Omphaloskepsis: Anachronistic Learning in the Information Age

The Society for Creative Anachronism is by large a society based on information transfer, whether it be our own customs and law to how to create medieval items or even learning our method of martial art. Even with this, though, how critical is it exactly that our learning and information transfer happen only at events, especially in the age of blogs, Twitch, Instagram, Discord, That Other Social Network, and the like – and more importantly, how do we use these tools in educating others in the ways of the SCA?

First off, I want to say that I think it’s important to show up to events and SCA activities. After all, what we do is done in community, and without that community, we’re just a bunch of weirdos who play dress-up in medieval clothes. If you can, go to events. Meet people. Do the things that make your little medieval geeky heart happy.

But, let’s say your schedule doesn’t allow you to go to regular fighter practices or A&S nights. You’ve learned things, and you want to share them – how important is it to share what you’ve learned? And more importantly, how do you find ways of sharing them? This post will go through the pros and cons of sharing your work through the Information Superhighway.

It’s incredibly important to share information. We’re an organization based on learning things, and while many of us do well in formalized classroom settings within the SCA, many of us don’t. (Seriously, check out Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. It’s fascinating!) And, with the birth of some amazing sites, there are great ways to pass on our knowledge.

Courtesy of my friend Marie.

We’ll start off with a classic: Blogs. Great for showing off long-form pieces like dress diaries or essays, blogs are wonderful for linking to websites, museum pieces, and in some cases, a great repository for an individual’s body of work. Downsides with blogs, though, are the dreaded TL;DR or even lack of traffic to a blog. Other issues also include lack of citations (seriously, cite your stuff), or learning blogging applications like WordPress or Blogger. (I’ve had decent luck with both, but, your mileage may vary.) On the whole, though, blogs are, in my opinion, one of the best ways to share information with others, especially with regards to the SCA and our shared medieval life.

That Other Social Network also has a way of transferring information through their concept of Pages. The downside with Pages is that That Other Social Network has a habit of changing their algorithms frequently, and Pages frequently get hosed. Is it possible to have a successful Page? Absolutely, but much of the labour goes to those seeking the information. Pages are great for sharing information in pictures, and it’s definitely easy for posts to go viral across the Social Network. The downside, though, is that unless your information is properly cited or poorly represented, that information from Pages can easily be used in misinformation. (really, anything can be used in misinformation, but some methods are easier.) On the other hand, Pages can also be used in conversations (though, others using trollish behaviour can be a thing as well.

From my own Instagram account!

Instagram is great for showing off processes, or documenting what you’re doing. It is, however, terrible for citing items. (But hey, if you want inspiration, Instagram is wonderful. And I find that medieval Instagram is delightfully supportive and I love learning from them!) Medieval Twitter is similar, and with organizations like the British Museum and the Walters actively sharing what’s in their collections (with enthusiastic curators often answering questions!), it’s a great place to learn. Downsides include word counts and clunky searches with tags for the exact item you might want. (and, if you’re particularly tied to something, yes, you can cite Tweets using Chicago/Turabian manuals of style.

Something I’ve been using is Twitch and YouTube to stream video of things I’ve been working on, and there are a few instances of SCA folk (Hi Morgan Donner!) who use YouTube in their explorations of history and their chosen crafts. Twitch is great for people who need to watch how something is done, or even feeling part of something – watch any YouTube Live session, and you can see the number of people attempting to interact with the person they’re watching. I often use Twitch when doing live paints. One, it allows people to see what I’m working on from the comfort of my own home, and two, I can answer questions in real time. Downsides, though, are often citation-related. I have a harder time posting links, or I often answer the same question on multiple broadcasts. Technology fails can also be a massive issue, especially when it comes to multiple points of failure (anything from your speed of your internet to the type of camera that you use).

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Courtesy of Anna. Tell me, how obvious in her display are the modern elements?

Lastly, let’s say you make it to an event, and you’re displaying items. As anachronistic as they are, sometimes, having technology is great. My friend Anna over at Anna’s Rome entered a competition, and used a tablet to not only display her documentation, but also to show people the process. She had a QR code, labeled as leading to video of her timelapses of working on her icons. Talk about harnessing multimedia within an anachronistic setting – and yet, having it being done without it being obtrusive. (It can be done!) Direct from Anna below are her reasons why the multimedia display.

Disclaimer: I have a Master’s Degree in Museum Studies, so this is sort of my jam, and I’m about to get a wee wordy: Displays are supposed to be educational in nature, and people learn in different ways. I myself am a visual learner, so I need video or images to help make sense of words or lectures. I also put the pigments and egg tempera medium down to assist tactile learners with getting a feel for the materials. This is important, especially in an age when we’re learning more and more each day about how we learn, and how to make the arts accessible. A binder of dry words on the table, in my opinion, is not accessible. Non-artists can sometimes have a hard time grasping the amount of work that goes into what we do, so a complete demonstration can paint a more holistic approach.

I filmed myself doing the timelapse before Pennsic as a joke to build a montage ala “Eye of the Tiger”, which is actually the song on the first timelapse video I made. After seven days of painting, I condensed them all into 10 minutes of playtime, and included the link to Youtube in my documentation since it had to be sent ahead of time to the judges. I don’t think they watched it, as no comments were made about it to me. So I decided that a QR code would be an excellent, quickly visible way to access the video online during the display here in Trimaris. We’re all so tethered to our tech, especially phones, for varying reasons. I love taking pictures at A&S displays and competitions, so why NOT video? My husband, THLord Gieffrei, who was out front making coins that day, made the suggesting to use his small tablet for repetitive play. I was apprehensive, because some people can get super squeamish about intrusive modernity, but, hey, we have binders of printed paper on a table, and displays aren’t exactly an immersive medieval event, so I went for it, and it worked, insanely well. The average museum visitor spends less than seven seconds on an object unless there is something that pulls them in unless there is a “hook”. The video was the hook. People were mesmerized by the video, and then found themselves playing with the paint, referring to my documentation, and then snapping the QR code as a “take home” copy of the video.

In fact, The East Kingdom just had their “Artifacts of a Life” event again, and some of my friends up north used these techniques to the same level of positive reception. So I feel that the integration of technology is the next step we need to take as an organization if we want to maintain relevance. Just because we recreate the world prior to the 17th Century, doesn’t mean our educational approaches need to stay there, as well.

Like hammers, chisels, paintbrushes, sewing machines, and the like, the internet is a tool, and through efficacious use of it, the transfer of information can be done cheaply and elegantly.

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