This site is an online reference for re-creational medievalism, which involves making a sincere effort to reproduce the lifestyle of a race or region of the distant past. I am interested in researching and re-enacting life as a member of the Fifth Century (AD/CE) Irish Celtic nobility. If you found this page without checking my index page first, you will find more information there. Individual sections of this site may be linked to or reproduced for non-commercial purposes (including SCA events and publications), as long as proper attribution is included.
Celtic Research Resources
Finding information about this hobby can be accomplished a variety of ways. While having access to a University library is invaluable (there are separate "systems" for University and Public libraries in America), most books can be requested through your public library as well. Make friends with the Reference librarians, and you will be able to get a great deal of help!
The way to get access to books not available in your library is through "Inter-Library Loan". A request for a specific book will travel from the local branch of your library through various levels of the Public library system all the way to the State libraries if necessary. Librarians in my local Public Library said I would be able to make out-of-State requests as well, but, that would be a more difficult process and might involve a fee to request books. New York State has one of the best Public library systems in the country, so, I doubt that will ever come up. However, it is a reassuring option should I ever have a need of it!
Once the book arrives in your library, you will be contacted, and you will (usually) be able to check it out just like any other book. You can then photocopy or otherwise collect the information you need out of the book. A quick note: it may be very tempting to "liberate" book(s) that you have requested (by liberate, I mean keep it and tell the librarians that you lost it). You shouldn't do this for several reasons. First, if *you're* interested in the highly obscure methods of clipping longhaired goats in the Himalayan mountains during the 9th century, odds are so is someone else, and they should be given the same chance to access it that you were. Second, if you keep books, it makes it more difficult for your library to request others. Last of all, if you keep too many, you'll have your library privileges suspended. A photocopier is always a better option if you HAVE to have a reference copy of what you read. A flatbed scanner and printer combination will work also. Only copy the pages you actually NEED (not the whole of each book). If the book is still in print, ethics (and the law) encourage (require) you to buy it.
Echna's School of Research
All disclaimers and basic suggestions aside, here is how *I've* become a rather successful amateur historical researcher. Hopefully, you can benefit from this system as well.
- Step One
Find someone who already knows what you want to know. I usually do this by asking on the USENET newsgroup rec.org.sca. My question will usually be as specific as it can be, and I sort through the replies, being careful to make note of all responses that sound like the author knows what they're talking about. Also, I pay attention to what other people say about each response. This helps me to determine if the response is fairly concrete and established, or something debatable. I then email the person or people who gave the most effective answers and see if I can learn any more from them.
Some other sources of information (depending on the topic, of course):
- The SCA-ARTS mailing list, dedicated to all arts and sciences (the craft, clothing, entertainment, and research elements of the group). Subscribe by sending an email message with the body "Subscribe SCA-ARTS" to email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Historical Costuming mailing list, dedicated to historical costuming of all time periods, from prehistoric to retro looks of the 50's and 60's. Subscribe by sending an email message with the body "Subscribe H-COSTUME" to email@example.com. The people on this list are quite willing to answer questions on SCA clothing, however, please be courteous and keep non-costuming comments to a minimum.
- The Medieval Search Engine is not properly a search engine, but, instead is a registered collection of links dealing with medieval re-enacting, renaissance faires, LARPs, and other people who like to dress up in funny clothes and gather in a group :).
- The SCA member services page has a form for ordering a wide range of handbooks, guides, and supplements. In particular, you can use Order Form Second Page to request "Arts and Sciences Bibliography" for $4.00 plus shipping. This pamphlet documents research works for almost every art or science in the SCA. It's perfect to take to the library when you're first starting out. A somewhat more pricey reference available on the same form is the "Known World Handbook", which will teach you how to outfit and equip yourself, gain useful skills, and enter combat as a SCA-level hobbyist. Even dedicated medieval re-enactors can collect interesting tips from this book.
- Step Two
Pump these people for all they're worth, as far as information. Ask the following questions: What books have you read on the topic? What other resources do you know of on the topic? Have you written any papers or essays on the topic that I might get a copy of? Do you know of other people who know as much as you (or more than you) on the topic that I can be put in touch with?
Be polite, but, don't be afraid to create a list of specific questions. I get email all the time from people, which basically reads "Hello, my name is Jane Doe, and I love Irish Culture. Can you tell me all about it?". I find this type of email so frustrating, simply because there's nowhere to start to answer it. On the other hand, it wasn't so long ago that I was sending the same exact gushing letters out, so I *do* try my best to respond. I found I recieved the best responses from people when I asked focused questions, and now that I'm answering questions, I realize it's because focused questions are EASIER to answer.
- Step Three
Find online information on your topic. Send out postal mail requests for papers people have written. Be polite (have I stressed this enough, yet?) and offer to pay postage and photocopying costs for any papers you request through the mail. Always ask the author what their requirements are for sharing any information they send you, and be sure to respect the limits they set. Join specialized email mailing lists and USENET newsgroups. Hunt through book stores for discount editions of books that might relate to your topic. Check the local second-hand book stores as well. If it is a particular craft or skill, see if there are modern groups that practice the same in your area and collect catalogues from mail-order suppliers.
- Step Four
Now that you have a list of books and references (recommended to you during the above steps), time to head down to your local library. If you are a university student count yourself among the research blessed. If not, even the community Public Library can be an invaluable source of information.
Be willing to do some of the work to help the librarians out. There's nothing that an overworked and underpaid librarian loves more than someone who's polite and undemanding. Look up each book or periodical you want to find in the library card catalogue. Make a list of which ones aren't available in your branch; don't worry if NONE of them are, many of best resources tend to be rather obscure. Ask the reference librarians exactly how the Inter-Library loan system works in that branch. Some important questions: how many books may I request from other libraries each month? How will I be notified when my books arrive? Will there be fees involved in making requests? Can I request books from out-of-state or university libraries if that is the only source? What can I do to make your (the librarian) job easier?
File your requests, and then wait. Wait even longer. No one ever said these requests had to be filled quickly. Most requests take between a few weeks, and a month, minimum. Some requests will take longer. My longest one took about five months, because the librarians lost the first request and I had to resubmit it.
- Step Five
Once your books arrive, time to begin reading. Unless you're a really special person, you're not going to learn through osmosis :). Take notes, list questions triggered by your reading, write down which chapters or individual pages are the most important. This is where your own personal style is going to be most important. Some people prefer to write all their notes. Others prefer to photocopy key chapters. Still others might dictate, or store the information on disk. Always be sure to include the title and publication information in your notes, in case you ever need to document research or recommend the source to others.
Once you've read the book and learned all you can from it, read the bibliography. That should be your where you find your next set of book and periodical requests. Also, go back to the news group, mailing list, or individual who recommended the book in the first place, and ask a new set of questions. A good book will leave you with as many new questions as those you had answered.
- Step Six
Start all over again. Ask more questions. Look up bibliographic sources. Ask your librarians if they have suggestions on how to find books related to your subject. Investigate web pages. Collect handouts and papers written on the topic by other people, and read the books listed in their bibligraphies. Research related topics. Always make sure you are still enjoying learning. If you start to feel burned out, either set aside the research entirely for a while, or at least choose a new topic.
Odds And Ends
I sometimes use this link to check the contents of the New York Public Library. It is a site to access Major English-Language Libraries On-Line.
[ Guestbook ]
[ Email ]
[ Persona Page ]
Updated: Sunday, January 03, 1999 10:33:24 AM