The chances are that most people of the era we attempt to re-create not only did not have any books but could not read them even if they did have them! (That latter is not particularly historically unique since Bart D. Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why tells of some professional scribes who only duplicated pen strokes and who were not really literate!) Our display—in the literate area—has a number of leech books, a copy of the Bible (vulgate with Old English glosses in many areas), homilies and a few other books. Most are translated into modern English, since MoPs love to read medical recipes of the time, but they have period binding, are printed on vegetable parchment that simulates real parchment and are typeset using fonts that effectively mimic period calligraphic styles in formats seen in period manuscripts. Although they are not on chains, I point out proudly to visitors that I am literate unlike most of the camp* and these books and am proud that I possess these books.
The insides of some of the books are shown to the MoPs, but many are not. One is a “commonplace book”—alas, not quite period, since the first appeared a few hundred years later—that answers many questions we might have, and one holds a camera that may be brought out when MoPs are not about and used quickly during an event but which is routinely camouflaged. But the most useful book is a shopping guide that I use when going around to vendors.
Vendors are, in almost any era, there to make a buck. Even when there is a conscious desire to make the presentation better, often the vendor will carry goods that are not, strictly speaking, period accurate. In some cases, it might be a legitimate difference in interpretation. In some, it is just availability or safety. Sometimes, it might be to fulfill a desire by reenactors or to cater to the MoPs. In a few, unfortunately, it is just a desire to move merchandise. How else can you justify cast-pewter sewing-machine charms at a RevWar event? Two decades ago, I was the commander of Baldswin’s unit in the NWTA, a RevWar reenactment group. Baldwin’s was a unit of sutlers—vendors—and most of my time seemed to be spent handling complaints from fellow members seeking accuracy, policing the wares displayed and trying to convince unit members not to sell or to display inappropriate merchandise.
Some reenactment groups force the vendors who set up at their events to take back anything that is later not approved by an authenticity officer (AO), at least when they have that control. Certainly, many groups never give a blanket okay for anything produced by a supplier to be used on the line, although they might recommend members look at the wares of a certain vendor. Even wares purchased from such a vendor, who has sold appropriate material before, must be approved by an AO. Above all else, a reenactor—old or new—must keep in mind what Steve Etheridge, formerly the AO of Regia Anglorum, notes, that most vendors are “ operate under the provisions of ‘buyer beware.’ ” And the buyers must, indeed, beware!
The shopping guide was first accumulated a few years ago when shopping for myself and other members of my unit at a large event which has only moderate control over what the vendors offer for sale. It featured photographs of actual artifacts, diagrams from archaeological books and so forth. It enabled me to pick up something, look at it, look at what “inspired” it and make a decision as to how appropriate it would be at an event. I handed out copies to members from other Regia groups but did not sell it. Although some illustrations are taken from out-of-copyright sources or were taken by myself, most are not. Getting permission to reprint all the photos would have been difficult if not impossible! It is a fair-use research tool that, over the years, has been weeded, added to and reprinted.
Micel Folcland recreates the Danelaw in the early eleventh century. The York Archaeological Trust has done a magnificent job excavating and cataloging artifacts, and I have cheerfully exploited their labors, thanked them profusely and have recommended their books. In assembling the book, I have followed four guides: First, that the artifacts portrayed were from York (or at least available in York, since it was a metropolitan port with objects from Scandinavia and beyond were commonly seen). Second, that things not found in the York records were used but carefully listed (such as the rich supply of items from the Oseberg burial such as looms and other textile artifacts). Third, that items were roughly dated (with “pre-period” prominently listed if necessary).** And fourth, that originals are mostly displayed, and any reproduction is noted as such.
As better illustrations are found, old ones are replaced. As new discoveries are made, they are included. As York versions of items represented by foreign versions are discovered, a change is made. Although we do not include complete bibliographic references, we try to make note of an artifact’s time, country and/or culture of origin. Is it perfect? Probably not. Is it exhaustive? Certainly not. But it is certainly helpful, and it is certainly hated by many vendors who are trying to push anything that will make the weekend profitable. There are many books, articles and such that fulfill the exact same purpose, but this book has the advantage of being easily transported and is made up in a period style that is not immediately disruptive. I certainly recommend such an effort for any unit or group that is interested in a more accurate portrayal in living history!
For a good and informative look at what is suggested and available for inclusion in such a book, you can look at the books published by YAT (see the free downloads at http://www.yorkarchaeology.co.uk/resources/pubs_archive.htm) or at the photographs of artifacts held by YAT at http://www.yorkarchaeology.co.uk/piclib/photos.php).
*A younger member was around when I did this once, and he proudly said, “My dad is literate!” “He just looks at the pictures,” I returned to the delight of both him and the MoPs.
**This did not mean that they can not be used, since the Norse and others of that day had a great tendency to use things until they wore out and not be governed as we are today by what is currently fashionable. However, they must be approved by the AO, and they should not by over-represented on the line!
Hi there, I read your blog lik every week. Your humoristic style is witty, keep up the good work!
August 10, 2014 at 13:20
Thank you very much. I think that if you’re not having fun doing something, you ought to just shuck it and fin a new passion!
August 10, 2014 at 15:03