It is far easier to be farby in early medieval impressions than it is to be farby in later-period—better documented—eras. I’m not talking about wearing spex, sneakers and wristwatches. The folk who willingly include these anachronisms are not trying for historical integrity in the first place. What I am talking about is the multiplicity of interpretations—many of which are probably incorrect and farby but cannot be determined one way or the other—as well as matters of safety and expense of availability.
When I visited Gettysburg last year, I ran cross a book of the way to manage the horse during the American Civil War. It wasn’t cobbled together from archaeological discovers, fleeting references in period texts and modern interpretations. It was what was written during that time and which the cavalryman was expected to follow in the military. I noted it to a friend, a horsewoman who does much earlier, and she lamented, “They have it so easy in the later periods…”
They do. Higher levels of literacy, a tendency to describe everyday life, a tendency to tell people exactly how they should do things: All can help guide any modern literate person away from farbiness (if they’re willing to read and to research). But more than any of this, are photographs of what was going on, and later moving film and video.
What a cornucopia of information exists for someone doing the Crimean War and later! Even illustrations—paintings and line illos and sketches—pale before photography, because the illustrator does his own interpretation, deciding what to include and what to ignore, probably deciding what is most dramatic (undoubtedly shared with photography and moving pictures, but there is more a chance that it was actually done!).. The photography often includes the everyday ephemera that is so easy to exclude because it clutters the scene!
What brings to mind today is a site of photographs from the American Ci8vil War, a three-part series of photos from the time and gathered by the Atlantic. Looking at these, I became distracted by the minutiae, by the sheer everyday portrayal by—oh my mother would hate this—by the clutter. And I was extremely sad that such are not available for my time! People portraying that era can still be farby; after all, therse photographs do not tell all the time about how often such scenes were seen, and many reenactors have a tendency to want to do the most romantic portrayal possible. But at least they have the possibilities presented them to discuss and to interpret. Reeavtorts recreating the era will hopefully not be spending days arguing, “Well, it’s logical that it would be done even if we have no provenance because I would do it!”
Of course, it is with chagrin that I feel the same sensation when looking at these photographs, going—from what I know and what I feel—”That looks very logical. I’ll be they did something similar in the Viking Age…”
Even if you’re not interested in other periods and cultures, taking a look at the photographs canm be fun and illuminating. Take a look a t the site!