Sunday, January 29, 2012

Finding a Research Approach

A good first document to post is Alan Gutchess' "A Modest Proposal".   Mr. Gutchess has a set of "rules" for reenactors that should be considered when building a believable persona and kit.  

A Modest Proposal - Alan Gutchess

Right now I am brainstorming my research approach.  I have thought about primary and secondary sources, period artwork, and surviving artifacts as my sources to give direction to my goal.  Perhaps I was over-complicating things, but I have been thinking of what the minimum amount of documentation would be needed to go ahead with accepting an item in my "kit".  For example, just one secondary source description (or any single source) is too minimal to make a good, educated decision.  Artist depictions are also sometimes too vague or may have a bit of "artistic license" used and aren't accurate at times.

So what am I to do for documentation?  Should I have a system for "weighting" the documentation?  Should very reliable documentation, such as dug and surviving artifacts should be given priority over other sources?   Maybe I'm making this way too difficult.   I tend to over-think things WAY too much!

Time to prioritize sources for research.  My little list of "source awesomeness" is listed from best to worst (in my opinion):

1.  Dug artifacts:  They have been in the ground for 250 years.  There are no "my daddy said great-uncle Willy got this from his paw paw Jim...." stories about the artifact.  It is in a specific place at a specific time.  That makes it REALLY good!

2.  Non-dug artifacts:  This is the stuff that survives in attics and trunks for 250 years.  The best stuff is in reliable museums.  There's probably a story with it... who knows how true it is, but if it matches a written description or other artifacts, then it is a good source.

3.  Primary sources:  Journals, articles and descriptions recorded at the time it happened are pretty good for research.  Time can fade memories and accuracy, so primary resources are pretty helpful. I especially will seek out inventories, probate records, etc.  Essentially lists of stuff that existed at a specific time and place.  

3.  Period Artwork: A painting, sketch, engraving, etc. from the time of study may shed light on things.  There is some apprehension in using this because we all know that artists tend to use some "artistic license" and change details or do not add enough detail in certain aspects of the artwork.   

4.  Secondary Sources: Descriptions written after an event happened or books by authors based on their research.  Now I put this at the bottom of the list, but books by experts are a BIG help to me.  I don't have a doctorates degree in research and most of them do.  I'll rely on their expertise and why reinvent the wheel?

5.  The guy that has been reenacting for years:  He may have a lot to share, but unless he can offer the above four resources for my own perusal, then I'll just have to take it with a smile and a grain of salt.  I don't want to sound snooty, but like in any academic subject such as history, new stuff is out there.  One thing I have noticed is the value of friends that urge me to "get into the research" before they make recommendations or give me a direction.  I really appreciate that they have the attitude of "here is the evidence I have found.....  see what you can find and we'll compare".   That is so much more helpful than, "THIS is how they did it!" and "They had wood, they had leather, they had cloth..... so they musta made one of these to use."  

The plan is to get a good set of primary sources (at least 3) before I buy or make anything for my kit.  Since there is occasionally scant amounts of information for some items, a "best guess" may be needed, but I welcome input and suggestions from anyone who may have more primary sources regarding specific items.  

My next step is to get a brief history and cultural context on Les Pays des Illinois.  I need to know who was here in 1750, where they came from and what they were doing at the time.   Lots more work to do..... but let's start it with a couple of articles that give nice little descriptions of the area.  

Colonists and Colonizing in the Illinois Country

Illinois Country - Wikipedia

Before and Working on the After

I hope Oprah can give this guy a makeover! 

I figured a before pic was in order.  Here it is...    That's right, GENERIC!  Exactly as I had described earlier.  It is enough to pass a jury according to some of my more serious living history buddies, but I'm just not satisfied.  Plus, it is is definitely NOT French here in the Illinois Country, 1750.  I had originally tried to put together something from a Virginia/Anglo context.  Here's what I've got on from top to bottom:  

Wool Monmouth cap 
Scrap of cotton cloth for a neck scarf
Linen/cotton blend shirt 
Waistcoat in cotton 
Cotton canvas French-fly breeches 
Cotton Socks 
Leather buckle shoes with brass buckles

Oh, the fusil?  That's a French "D" that I built from a kit.  It's staying!   I do have a Fusil de Chasse as well, but my "D" is a tack-driver if it can get me to cooperate.  Shooting is how I got into this crazy hobby and enjoy a good shooting competition as much as any other part of the hobby.  

Saturday, January 28, 2012

It's a Start

The internet is a great thing for hobbyists.  If you're into woodworking, sports, or even toddler beauty pageants, there are like-minded people with the same enthusiasm for a subject as yourself.

My passion is history.  Passion is a strong word.  Perhaps obsession is stronger, with a negative connotation, but either word will describe my interest in history.  The internet has helped me discover that there are people with a similar passion/obsession in my main area of interest: 18th Century American History.   That's right.... the colonial period.

Now we tend to think of the American Revolution, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin when it comes to colonial history.  For non-history buffs, the influence of the French in the heart of the present-day United States is a long-forgotten topic.  This is my main area of interest, although I do find eastern frontier history intriguing as well.  

I've been involved in 18th century "living history" for about 9 years.  Most people call us "reenactors", but I prefer "living historian".  My reason for this is that reenactors are often thought of by the general public as strictly a soldier recreating a battle scenario.  My interest is in the mundane daily life of the common person.  This is where ALL of our ancestors came from.... and they lived it every day.  Accurately recreating these daily life scenarios is what I believe "living history" is all about.

Generic.  That is a word that best describes my current status in living history.  I have the gear needed to camp, hunt and cook in the 1700's, but it is a hodge-podge of things loosely based on historical artifacts, with little regard for time, location and the type of person using it.   My goal here is to create a more correct living history "persona" and get away from the dreaded "generic" colonist that I have been for far too long.

The plan isn't to "be" a person from the 1700's.  That is, I do not wish to act in a "first-person" role like an actor in costume.   I am not an actor and really don't enjoy being a center of attention.  However, if I am camping or demonstrating a skill that a person finds interesting and they wish to talk about it, try it, or ask questions, then my teacher mode kicks in and I get a rush out of being able to share what I have learned.

My Goal: To portray a habitant (farmer/citizen) from Pays des Illinois or the "Illinois Country" of New France from around the 1750 time period.   

The Pays des Illinois or Illinois Country
My area of focus is found within the red oval.

This area includes the historical settlements of Kaskaskia, Prairie du Rocher, St. Philippe, Cahokia and DeChartres in the southwestern parts of modern-day Illinois along the Mississippi River.