is Documentation Anyway?
This is the first in a short series of posts about documentation in the SCA. We in the A&S Ministry, as well as folks in the broader A&S community often speak about documentation. But, those of you who are newer to the Society or have only just begun a journey into the Arts and Sciences may not be totally sure what it is. Even if you’re not so new to Arts and Sciences in the SCA, you may still be wondering what qualifies as documentation. So, before we talk about reasons why you might want to create some documentation, it’s worth saying a few words about what we mean when we talk about “documentation”.
The Society for Creative Anachronism is an educational organization, “devoted to the research and re-creation of pre-17th century skills, arts, combat, culture…” (SCA Organizational Handbook, April 1, 2022 revision, p6) In order to re-create any of the skills, arts, combat, or cultural practices of the past we need to find out what they were. This can be done in many ways. We all follow our own paths to learning about the past. No matter how you got there, once you’ve found that information you will use it to make choices about how to craft your re-creation. At its core, “documentation” is a just record of the information that you used and the choices you made during your re-creation.
It really is that simple. Notes that you take and little reminders to yourself can be documentation, even if no one other than you can make sense of it.
When we talk about “documentation” we are referring to anything that explains why you made your thing (or prepared your performance, or planned a ceremony, etc.) the way you did. Your documentation can be as detailed or as brief as you want it to be, and it can vary depending on the setting or context in which you’re sharing it. Many of the conversations we have at Events involve very informal sharing of documentation.
- Someone compliments you on a new hat you’ve made. You tell them, “Thanks! I based it on this nifty painting that I came across at the Museum of Obscure Art.” This is bare bones, but you’ve just shared some documentation.
- You really enjoyed one of the dishes at a Feast. After the Event, you ask the head cook about it. They tell you, “Oh, that’s one of the recipes from The Cookbook of Masterchef Oldtimer. I can give you a copy, but you know those historical recipes are often vague, and I had to dig up some more information to fill in the blanks, so let me give you the modern-style recipe I wrote out for the kitchen staff, too.”
- You’ve made some cups that you and your partner drink from at Events. Your friend, who is also a potter, notices them and asks you about how you made them. With a fellow artisan, you go into detail about the materials you chose and the process of making them.
All of these casual conversations are about sharing documentation. We don’t always think of them that way, or even refer to them that way, especially as they are not written down. But, in all these examples, someone is explaining how they went about re-creating some pre-17th century thing and sharing the information they used to decide how to do it. That’s what our documentation is all about.
In other settings, documentation can get very formal. If you’re writing an article for a newsletter or entering a competition, then you may be required to prepare written documentation in a certain format. Documentation could even turn into an actual research paper or a booklet (like the Compleat Anachronist series published by the SCA corporate offices). But, not every competition or display requires formal, written documentation. And, more informal writing is often desirable for things like blogs or social media. People have also made videos, cartoons, and even poems to explain their projects or research. Again, how you present your documentation can vary depending on how and where and why you are doing it. For the most part that’s up to you.
Just remember, no one is forcing you to produce documentation. It’s not required of anyone and many people enjoy the various activities the SCA has to offer without ever thinking about documenting what they’re doing. All of us are here because we enjoy re-creating pre-17th century skills, arts, combat, or culture. And sharing what we’ve learned can be part of the fun.
But, if you’re not convinced that documentation can be fun, I’m going to present a few more reasons why you might want to have a go at it. The remaining posts in this series will all be inspired by some of the virtues that we consider pillars of our Society.
– Abu-Darzin Ibrahim al-Rashid, Laureate