Monday, 6 December 2010

New week, new energy.

I have successfully started into this week with the new routine, and writing and researching on stuff again does feel wonderful. I now realise that I really missed this kind of work that I somehow didn't get around to do during all of summer - much too long, I think now.

One part of the new project I'm researching for will have to factor in hair and hairstyles in the Middle Ages, a topic I've been pondering for ages now, it seems. And I'm really happy and excited that I will finally have a chance (and the need) to gather all my theories together and test them against the more-or-less hard facts given by pictures and written sources. Hairstyles and haircare are a hairy topic regardless of the time period, since there are so many different ways to work with hair, and no two persons have the same head of hair and the same procedures. And that, of course, means that there's a lot of guesswork to be done, and a lot of things will never be really clear. And in turn, for a try at reproducing old hairstyles, it means that everybody will have to try and see and possibly adapt procedures and details to match the individual hair.

And sometimes I do wonder if that is not the case with all historical reproduction stuff, much more than we today tend to think. There is no "typical medieval person", no more than there is a "typical modern person", but only individuals with their very individual and unique history, and their unique take on things and their own style and set of preferences. Yes, we are all a product of our cultural and social background, but still - there's a lot of personality and individuality in our daily choices, and I'd be very surprised if that was not the case throughout all of history.

Which brings us again to one of the core problems of recreating historical stuff or going for  Living History: the tightrope walk between sticking to the known historical facts only for all things (which is safe, but sometimes not possible, and would let all people that try to re-create a given time in a given area look quite similar) and interpreting stuff freely on basis of things known and things available in the time (which can yield wonderful results, but is not safe because our modern knowledge and modern concepts cannot be erased from our modern heads while doing these interpretations). Ah, the Eternal Dilemma of the Living History Activist.

By the way, my approach to that dilemma is try and get an overview of the archaeological stuff for the item that I want; then take a look at pictures showing said item, to hopefully get an idea of how varied that thing can look; and then decide on how close I can and want to stick to the original.
And then, of course, I try to stay very aware of where I did alter things according to my own interpretations or needs (or even whims) or because of practical reasons, like "but it has to fit into the car" or "I have to be able to carry it" or "I really cannot afford the original material". And when I talk to folks about the item, I usually mention where the sources are from, and how far it has been altered in comparison to the original. A working solution to the Dilemma, for me. And I think Living History would be a much more boring thing if not for that Eternal Dilemma!

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