Do I have to do research?
One of the most wonderful things about the SCA is that each individual can play at the level that they wish. Theoretically, you never even have to do a stitch of research and you can still have a good time…and that is perfectly acceptable. However, if you wish to create something that could have reasonably existed in a specific place, time, and culture in history, then research is essential. Indeed, for many artisans, research is incredibly exciting. It is an answer to a burning question…it is information that solves a mystery that has tickled your fancy for months or years. It is a peak into the lives and cultures of world long departed. Research is the process of searching for information about something, as well as information about how to do something.
If you wish to create something truly historical, starting out by researching the subject is essential, because it is your roadmap and it informs your decisions about how to complete your project. Waiting to research your project after it is completed usually leads to disappointment, so do yourself a favor and do the research first.
Where do I start?
The best place to start is with an idea. Make a list of all the things that interest you, and start there. Do a google search. Yes, you heard me right…start with the internet. While, Wikipedia should never be used in your bibliography, it is a really great starting point. Typically, Wiki articles have a pretty good overview, but the best thing about them are the references at the end. Write down those references, and then track them down. Also, a search on Google Scholar will turn up many academic sources. The drawback is that there will be many articles with restricted access. If this happens, then reach out to the arts community and see if anyone has access to the source and is willing to acquire it for you. Look at museums with online databases for surviving items. Make note of book sources and then see if you can track them down through World Cat . If they aren’t available in your local library, ask about an interlibrary loan. Is it at a university near you? Head on over and make copies of the pertinent information.
Are all sources the same?
But, keep in mind that not all sources are created equal. Academic, peer reviewed sources are usually superior. Be wary of personal blogs. Some are wonderful resources maintained by experts, while others are full of garbage. If you find a statement somewhere that you can’t find elsewhere, especially if the source of the information isn’t sited, then disregard it. Sources are typically viewed by how many steps away it is from the original, and the rule of thumb is closer, the better.
A primary source is an object that has survived through time. It is the thing itself. It is the surviving manuscript, or gown. It is the printed recipe, or instructions from the time. The best way to utilize a primary source is to look at the actual original, but since that is improbable for many, photographs of the object can be considered primary for SCA purposes.
A secondary source is someone’s interpretation of the thing. It is the contemporary painting hanging in the museum, or the description contained in a writing from the period. While these are not as reliable as a primary source, they are very acceptable for our purposes, and will probably be the bulk of your research.
A tertiary source looks at the primary and secondary sources and gives their synthesis of that research. The best bet is to stick to the most recent, academic, peer reviewed sources.
As you search, remember that details matter. Try to keep it narrow. Things tend to change based on time period and culture, so try to keep your research within the same culture and a reasonable time frame. 16th century clothing from the low countries will have very different details from that of a 15th century Burgundian culture.
How many sources should I have?
I really depends on what your end goal is. Is this a project for your own enjoyment, then the amount is up to you. Is it for a competition, then I suggest a minimum of 3 sources from the time and culture of your item. Including at least one primary source, if possible. But, the more sources you have and the closer to the source, the better.
I’ve done my research, what now?
As you are collecting your research, make sure to keep it organized. It is also a good idea to keep a list of the sources you used and where you found them for future reference. That way as you are moving along creating your project and you hit a snag, you can go back to our sources to look for the answer about how to proceed.
Once you have all your research gathered, then you begin to analyze it and synthesize it into your own interpretation. As you do this, make sure that you are being as objective as possible. Don’t let your desire for a specific thing to be true color your analysis.