We’re all in this together: Ethical Research and Documentation for SCAdians

By The Honorable Lady Gwenhwyfar Weale

Illumination from the Grandes Chroniques de France via the University of Gent

Since joining the SCA I’ve come to realize that one of the most fraught topics in the Arts and Sciences community revolves around how to effectively research and communicate findings with others through competition, display, and publication. It is my intention to provide you, dear reader, with some thoughts regarding research and documentation in preparation of seeing some of you at my consultation table at this year’s Kingdom Arts and Sciences Festival.

What makes me qualified to write on this topic? Well, I’ve worked as a writing and research tutor since high school and beyond, first as a library clerk, then as an employee of the writing center at Indiana University, and privately until I finished my BA in English. I don’t have an advanced degree, though I’ve taken some graduate classes. I have presented my research at professional conferences, such as the Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association in 2013. I’ve been teaching Yet Forget Not, That I Am an Ass: Conducting Ethical Research & Documentation in the SCA since 2019 at the canton level, baronial level, Pennsic, and University of Atlantia.

Before we begin there are a few things that should be covered:

  1. A degree or advanced education is in no way required.
  2. You are responsible for what you produce.
  3. Critical thinking is a must; accept nothing at face value.
  4. Work at your own pace.
  5. Gather feedback from people you respect on what you’ve written and how you’ve presented it.
  6. We’re all in this together.

You do not have to have anything stating that you are qualified to research. In my class, I refer to the attendees as Citizen Scholars, a riff off of Citizen Scientists, meaning non-professional avid enthusiasts. The minute that you start doing research, you too are a Citizen Scholar. Now you’ve even got a fancy title! Run with it!

What does it mean to be a Citizen Scholar mean? At the end of the day, the only person that is responsible for ethically presenting your research is you; verify the accuracy of what you’re writing. Cite your sources so readers know what you’ve pulled from others and what thoughts are uniquely yours. Plagiarism is a nasty business and entirely unethical. The SCA is a volunteer organization; we do all of this for fun, right? How serious can it be? However, you can and will lose the respect of your peers by presenting material that is not your own, as if it were or if you provide falsified or unreliable information. I personally find that incredibly damning. Once respect is lost, it is incredibly difficult to regain, especially when it comes to documentation.

As Citizen Scholars it is up to us to put our best intentions forward, begin as we mean to continue. So, retain the respect of your peers by citing your sources responsibly. If you aren’t publishing, then the citation style you use isn’t important. You just need to inform your audience as to the source of the information presented. I never get more excited than when I see citations that I can use to fuel research. I collect works cited pages and end notes like some people collect likes on social media. (I personally probably have more reference lists than likes, but who’s counting?)

How do you susus out reliable information? Critical thinking is required to separate the wheat from the chaff. You must be willing to ask questions and seek answers. Examine your sources ruthlessly, even if on the surface they seem totally valid. Where did it come from? Who wrote it and why? Are you reading a peer review journal or other academic publication, one in which a body of individuals have vetted it for accuracy? Is the information corroborated by more than one source? Are there dissenting voices and if so, are their arguments valid? These are only a few of the questions that ethical Citizen Scholars should ask.

This is a process and you need to be patient with yourself. Time is relative. No one cares if your end product took twelve days, twelve months, or twelve years. If you’re happy with the end product, that is literally all that matters. So, unless you’re on a deadline, take your time and do it right. Don’t be afraid to ask for an extension or miss an opportunity if your work just isn’t ready. Future you will love past you, I promise.

How do you know if it is ready? Seek feedback from people you like and respect, seriously. I’ve been doing all of this for a long time and I still run my documentation past others. Writing is a work of translation, meaning you are translating the thoughts and images in your head into something that is understandable to others. A lot can go missed as a part of the process. Getting a second, third, or fourth opinion can be incredibly helpful. There is no point in doing any of this if folks can’t make sense of what you’ve written.

Disclaimer: You can take their advice or you can put it in the circular file if it doesn’t serve you or your end product.

That having been said, keep in mind that should you display something publicly, or enter a competition, you are opening your work up to critique. If you or your work isn’t ready to handle that, then consider waiting and doing more until you feel confident in what you’re putting out into the world. To an extent, the minute you make something public it ceases to be just yours, but rather, consumable by everyone. Your ego will likely need to take a back seat. Remember, people aren’t judging if you’re a good person or a smart one. They are analyzing your work, which is something that can always improve.

There is a saying in the writing world that I’m going to paraphrase, “manuscripts are never finished, only
abandoned.” This is true for research and documentation. Ideally, whatever has fascinated you enough to get you to put the work in, is something that can and will enrich your entire life.

Will others help you? Can you help others? The answer is ‘yes’ to both. Research and documentation is not a zero-sum game. Any time that you learn something new and share it, two people at minimum are winning. Presenting research is an act of service. Thankfully, we have many like-minded folx who are eager to buckle down and do the work. I have discovered through tutoring and teaching in the SCA that thanks to fellow SCAdians, I am always able to learn something new in a largely kind and supporting non-academic environment.

Research and documentation is an opportunity to grow, learn new things, and share with others. For me, this is what initially drew me to the SCA. Sure, I like wearing fancy dresses but at the end of the day, my most satisfying experiences come from interacting with people that share the same passions I do. If I am interested in what you’ve done and can’t talk to you in person, be assured that should I find it, I’ll be reading your documentation.

For more on ethical research and documentation, please enjoy the hand out for Yet Forget Not, That I Am an Ass: Conducting Ethical Research & Documentation here!

THL Gwenhwyfar can be reached for questions at GwenhwyfarWeale@gmail.com or see the documentation consult table at Kingdom Arts and Sciences 2024!

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