Documentation by Glynnis Hollinder

GlynnisThis is a short presentation by Glynnis Hollindale for Newcomers to the Society for Creative Anachronism, her own thoughts and opinions only.

I use the term documentation in this instance, to describe the additional material that accompanies an entry into a competition run within the SCA as part of the Arts and Sciences education programme.  In this leaflet, i am speaking from the points of view of both entrant and the judge with additional comments about the organisation of competitions.

The primary function of competitions in the SCA is as varied as their organisers.  Displays might be general to show the expertise of the group to visitors, specific competitions to generate interest in a neglected field, prepared accessories or costumes for up-coming events, encourage beginners in becoming more adventurous in their crafts of just for the fun of it.  The additional functions of the Arts and Sciences competitions is often to encourage others attempts similar projects or educate the audience and expose them to some of the historical research going on in the SCA. For those of us already interested in a particular field new examples and work from other people can show us different aspects that we might not have found in our own explorations.

WHY do we use documentation?

The documentation has a number of reasons for its existence.  It is often the only interface between the entrant and the judge/audience to identify, explain and support the physical entry. In many competitions, there are 10 points or more you will only receive for the documentation.

If you were to be present throughout the judging or display, you would be asked a variety of questions about your entry.  If you base your documentation on what you would say to various interested bystanders, it will probably include everything that the judges need to know as well as helping your audience appreciate what you are intending to achieve.

Who are you?

The minimum documentation that should be attached to a competition entry is your name.  Your personal identification could extend to mundane name, SCA name and group.  It might also include such relevant details as age, any physical disability, experience or education.

This brings me to the first controversial issue of judging - whether or not to allow the background of the maker to influence the scoring given to a piece of work.  The SCA rarely uses the format where the identity of the maker is kept secret from the judges and the physical entry must speak for itself alone.

When I am judging a piece of work, I prefer to know whether it is a first piece from a beginner of age 15 or an advanced example from a retired person with 40 years of professional experience.  I am less likely to subtract points for small faults in workmanship and more likely to give grater value to moderately good design choices in the entry from the 15 year old.  My obvious bias may give them closer scores than the relative quality of the entries alone would account for, but it is not likely to change my opinion as to which entry is the best in its category.

Categories: This is an important point for competition organisers to note.  If the competition is intended to find the best of its kind, then the background of the maker is not relevant.  On the other hand, the organiser may wish to make encouragement awards or prizes by age group or experience level.

In  the original design of the competition, the organiser needs to consider what they are looking for and this should be make clear in the preliminary advertising of the competition. It is then up to the entrant to supply the necessary information.  Just as important, the judges need to be carefully briefed to ensure that they are judging according to the advertised standards.

WHAT should be included?

Clearly state what is it and why is it here.

Don't laugh... If there are three interstate entries in the competition at a Coronet event and the descriptions are vague; the judges might have to guess as to which piece of documentation goes with which entry. If the competition is for a wooden box, be clear as to whether your entry is the large Viking style tourney chest of the small jewellery case.

Again, I emphasise that a label, tag, cover sheet of sign should be provided that clearly describes the item being presented and also the competition being entered so there is no confusion. The red jelly dragon might be an entry for the dessert cooking competition of the heraldic display of both.  The description of the item and the competition for which it is intended will give some information to the judges about the entry but has not told them about the many decisions you made during it preparation.

The answers to questions similar to the following will help others understand what you did, why you did and what you were intending to create.  Why have you gone to the trouble of making/cooking/painting/brewing/hammering/embroidering/beading etc this particular item? Are you trying something new? It is a reproduction copy of something you have seen  in a book? If so, which book? (Remember to identify the author, edition, page, etc) Is it an attempt to recreate something we believe existed in the Middle Ages or Renaissance from literary references or songs?  Do you intend to use it yourself? Has it been adapted to be relevant to our Current Middle Ages? How does it differ to the illustration? Is it deliberately incomplete so the judge can see the back/internals? What modern materials did you substitute for the supposed originals? What methods did you use? Is this part of an item or process?

Describing what is deliberately different in your entry to the examples referenced and why, will prevent the judges from misunderstanding your intent.  If you have left something out deliberately, modified the pattern or manufactured it quite differently, says so.  This is the second area of conflict in judging where the opinion or knowledge of the judge about a topic can prejudice them while scoring an entry.

Many substitutions are based on our greater understanding of health issues.  Preparation of a cometic without using lead or other poisonous substance is logical and reasonable if it is intended for use.  If the intent was to re-create the period recipe, then original ingredients should have been used with a clear unambiguous label on the item that contains the warning that is is for display only and detailing the ingredients.  Before you start, read the competition description carefully and refer to it during your preparation.  If the terms of the competition have not been adhered to, you should expect to lose points.

HOW should it be presented?

The easiest text to read is clear hand-writing, printing or typing.  The best length for the documentation is difficult to predict as it should be short enough to be comfortable for the judges to read but long enough to say everything you feel is necessary.  If the sheets are loose, plwase number them and mark the end of the piece.  If you copied from an illustration or picture in a book, either have the book open at that page or have a good photocopy of it attached.

The use of computers makes the presentation of printed matter much easier planning is still needed.  Make sure that you have a preliminary copy of your documentation ready earlier during the week and it matters very little that you could have made it just a bit better with some more work.  one morning, the printer did not co-operate and I was left to hurriedly hand-write a summary of my information.  I doubt the quality of my penmanship reflected either my interest in the field or my investigation into the subject.

WHEN? and WHERE to send it?

Read the  advert carefully (again).  If there is any question about whee or when the entry and documentation must be presented and to whom, ask the competition organiser (or the autocrat of the event if the organiser is not obvious).  I made the mistake of submitting an entry on the second day of a two day event, the same judges were there but it was more a matter of luck than judgement on my part.