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The Authenticity Clause

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This is what we call it when it is being evoked. The intent of the American Medievalist's Association is to be as authentic as possible in its re-creations while still being reasonable about the whole thing. Authentic does not mean genuine. Most genuine, i.e. "real", artifacts no longer exist, and the very few that may still be around are all in museums or private collections. Since everything we use in our activities is a copy, facsimile, or "interpretive rendering", the important aspect is the effect the object has on the observer. Does it look like it should, or does it evoke a sense of looking at the real thing? Thus, the design of a tunic is far more important than what it is made out of. We encourage "authentic" (i.e., what was really used) materials such as wool or linen, but we do not forbid, say, a cotton/polyester blend. Similarly, while most colors material is all right to use, we discourage, for example, dark black or day-glo orange because they 'weren't' available as dyes of that time. The intention of reasonableness means that growing your own flax, wheat, sheep, etc. are not necessary to own linen, bread, wool, etc. Similarly, arc and gas welding are allowed if they are not obviously so, or integral to a new design. If it looks like something that was forge-welded, then that is good enough for us. Some people feel that this 'detracts' from the 'authenticity' of the whole organization; but does it? In the medieval period the wool (for example) was assumed to be there by the nobility- all they had to do was locate some and acquire it. A baron did not start to raise sheep and build a loom whenever he wanted a new undershirt. He certainly did not weave it himself. His awareness of where his new undershirt came from was probably as limited as our own. Likewise, in the modern period we will assume that wool (to use the same example) is 'there' (usually a store) and that all we have to do is acquire it (usually by money). The only real difference between the two time periods is that our baron assumed that peasants would provide the commodity, while today we assume that machines and/or imports will provide the commodity. In neither case were the feelings of the peasants or machines ever considered, and interestingly, the consumers of both times feel that they are entitled to pay as little as possible and that free is even better.

This brings us to the "interpretive rendering" aspect. Since 1199 - 1299 A.D. was so long ago; a lot of little details have been forgotten and misplaced. How things were made and exactly what they looked like is uncertain. We in the American Medievalist's Association feel that the best course of action is to become thoroughly familiar with related materials, technologies and styles, and then to decide how a particular object was probably shaped (it has to be functional) and how it was probably constructed. The operative word here is "probable": while an automobile could, in theory, be constructed using medieval methods (it would not be good), the idea of conveying things overland in a self-propelled vehicle was probably not in evidence. Even in the more technologically sophisticated Renaissance, the power plant was seen as animal power (wind being unreliable, then-as-now); more usually it was seen as human power. About 200 years later, Da Vinci realized that animal power was insufficient for most machines but was still unable to envision a practical alternative. And he was a genius! Thus, it would not even occur to a medieval 'visionary~ to build a car. Therefore we do not allow cars and such-like.

The line between "authentic" and "not-acceptable" will always be blurry and there are 'advisors' who can help you delineate it. If you make or do something that "we", i.e. "the other members" do not think is authentic and/or reasonable, then you are going to get some flak over it. The American Medievalist's Association would prefer to lead by example, and all authorities are urged to be gentle and lenient in enforcement of our rules. However, you could be asked to change an article of clothing, to stop doing something, or even to leave an event or activity. If you really feel that what you are doing was authentic (say, playing strip-poker), then we require you to 'state your case', i.e., show that poker was played (not!), etc. If you can submit written, hard, evidence then you may be allowed to persist in the activity. Imaginative, legalistic, conjecture is not enough. In the example cited above (strip-poker), an argument that would not work might be as follows: that printed cards of saints were available at certain religious shrines; that playing cards derive from a tarot deck (they do, but much later) that tarot decks date back to ancient Egypt (no proof); that because chance and fate are related as 'futures', therefore someone in 1250A.D. could have or might have pre-invented or anticipated a gambling game derived from a divinatory deal of the deck; that nude frolicking was practiced in the public baths; that therefore someone could have conceived of the idea of inducing nude frolics by means of card games instead of baths; that therefore there "could have been" strip-poker in 1250A.D.; therefore there was! If you do not find this argument specious, absurd, and implausible, please don't do any research for our association. By this type of reasoning space shuttles, computers and chocolate layer cakes could have been around! All the American Medievalist's Association really even asks in this case is that you play strip-poker quietly inside your tent and avoid shouting out things like "2 pair beats 3 of a kind" which might break the medieval mood for the other members in the area.

Remember that if you persist in spoiling things for everyone else, and refuse to abide by the rules, you could be asked to leave the organization. If you want that to happen, then why did you join in the first place? Decisions about issues of authenticity can be appealed all the way up to the Board of Directors, but their decision is final. Try not to burden them with picky little stuff because they generally do not enjoy minutia.

 

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Last modified: April 01, 2002