GUIDED BY A BOOK OF PROVENANCE
About a quarter century ago, right before I became involved in real living history (American War of Independence through the Northwest Territory Alliance), a member of the First American Regiment Recreated (Queen’s Rangers) showed me the binder that contained articles and illustrations that helped members of the unit create their appearance and impressions. It impressed me, ad it was something that I always kept in mind. That member was Thomas Langenfeld, and the entire Langenfeld clan are to be thanked for turning me into the elitist snob I am today! I dedicate this chapter of the Anglo-Scandinavian Chronicle to Tom!
I don’t know if at this point whether Tom referred to this binder as a Book of Provenance or whether that is a term that I developed on my own. But almost ten years ago, when I founded Micel Folcland, one of the first things I did was to start what I termed the Book of Provenance.
What it was in the beginning was a simple compilation of various items of interest, divided into sections such as “Textiles” or “Wooden Artefacts” and “Metal Objects.” They were all assembled and printed out and contained in a dedicated binder. Originals are stressed but not always possible. Any time a reconstruction, a reproduction or a modern line drawing is used instead of the photograph of am artifact, it has been carefully noted!
Over the years, three things happened:
1) The sections expanded as I included new items. “Ecclesiastical Objects,” “Tools” and “Cooking Utensils,” and then further divided them into specific subcategories such as “Weapons and Armor,” “Chests and Furniture” and “Toys.” Then I started including specifics–with a vague future plan to put them into pre-existing categories–such as “From YAT,” Oseberg Artifacts.” “From Viking to Crusader” and even personal folders such as “From Andy.” Even today, I create new folders and juggle things around. It’s a work in progress. (I also started to include articles and even downloaded digital books).
2) The items became more carefully described and annotated. In the early days, there were simple and fairly useless descriptions like “Viking sword” and “Anglo-Saxon Cup;” today, I try to include, usually in shorthand, as much information as possible: “AS Ceramic Cup 11C Museum of London from Kent.” Doesn’t happen every time, and often I will include the illustration in an “article” that gives me an unlimited number of words to describe it. I will still have the original insertion of a folder, but there is more information that can be divined if needed.
3) I no longer have a physical, printed Book of Provenance. It is now a series of computer files. Being a paranoid type, these files are regularly backed up on CDs, on other computers, on flash drives and of course on my main computer. A few, whose files I had lost track of when a computer went down unexpectedly, I scanned for inclusion.
There is one other difference. Originally, the files were just confined to what could be used. Gradually, that changed. Some files are still from the period and culture of course. Some are a trifle abroad in terms of locale and culture (I do have the s copy of the Jade Buddha found in Birka, not to condone its appearance but to indicate how far ranging items of kit might be). Sometimes an article might be of an article probably used in the Danelaw at this time, but no alternative has been found. In all cases such as this, the ruling of the AO is final.
Similarly, we now include items which predate our period. To some extent, this show what should not be used widely unless it was also used during the later time. To some extent, these are items which might have been discovered or saved or appropriated (and yes, we have copies of articles which note such usage). Especially in the latter case, it requires AO approval. A standard rule of thumb is borrowed from other living history, and each participant is allowed some out of period item, but the item used must be different from that used by any other participant at that event (we are trying to recreate everyday culture and to stay away from mass-produced items). At another event, such an item might be displayed or worn by another member. It should go without saying that the AO must approve, coordinate and referee the appearance of all these items!
I have recently started including items from after our time period. If it is soon after, there is a tendency to look more favorably upon its use and inclusion; if it is several centuries away, it is a warning to members not to include it as part of their impressions. Once again, the final determiner is the local or, if necessary, the society AO.
As a side note, I should add that certain mass produced period pieces—certainly not swords and blankets but probably things like baskets and scissors—are generally restricted as well, so that the MoPs do not go away with an incorrect comprehension of the era and culture.
I encourage all units to have their own Book of Provenance for educating their own members! As I noted before, the Book of Provenance is still growing and never-ending project. That is not to say that it is a worthless idea, not any more than including items that coordinate with current thought and belief, which might be invalidated by future discoveries and interpretation. If living history is to have any relevance at all, it must be a growing, organic and evolving thing! And the Book of Provenance is something that helps all that!
For another look at the value of research and provenance in accurate living history, please take a look at Revisiting Living History. The era is different but the basics remain the same!