Wednesday, September 6, 2017

"Effort and Courage are Not Enough Without Purpose and Direction..."

Let's take a moment to talk about the purpose of the HMS Acasta: to accurately portray a crew of His Majesty's Royal Navy circa 1800-1810 for the educational benefit of the public and for the mutual research and enjoyment of the individual members [emphasis mine].

Now let's look at the purpose of the HMSA-Aux: to enrich the public's understanding of the sailor's world through research which is then interpreted through enjoyable educational programming for both the public and ourselves,  enacted in cooperation with our Sister Unit the HMS Acasta [emphasis mine].

If it seems like these two statements are closely connected, that was not by accident. As you might also notice, the recurring motif in both of these statements centers around research. Researching to learn what is an accurate representation of the past; research around which we are creating educational programming to benefit members of the public; research to make that programming appropriate/applicable/enjoyable for all involved. 

If it seems like we are throwing the "R" word around a lot over the next few months, it's because we are. Research is at the core of every aspect of what we do in both the Acasta and the HMSA-Aux. It should be this way. It is at the core of our purpose as laid out in the mission statement for both units. 

Ron Burgundy - Research It's kind of a big Deal

Research is the foundation of all of the other endeavors we undertake as Acasta and Auxiliary members. It is what drives our decision making as a unit, determining policies and standards in a meaningful and significant way. 
As exhausting as it can feel sometimes to critically think about each and every item we bring to an event or use to interpret in camp, it can pay off to have that in depth context from which to draw. It can also prevent us from falling into common traps of misconceptions and history tropes that may not hold up to scrutiny. Thinking critically about ourselves and what we're using/wearing/buying/doing/etc. is often a difficult but necessary process. 

Spending a little bit (or even a lot) of time up front to invest in some old fashioned research hours can have exponential payoffs in the long term. It might prevent us from making mistakes that were easily avoidable if we had just known what to look for. It might also save us money/time/effort. Over time it will yield a much broader and more accurate understanding of the past. It might also create more questions than answers in some cases. But that's okay. 

Acknowledging the limitations of our knowledge or even the limitations of what's available to us is certainly nothing by which to be embarrassed. A critical, yet open and humble mind will allow us to hone not only ourselves but each other. If you have not researched a particular area, refer to those who have (whom you trust as reliable sources), but do not be afraid to delve into that area of research and ask questions. If you disagree with an interpretation, be sure that your disagreement is based on factual source evidence and is communicated through a clear and concise argument- not a juxtaposition of your own feelings or inherent assumptions about an artifact or document. If you haven't put in the effort to dig deeply into the matter, don't expect those who have to give the same amount of value to your opinion. That's not to say they do not value you.

Image result for “All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.”

Ultimately, research should be the rudder that steers our ship to point us in the right direction, and we would like to encourage all of our members to engage in the discourse of research within our unit. However, we want this discourse to be productive and purposeful. To that end, some of you have expressed the desire to do research but are hesitant as to where to start. Over the course of the next few months, we'll feature some posts on the topic of conducting research with interpretation in mind. I'll share some of my methods but also share sources that provide other approaches to the topic that you might find beneficial. 

With that in mind, I leave you with some words from a very well known man:

Image result for do or do not gandalf

Sunday, February 5, 2017

"What a Strange Power There is in Clothing..."


It's one of the hottest and, perhaps, most widely debated topics in the historical interpretation community. There are lots of opinions regarding what is "right". There's lots of discussion regarding "authenticity" and "accuracy" (if you want to read a great approach to these terms, we highly recommend The Tudor Tailor as there is a very concise and meaningful discourse regarding the concepts and how they have come to be used in the world of living history/reenactments. That's not the only reason we'd recommend it, either. It might be from a different time period but the authors are spot on with their approach and are a very good example after which to model our own methods.)

While the topic of accuracy can be a very personal one for many, it is also a very important one when it comes to the uniformity of standards in a group. Not only do standards help us to maintain a clear and congruent aesthetic, but they help us to further our ability to provide a more immersive context to further our mission.

With this in mind, the standards below are the standards that we have chosen for the HMSA-A because we felt that they aligned with our desire to encourage and support growth while maintaining an appropriate level of accuracy to carry out our mission with integrity. We don't believe these standards are the "one right way" to do things, but we do believe it is the best way for us at this time.

We've listed the major areas of Ladies clothing below (Gents- we'll be addressing your duds in a future post; expect it to be similar to the ladies requirements below). We've mainly addressed three areas of the clothing process: patterning/fit, construction, and materials. The biggest thing to remember is that if you are unsure, ask. Avoid a misstep by asking a question and applying the feedback before you've invested time/effort/money into an item that may not meet the standards. Without further ado- I present to you the HMSA Ladies Clothing Standards.

Clothing- Good/Better/Best
Shift"Commercial" pattern; approximates the general look of the period; machine sewn on all seams; materials are fair substitutes for originalsCommercial pattern or custom pattern; style is based on one or two original sources of the period; machine stitched long seams, hand finished neckline and sleeves; materials are close substitutes for originalsCustom pattern; style is copied from an original source; hand sewn in entirety using period seaming techniques; materials are extremely close substitutes or reconstructions/replications of originals
Corded Corset"Commercial" pattern; approximates the general look of the period; machine sewn on all seams, but provides proper support and silhouette; materials are fair substitutes for originalsCustom drafted pattern; style is based on one or two original sources of the period; combination of machine and hand sewing, provides proper support and fit; materials are close substitutes for originalsCustom drafted pattern; style is copied from an original source; hand sewn in entirety using period seaming techniques, provides proper support and fit; materials are extremely close substitutes or reconstructions/replications of originals
Petticoats"Commercial" pattern; approximates the general look of the period; machine sewn on all seams, appropriate silhouette; materials are fair substitutes for originalsCustom drafted pattern; style is based on one or two original sources of the period; machine stitching on interior "long" seams, hand hemmed and hand finished exterior stitching; materials are close substitutes for originalsCustom drafted pattern, style is copied from an original source; hand sewn in entirety using period seaming techniques, supports appropriate silhouette; materials are extremely close substitutes or reconstructions/replications of originals
Gown/Short Gown/ Outerwear"Commercial" pattern; approximates the general look of the period; machine stitching, but hand finished neckline; materials are fair substitutes for originalsCustom draped/patterned; style is based on one or two original sources of the period; machine stitching on interior seams, hand finishing on all other areas; materials are close substitutes for originalsCustom draped/patterned, style is copied from an original source; hand sewn in entirety using period seaming techniques; materials are extremely close substitutes or reconstructions/replications of originals
Accessories (Caps, Kerchiefs, Chemissettes, Bonnets, etc.)No visible machine stitching; approximates the general look of the period; materials are fair substitutes for originalsEntirely hand sewn; style is based on one or two original sources of the period; materials are close substitutes for originalsEntirely hand sewn; style is copied from an original source; materials are extremely close substitutes or reconstructions/replications of originals
ShoesApproximates the general look of the period (not obviously modern.)Period "mass produced" shoe based on an original from the periodCustom hand made shoes modeled after an original pair or image, constructed using period methods
StockingsNAWhite stockings in cotton or silk (available from most vendors)Hand knit or hand sewn stockings based on originals from the period

This is the exact rubric we'll be using to conduct clothing inspections, so no surprises. The actual inspection page will look like this:

The important part of the inspection process is really the last bit- the goal setting and action steps. Once we know where we are at, we're able to better determine how to get to where we're going. The auxiliary mentor and member will come up with a few goals to work towards and a reasonable date by which to achieve those goals. More significantly, they will create some action steps that they will agree to undertake together to meet those goals. 

Say the member scored "Good" in shoes, but is now in year two with the unit. This year the member sets a goal to achieve "Better" status in shoes. The mentor and member then come up with steps that will help the member be successful, such as "member and mentor will each find one source for mass produced shoes in the next two weeks" or "member will try on at least three pairs of shoes at the next event to figure out correct sizing for Old Timey Shoe Company. Mentor will bring one of those pairs." 

Then, when both the member and the mentor feel good about the goals and action steps, they will sign the document. The mentor will keep the original and send a digital copy to the member so that they can both reference the form in future goal discussions. In this way, the member and the mentor have made a commitment to each other to invest in the growth and support of the member. 

You might be thinking to yourself "Man, that's a lot of work for the mentor." Yea- it kind of is. But you know what? Our members are worth it, and if they're willing to put in all of that work then so are we.

Friday, February 3, 2017

"...Every Thing Has Its Time"

As promised, we'd like to share with you the chart which has laid out the various areas of material culture which will be inspected regularly for all HMSA-Aux members. The expectation is that by the end of the year listed members will have attained the corresponding standard listed.

Standards and Expectations- Good/Better/Best
Year 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5
Food *Loan/ShareGoodBetter

*Not all members of the Auxiliary may have a need to be responsible for all items. We may not all need a full set of cookware, however, those that determine they enjoy working in that area will use this portion of the chart as a guideline. However, all members will use these guidelines should they have a need to bring cookware to an event. Don't forget, we'll have detailed posts outlining what the Auxiliary considers Good/Better/Best in each of these areas. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

"...Let Every New Year Find You a Better Man"

As we mentioned in our last post, we'll be using a Good/Better/Best model to address the standards and expectations of HMSA Auxiliary members. Before we get into the specifics of what this means in regards to each individual area of interpretation (material culture, speech/mannerisms, foodways, etc.) we'd like to take a moment to introduce you to the idea of G/B/B as a standalone concept first. We'll go into more details pertaining to how it applies to your kit/gear in future posts, we promise.

The culture that we'd like to encourage in the HMSA-A is one of continuous improvement. We know that we don't hit the ground running with perfect kits and perfect interpretations right out of the gate. That's not the expectation we have for our members, because let's be honest- not only would it be cost prohibitive, but time prohibitive, potentially skill prohibitive and definitely member prohibitive. While we don't expect perfection, we do expect (and support) growth over time.

Unless your name is Hornblower. Then we expect perfection
at all times. 

One of the prominent reasons we chose Good/Better/Best rather than just stating one desired standard is that we recognize that everyone has different demands on their resources and we aim to be understanding and supportive of this, while also upholding the mission and vision of the unit. Growth is built in to the G/B/B model, as members are expected to attain certain benchmarks as they increase their tenure with the unit. For example, the Good standard for clothing should be achieved by members by the end of their first year with the unit. This is the minimal expectation for members who are just starting and will allow them some breathing room to get the ball rolling. However, by the end of their third year with the unit, members will have progressed from Good clothing standards to Better. Once members meet the required benchmarks, additional growth is encouraged but not required. (Remember-Best is a place we visit sometimes.)

Kind of like this all inclusive resort. None of us can really
afford to live there year round, but can probably swing a 3 day/
2 night stay if we try to save a bit. 
Another thing we liked about the Good/Better/Best concept was the idea that even if you're just starting and you're at Good- it's still Good; And there is no shame in Good. We want new members to feel at ease and not judged. That's hard when we do inspections where, well, stuff is pretty much being judged, right? But the purpose of the inspection experience is not to tell members how awful they are, but rather to support their growth and celebrate their successes.

Because, really, who else knows the joy that comes from
finishing a hand-sewn shift and will celebrate with you?
No, not Oprah, silly. Us.

The G/B/B specifics will be clearly laid out for each area of interpretation, beginning with clothing and continuing on through other material culture and interpretative tools as we go. A running log of these posts will be kept on the Standards and Expectations page so that members can easily find them for reference. We'll post tips, tricks, and how- to's throughout the year, as well as the expected timetable for each area. Most importantly, we'll be here to support you through the whole process.

While we try to keep things mostly positive here in the Auxiliary, there are some non-negotiable items to be avoided (to save everyone time, money, and effort) and we'll cover those, too, in each respective post.

As ever, if you have questions or comments, please feel free to leave them here or send them to Christina through whichever means you prefer, and keep a lookout for our next post on clothing guidelines and expectations.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

"...A Little Better All the Time"

Welcome back Auxiliary members!

We apologize for the Holiday Hiatus but we are back and ready to go!

If you missed our last post, we briefly shared with you, Dearest Reader, some of the details that have led to this journey of ours in forming an Auxiliary to the HMS Acasta crew. We also promised more information regarding implementation, standards, and expectations that the Auxiliary will uphold and maintain. We shall endeavor to cover those items in a manner that is succinct, sincere, and forthright; a manner we feel is deserving of our members (current and future) and which conveys the intent and reasoning for our choices. To lighten things up and add some eye candy we're also going to further illustrate some of our points with cat pictures. So stick with us 'til the end, feel free to post any questions you have after reading in the comments section, and most importantly: enjoy!

On the Subject of Standards... 
We all know that standards are important. We all also acknowledge that not everyone in the world of living history and interpretation have the same standards, and that is OK. We all play at our own levels of comfort and we wouldn't want anyone to step into something they aren't ready for or wouldn't enjoy. For this reason, we aim to be exceptionally clear regarding the standards we have laid out for the Auxiliary. This just makes things easier for everyone involved. Sharing our standards with potential members only helps us in the long run and we feel that transparency in this area is of utmost importance to make sure that new members know what to strive for but also to make sure that we all hold ourselves accountable for our commitment to our mission 
Unlike our Royal Navy counterparts, there is much more potential for variety in the Auxiliary. This makes it extra important that we adhere to specific standards of interpretation to provide the most cohesive and accurate experience as possible to both our members and the public.
We will be using a "Good/Better/Best" model for all material culture in the Auxiliary, and since clothing tends to be one of the "big topics" for many, we will start with specific details in relation to G/B/B for this topic first. However, we will also be adding G/B/B for other material culture areas such as tentage, kitchenware, pottery, food, etc. as we progress (conveniently housed on our Standards and Expectations page.) Ultimately, all of these things make up small pieces of a larger whole, that when put together have the ability to create something very special for ourselves and our guests. If you haven't heard of G/B/B, don't worry. We've got a post in the works as you read to help answer any potential questions you might have.

And remember, this probably sounds way scarier than it actually is,
 so hang in there and keep reading! (Yes, I'm talking to you-
you know who you are!)

With these Standards in mind it is the Expectation... 
 ...that all Auxiliary members will attain at minimum a "Good" rating on all clothing items by one year from their date of acceptance into the unit and on all other material culture by two. Members will attain a "Better" rating on all clothing items by year three and all other material culture by year four. Members will stay in first person during public hours and will maintain an accurate environment until the close of the last day of the event. For more detailed explanations of these expectations, see the Standards and Expectations page.
Sounds too hard to be doable? The good news is, you've got a team of people who are rooting for you to succeed and are ready to help. (We're not monsters, y'all). Don't know where to find good shoes at an affordable price? We've got your back. Need help draping a gown? No worries. Want to practice your first person without feeling like a goofball? Let's practice together! A big part of the Auxiliary is to be there with the assist when you need it. We want the best membership possible, and if you're willing to work for it then so are we. 
Together we can do it! 

 With regards to Implementation... 
...We know that change and progress takes time. That's why we're here to help you and have given what we feel are realistic and attainable time tables for improvements. It's also important to keep in mind that while we'd love to have everyone function at the "Best" level all the time, in reality "Best" is probably a place most of us won't live in, but will visit sometimes. We might have some items or objects that are "Best" while at the same time have a items that are "Better" or even "Good" mixed in. And that's OK! Just remember:

Do you think that Kitten started out good at billiards?
 NO. He had to work for it!

All that being said, we're excited to finally get started and have some really great things in the works for the coming year. If you're interested in what we're doing, stay tuned. We are seeking a small number of committed individuals to start with and have plans to grow the unit organically and intentionally by selecting individuals with a commitment to improvement and a positive attitude. Who knows? Perhaps by this time year next you might count yourself among our number.