Narfing-Iron-art - 10/23/00
"Some Notes on the Presentation of the Thirteenth-Century Narfing Iron: A Brief BeginnerÕs Guide to Documentation" by Lady Jehanne de Huguenin.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Originally published in January, AS 33 in "Storm Tidings", the newsletter for the Shire of Adamastor in Cape Town, South Africa.
"Some Notes on the Presentation of the Thirteenth-Century Narfing Iron:
A Brief BeginnerÕs Guide to Documentation"
by Lady Jehanne de Huguenin
The annual Arts and Sciences competition approaches, and the Mistress of
Arts is clamouring for documentation on all entries! Spurred by visions of
the populace runs screaming at the thought, I present a few guidelines for
SCA documentation, for those of you who are not sure what this entails
(i.e. the ones who are screaming and running).
First, a brief contextualisation. The SCA is a medieval research and
recreation society. You are, of course, absolutely and perfectly free to
take part in its activities entirely on the recreation level - paying as
much attention to medieval authenticity as is necessary to fling together a
costume and attend events without destroying the atmosphere. And more power
to your knees. You can also, if youÕre into this aspect of the Current
Middle Ages, make yourself various items, clothes, etc, which pass the
10-foot test - i.e. they look reasonably medieval from ten feet away, just
donÕt look too close, that tunicÕs nylon, the swordÕs plastic, and the leg
of chicken is Kentucky Fried.
On the other hand, if you are going to enter Arts and Sciences
competitions, you are going to run into the research aspect - you are
making things not only for your own enjoyment or use, but for a
competition, and authenticity is one of the things that the Society is
concerned with. You are going to need to supply documentation. This need
not be intimidating or require months of your life in research; it can, in
fact, be stimulating, exciting, and give you umpteen more ideas to play
Right. After that brief message from our sponsors, on with the motley.
What are you trying to do when you document a project? In my possibly not
particularly humble opinion, you are trying to present evidence that what
you have made is a reasonable attempt at reproducing something that would
have been made in the medieval period, using techniques and materials that
would have been used, and producing an effect that is similar to effects
seen in period. If, for some reason, you cannot exactly duplicate aspects
of the item - materials too costly, process too time-consuming, or
technique unknown in the modern age - you need to say exactly where you
have deviated from your period example, and why.
So, letÕs say that youÕre a keen amateur narfing-iron curler, and you have
decided to enter a narfing-iron for the Arts and Sciences competition,
based on a thirteenth-century narfing-iron because thatÕs what your persona
would have used. What do you do, after screaming and running in circles a
(1) You find some books. You may have them yourself - your favourite
handbook on modern narfing-iron curling may have a chapter on the history
of narfing-irons and the curling process. Your Friendly Neighbourhood Shire
OfficerTM, may have books you could look at. You may have to wander into a
city library and type Ōnarfing-ironĶ into their computer index. If youÕre
really lucky, youÕll have access to a university library, which is likely
to have whole treatises on narfing-irons in sickness and health.
(2) Now look at the books you have. This is the point where you need to
differentiate between primary and secondary sources, which sounds highly
intellectual and academic but isnÕt really. Opinions on what constitutes a
primary source differ slightly, but for the purposes of A&S competitions,
you can probably assume:
A primary source is an actual example of the item, made in period and
miraculously preserved (this is really difficult if your craft is cookery);
a representation of the item in an artwork created in period (reproductions
in modern books are usually fine); OR
a description of the item in a book written in period (often a bit
difficult to read, especially if itÕs in Middle English or Sanscrit).
A secondary source is anything written or drawn after the period of the
article in question , describing the article with information drawn from a
primary source. This includes translations of written primary sources.
Thus BaljockeyÕs seminal work on The Thirteenth Century Narfing Iron is a
secondary source, because he wrote in 1922. ItÕs a good secondary source
because it reproduces pictures of narfing irons, some taken from actual
examples in museums, and also draws heavily on contemporary writers who
describe narfing-irons in any way. PondribblerÕs The Narfing-Iron is a poor
secondary source, because mostly his information comes from Baljocky; also,
Pondribbler redraws the thirteenth-century pictures of narfing-irons
because he thinks their technique is a bit suspect, so what youÕre getting
is his impression of a contemporary impression of a narfing -iron. Bad
idea. Look out for this, horrible numbers of historians do it. (If youÕre
into costume, donÕt trust Norris, he always redraws his pictures and hardly
ever even mentions the primary source).
(3) If, after a brief scrutiny of your piles of books, you find you only
have secondary sources, look at their bibliographies. They will give you
details of the primary sources the authors have used, and you can probably
track them down. If the authors have been kind enough to reprint actual
period pictures, or reproduce large chunks of text from primary sources ,
you can rejoice: at this level, certainly, weÕre not going to mind if your
primary source is taken from a reproduction in another text, as long as
itÕs reproduced exactly.
Right. You now have a large pile of information describing period
narfing-irons. Hopefully youÕve managed to get some sense of materials and
technique as well as actual appearance, etc; this is often more difficult
than simply documenting what the darned thing looked like. We will skip
blissfully over the long, hard, curse-ridden process of actually
constructing your narfing -iron, and assume that youÕve curled it
successfully and are ready to enter it in the A&S competition. How do you
present your documentation?
(1) Define the scope of your project, exactly what you are trying to do:
what you are making, when it would have been made, where it would have been
made, who would have made it and used it, how they would have made it. You
may also like to state briefly why you found it interesting or particularly
useful to do this particular project.
(2)Concisely present the main aspects of your primary documentation: the
13th-century picture of the Lebanese narfing-iron, the photograph of the
narfing-iron in Hakchoo museum, the two-page rant on the hideous
temptations of narfing-irons by the Bishop of Ely in 1263. If possible,
provide photocopies of the most important pictures. You can summarise
written descriptions, but should probably quote directly the most important
points. If, for some reason, you have been unable to find true primary
sources - the most common reason would be that theyÕre all in a different
language - SAY SO! You will not be penalised for using a translation, as
long as you make it clear that you KNOW itÕs a translation but had no
option as you donÕt speak Sanscrit. In this instance, the best bet is to
compare several different translations and discuss any important
differences you find.
(3) Briefly and concisely summarise the opinions, statements and wild rants
which have influenced your project from the work of secondary writers. Say
that you used bronze not copper because Baljockey argues so persuasively
for it. Briefly refute PondribblerÕs laughable claim that the narfing-iron
curled counter-clockwise in the thirteenth century. Bemoan the fact that
you couldnÕt lay hands on a copy of Splottenwort, tantalisingly quoted by
Baljockey, for further evidence.
(4) Briefly and concisely summarise the main problems you have found and
substitutions you have been forced to make. Say that you know the handles
should be cedarwood, but you couldnÕt afford it and used pine instead. Note
how you used an electric oven rather than a forge-fire, and say how you
thought this affected the end result. Discuss how much your design is an
exact copy of a period original, and how much itÕs your own design done as
you think a period narf-curler would have done it. Say how much you felt
the project to be a success or failure, and mention things you might do
differently next time, and why. For as much of the process as you can, note
the differences and similarities between your work and the process your
(5) Write a bibliography. This is an alphabetical list of the authors
youÕve used, with titles, dates of publication and publishers for each
And, finally, by way of horrible warning, some DonÕts.
DONÕT make your item first and then try to document it - your documentation
must drive the whole process.
DONÕT take all your documentation off the Web - these are usually secondary
sources, and have a higher chance of being poorly researched and presented.
If you do use web sources, make sure they refer to primary sources, or use
secondary sources sparingly and critically.
DONÕT use Conan the Barbarian, Braveheart or Aladdin as a source of any
DONÕT assume that you donÕt need to tell the judge(s) basic information -
play it safe and demonstrate that you do know, and maybe youÕll also
educate the judge(s)!
DONÕT use the argument "I used that because medieval people would have if
they had it." Judges have killed for less.
You can stop screaming and running now... Have fun!
Copyright 1999 by Lady Jehanne de Huguenin, jessica at beattie.uct.ac.za, P O Box 443, Rondebosch 7701, Cape Town, South Africa.. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.