Documentation for Arts & Sciences Competitions
By Meroë M. Cahill (Rohese de Fairhurst)

The aim of this article is to explain how to write documentation and what information should be included. I will mention that I have a very formal academic style of writing, and that there is no one correct style of writing documentation. If a different style or format suits you, go for it!

There is certain information that you should include in your documentation.

What was done in period. Try to provide evidence to support all statements. You may want to include photocopies of pertinent references. If so, underline or mark with a highlighter important passages so that the judges don’t have to read the whole thing. Include pictures of original items that you used as a basis for your entry, so the judges can compare your effort with the original.

What you did. Include the materials and tools used, and clear instructions.
Explain the differences between what they did in period and what you did. It is OK to have differences, just justify why you did certain things. For example, you may have had to use a substitute for materials which are unavailable in Australia (some European woods and herbs), currently illegal (whalebone) or prohibitively expensive (silk brocades). You may have used an alternative method for reasons of speed (sewing machine or power tools) or convenience (modern oven). You may have used an overlocker to neaten seams because modern wools aren’t fulled to the same extent as period ones, and so they fray more.

Whenever you make anything, try to keep a copy of the sources that you used. This will make documenting it much easier if you decide to enter it in a competition later. Photocopy sections out of books that you used and keep them in a folder. Don’t forget to also photocopy the title page of the book or write on your photocopies the book title, author, publisher and year published. It is very frustrating to have a single photocopied page and not know where to find the book again.

What is a good reference source? How can I tell a bad one?
A good reference source can support all of their findings with facts (pictures of original objects, written descriptions of the time etc…), and will explain any assumptions that they may have made.
A bad reference source is one that says something and doesn’t tell you how the author came to that conclusion. For example, a book that makes radical statements that differ from anything else that you’ve ever read on the topic, but doesn’t give any evidence to support those statements. Another sign of a bad source is a book which contains pictures done by the author, but doesn’t tell you what the pictures are based on (John Peacock’s costume books are particularly bad- he redraws everything and his pictures don’t remotely resemble the originals).

What about the Internet?
Hmm… now that’s an interesting question. There are some fabulous resources on the Internet. Some webpages contain wonderful scholarly information. Another advantage of webpages is that they are often more up to date than books (many of the commonly used costume books were written 50-100 years ago). A disadvantage is that there is some total rubbish out there, and sometimes it can be hard to tell the rubbish from the good stuff. Again, think about whether the author tells you how they got the information. Have they included references, or the pictures that they have drawn their conclusions from?

How to set out your documentation
This is the way that I set out documentation- it is based on many years of writing up laboratory results and scientific reports. Other ways are fine- do what makes sense to you. Just make sure that you include all of the important information.
Item: a brief description so that judges can connect your entry to your documentation (e.g. red linen cotehardie, borage beer, wooden chair etc….)
Made by: Give both your SCA and your real name. Some competitions may be done ‘blind’, with no names showing, so that the judges are entirely without bias.
Documentation: (include pictures of original items, photocopies from books etc)
Materials & Methods: Explain what you did. Include explanations of any substitutions or changes you may have made.
Comments: I include my own comments/self-critique. E.g. I was really happy with this aspect of the finished item, but I didn’t really like how ‘X’ part of it turned out so next time I would do it differently. You may not want to do this, as some people don’t like to point out these sorts of things to the judges!
References: Include the name of the book or article, the author, the publishing house and year published. You can also include Internet sites as references- don’t forget to include the website address.
I also sometimes include photographs of the item in use (e.g. when entering a footwear competition at an event I couldn’t attend, I included photographs of the socks on my feet, to show that they fitted well and could be used).

How do judges mark arts & sciences entries?
Generally entries are judged on the basis of several criteria.
Some items may score very highly in some categories, but not so well in others. For example, a lovely piece of work which is not based on anything historical may score very highly for handwork/technique and creativity, but get very few marks for documentation and authenticity. Something which is an exact copy of a period piece will get high marks for documentation and authenticity, but low marks for creativity.

Who are the judges anyway?
Competitions are judged by at least three judges. Usually some of the judges will be experts in the field, while others may be people who have a good general knowledge of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Other judges may not know much about the specific field being judged, but provide a populace viewpoint, as they know what they like and find appealing. Judges will write comments and positive feedback on the judging form, so that you can learn from the experience.

Try to keep your documentation concise. Unless you are specifically asked to provide complete documentation, try to keep it to 1 or 2 pages, as often judges will not have time to read an entire essay. Also, make it easy for them to read by typing it, not using a decorative font which is hard to read, and by using double or 1.5x spacing (this is also much easier to read). Consider having several copies of the documentation so all the judges can read it at once. There is no point in writing the world’s best documentation if the judge doesn’t have time to read the whole piece!