Between the Medieval and The Modern

April 9, 2013

Fly Your Geek Flag Proudly!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frau Magda @ 9:21 pm
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CTRF09_538There’s an article making the rounds on my Facebook feed today, So I’m marrying a reenactor. At least four people I know have posted it and I just saw it posted on another reenactor’s blog.


I’d like this article a whole lot better if the first half wasn’t all about how horrified the author was when she found out her crush was a reenactor, and about how ashamed he was about the hobby when on their first date, after four drinks, she blurted out, “Have you ever done reenacting?” “When Daniel confessed, my gut reaction was, FREAK!!!” It annoyed me when the author almost broke her arm patting herself on the back for being broad minded enough to agree to marry “a freaking reenactor.” Describing her lone trip to a renaissance faire as a “freak show” didn’t help my mood either, as she managed to insult two of my favorite weekend activities in a single article.

Now I ask you, what is wrong with reenacting? Is there something wrong with learning skills like how to build a fire, tie knots, do woodworking? Is learning to sew/mend your own clothes somehow objectionable? Do people object to learning how to safely handle firearms? (While I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of guns, I heartily approve of firearms education. The one common thread that runs amongst all my friends that I consider to be responsible gun owners? They are all reenactors.) Is spending time outdoors with your friends wrong? Or is it the time spent teaching children (and adults) about history that’s the problem? Maybe it’s the fact that reenactors actually spend time remembering our military veterans, or regularly volunteer to march in Memorial day, Fourth of July, and Veteran’s day parades? Would someone please tell me, what’s so objectionable about reenacting?

I’ll tell you what’s wrong with reenacting. NOTHING.

But the thing that bothered me the most about this article? The shame. The author describes a “clandestine” world of reenacting where everyone seems to be ashamed of their hobby. “Most reenactors who give a damn about their reputation outside the battlefield are mighty hesitant to reveal their historical alter-egos.” “It’s definitely not something I go about broadcasting,” Daniel says today. “There are a lot of negative stereotypes out there that give the hobby a bad name. You don’t want to be thought of as some unreconstructed, gun-loving nut trying to refight wars.”

I won’t deny that there are probably negative stereotypes about reenactors. My question is, why does the reenacting community allow these stereotypes to continue? Why would you let someone make you feel ashamed about something that you love? Do you know what it’s called when people try to make you feel ashamed about doing or being something that doesn’t harm anyone else?

It’s called Bullying.

And that’s probably how all this started. At some point in the past, some high school kid probably decided to taunt some other high school kid because they had an interest in history. And because the bully was probably a popular kid and the target was probably a nerdy kid, the mocking spread. I’ve seen it before. It happens to just about any hobby or interest that is even slightly nerdy or geeky.

How do I know? I am a geek and a nerd. I am a reeanctor. I attend renaissance faires. I love Star Trek and Star Wars and own costumes for both. Yes, I sew costumes and wear them on days of the year that are not Halloween. I read comic books. I ride a motorcycle. I play with swords. I read fantasy and science fiction. I am college educated. I am overweight. I am a woman. These are all things that someone, at some point, has tried to make me feel ashamed of. And you know what? There’s no reason for me to feel ashamed about any one of them.

Maybe it’s because my first experience with shared public geekery was as a member of Star Trek fandom (where William Shatner legitimized bullying Trekkies in his Infamous 1986 Saturday Night Live sketch, something for which I have never forgiven him). Or maybe it’s because the only people who have ever tried to make me feel ashamed about the things I love doing are people that I have come to realize are bullies. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been spending time reading inspirational quotes on Tumblr that remind me to be true to myself, stand up for myself, and be the best person I can be. But any time I see someone duck their head and mumble about a thing they love, it makes me angry.

So what to do?

You stand up for yourself. You take back the thing that you love. You refuse to allow anyone to tell you that your hobby is anything less than awesome. Fly your geek flag proudly! I love this quote from Simon Pegg (Scotty in the new Star Trek) about being a geek:


Relevant link -> Contact Hypothesis – The idea that positive personal interactions are one of the most effective ways to overcome prejudice.

March 19, 2013

This is why we can’t have nice things

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frau Magda @ 8:10 am
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scrooge-mcduck-christmas-carol2I know a lot of people who work as rennaissance faire entertainers and historic interpreters. Almost every time I mention paying admission to an event or museum, someone always pipes up and says, “You should have said something, I could have gotten you in for free!” Even though I am perfectly capable of paying admission. It happened again this weekend when I was in Jamestown for Military Through the Ages. Wanting to show that I financially supported the museum, I mentioned to someone that I’d bought an annual pass, and they immediately started giving me tips for how I could have gotten it half price. *facepalm*

Now, I can sometimes understand why people make this offer. Some of my friends who work the renaissance faires actually are poor college students. But I’m 47 years old. It’s been a long time since I was a college student. And some of my friends who are performers or self-employed live pretty hand-to-mouth, especially when the economy is bad. But I make good money at my job. I don’t need free admission to events. I can afford to pay my own way in and am happy to do so because it supports institutions that I think are important. Institutions that need to make money to stay open. So why do my friends keep trying to save me money that I’m happy to spend? Don’t they understand that if these events don’t make money, that they will eventually stop happening?

WTF people. Seriously.

Maybe I’m feeling overly sensitive because we just got the news last week that the the Higgins Armory Museum is going to close. And I’m feeling guilty for not renewing my membership and supporting the museum the past couple of years. Or maybe it’s because while I was in Williamsburg I picked up a book about the founding and I’ve been reading about how John D. Rockefeller Jr. spent millions of his own money during the Great Depression to create Colonial Williamsburg. Solely because he loved history and thought it was a good idea to try to preserve it. He’s the same guy that built The Cloisters Museum in New York City (I think we would have gotten along famously!).

So I’m going to come right out and say it. Reenactors? You guys are penny wise and pound foolish. You pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on your kits, but you begrudge historic sites and museums that let you come play on their grounds the price of admission.

Admission to a weekend reenactment event is usually very inexpensive. Do you know what it costs to attend a science fiction convention? I’ve seen weekend membership rates that range anywhere from $60 (Arisia) to $200 (WorldCon). And that does not include the price of your hotel room. An annual pass to Jamestown cost me $35. I’ve spent that on a good meal. Heck, I’ve spent that much on a bad meal. An annual pass to Colonial Williamsburg cost me a mere $64. I could spent that in a single trip to the bookstore. I consider the $5 to $15 to get in the gate at most reenactments to be a complete bargain.

Seriously folks. Compare the price of admission to what you spent on your kit. How much was the wool for your clothes? How much did you pay for that gown or uniform? How much were those hand made shoes? What did you spend on that sword or rifle? How much for a full suit of armor? Those cooking pots? That tent? How much was your cannon? If you’re doing modern era, what did you pay for that machine gun? The jeep? So why do you begrudge spending the price of a movie ticket to support a historic site?

And yet, I’m sure there will be people who will keep trying to get me into events for free. Get a clue people, if you’re at a fundraiser to keep a historic site open, the last thing you should be doing is letting extra people in the back gate for free. You should be encouraging your friends to support the site. Because we want them to stay open.

Relevant to your interests – Save the Higgins

February 24, 2013

Pinterest and New Research

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frau Magda @ 11:41 am
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When I first started doing Landsknecht research in 2008 and 2009 I would right-click and save any image that caught my eye.  I started with the English language Landsknecht web sites, mostly on the excellent Saint Maximillian web site and exploring the archives for the German Renaissance Costume Yahoo group and going down the rabbit hole clicking links on Wikipedia

But after reading rather widely on the Internet, it started to sink in that Cranach was working in Saxony painting the court ladies, so all those lovely gowns were probably inappropriate for a camp frau from Bavaria.  And someone wrote a blog post about how Urs Graf was not only Swiss (and thus sketching Reislaufer and not Landsknecht) but that he was often satirizing the outrageous styles of the time (I’ve tried to track down the blog post, but alas, I can’t remember where I read it).  So it didn’t take me long to realize that who the artist was and where they were from might be important information to know when examining period images.  And I made the connection that hey, our unit has picked a specific time and a place (1528 Bavaria) and these images I was saving?  Probably there were some that were appropriate to our unit and plenty that were not, as styles of dress varied widely across the region.

That’s when the research started to get real.  I wanted to be able to say for sure if the thing I was documenting was appropriate for our place and time.  So I spent the better part of the winter of 2009-2010 going back and revisiting those sites, trying to track down more information about all those random images.  I started recording the date, artist, and title in the file name when I saved images.  And if I didn’t know that information, I filed the image in a different folder on my hard drive.  And didn’t share it with my peers.  It was still useful, but not as useful as a fully documented image that I could trace back to a particular date and artist.

There’s also the added twist when you’re playing in 16th century Germany of religion, because we’ve got the protestant Reformation going on.  And that impacts how artists from various regions depict religious figures.  And while portraiture is on the rise, there is still a vast body of religious artwork being produced.  And it’s important to keep the religious leanings of the artist in mind when looking at images with a religious or moral theme.  Some are the equivalent of today’s political cartoons, where the artist is using exaggeration to make their point.  So it’s often useful to know if the artist is from the North (and probably Lutheran) or from the Catholic southern regions (Bavaria is still Catholic).  And keep in mind the religious affiliation of your unit and your persona.  Wikipedia has been a godsend for tracking down more background information when I only have a name for an artist.

Three weeks ago I went to ReenactorFest 9 (OK, technically the name of the event has changed to Military History Fest, but I’m a creature of habit, and it’s still ReenactorFest to me.)  One of the panels I attended was Historical Research in the Modern Age given by Antina Richards-Pennock.  She talked a lot about Pinterest.  Now I’ve been holding off joining Pinterest for months now, because I know how easy it is for me to get lost looking at pretty pictures on the Internet.  But when one of my costuming friends shared the news last Tuesday that they’d created a board for leopard prints in 18th century clothing, I broke down and created an account to follow her.

Of course, my very first search term was “Landsknecht.”  Since I had a bunch of other things to do that night, I didn’t allow myself more than 10 – 15 minutes to poke around.  But it didn’t take me long to find one of my own photos, pinned on someone else’s board.   Then I found a pattern that looked suspiciously familiar.  I clicked it to take a closer look, and yes, it was the hemd pattern layout that one of our members had shared last year.  So now I knew that “Ilsa” was on Pinterest.  I also found a ton of pictures of Landsknecht reenactors, both good and bad.  After spending so much time looking at period source images, I’ve picked up more about costuming than I’d realized.

I also learned a new Google Images trick from that research panel. I’d heard that you could use Google Images to search for matches to an existing image, but I was fuzzy on the details of how to do it.  She demonstrated how you can drag an image off your hard drive and into the search box.  Cool!  I know this is going to be useful in trying to track down those mystery images where I don’t yet know artist and date and title.  Although I’ve already tried with one of two that I’m most desperate to track down provenance for, and so far all I’ve found is various blogs reposting the same images.  Eventually I will track them back to their museum origins.

Which brings me back to Pinterest.  I’ve started creating boards (You can find me at  but I’m going to try to go slowly at adding new images.  My goal is to only pin or re-pin material where I know the date and artist of the image, and if possible the title of the work.  And hopefuly the museum that holds the piece.  Because, depending on the museum, that may link you to a high resolution image where you can zoom in to see details.  But it’s going to be hard to restrain myself, as there are so many wonderful images already pinned!  And tracking down sources can be difficult and time consuming.

But I’ll take the time, because it’s not good research material if you don’t know where it came from. 

February 22, 2012

Exploring the Medieval Mind for Lent

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frau Magda @ 8:37 am
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Gluttony A couple of weeks ago I went to my eighth ReenactorFest. (Well, it’s called Military History Fest now, but as a non-combatant, I like the old name better…) One of the great things about ReenactorFest is getting to cross-pollinate with other reenactors. I’m particularly grateful that I’ve gotten to meet Bob Charron, because the man just blows my mind.

In the course of translating Fiore dei Liberi’s martial arts manual, Bob decided that in order to truly understand it, he needed to also understand what a martial arts student of the period would have known. So in addition to medieval Italian, he’s spent several years studying geometry, philosophy, rhetoric, and other subjects that a well-educated renaissance man would have known. A few choice quotes from the two-part article I linked to:

“In my opinion… Fiore’s art was intended for educated individuals who would have recognized the basic principles of Aristotle’s physics and Euclid’s geometry within the art. In effect, the educated person already had what he needed for the basics of the art from the trivium and quadrivium – the undergraduate work of the Medieval educational system.”

“Mathematics and geometry and astronomy and music were taught and learned using the same principles, and were seen as highly related to one another.”

So part of the reason why I’m thinking about Bob is precisely because he felt that the best way to fully understand a medieval/renaissance manuscript was to understand all the things that a medieval scholar would have known.

I have spent the past couple of winters trying to get inside my Bavarian alter-ego’s head. Magda lived during a period of religious upheaval that we now call the Reformation. So I think a solid understanding of both the Catholic faith and the heretics that came to be known as Lutherans and Calvinists is necessary if I’m to understand not only Magda, but the times in which she lived. But one of the hardest things for me about playing Magda is probably her Catholicism. I was raised somewhat agnostic. My parents never took our family to church, although I have attended services with friends. At various times in my life I’ve self-identified as agnostic, Unitarian Universalist, and pagan.

The issue is that I don’t feel like I know nearly enough about Christianity in general, and Medieval Catholicism in particular, to fully understand either Magda or the upheaval that was the Protestant Reformation.

So this Lenten season, I’m buckling down and trying to make a serious dent in the pile of books I’ve acquired on medieval diet (since we’re talking Lent) and medieval saints and relics, which are my two main areas of interest. In addition, I’ll probably be doing some other research, perhaps attending a Catholic Mass in Latin.

I’m also giving up Sloth and Gluttony. Because it’s not Lent if you’re not giving up something you enjoy.

February 13, 2012

Timelines and Reenacting

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frau Magda @ 11:32 pm
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A week ago I was still catching up on my sleep after getting back from my eighth ReenactorFest (aka Military History Fest, but some of us are too used to the old name to change now).

ReenactorFest is the reason I made the move from renaissance faire playtron with an interest in history to 16th century reenactor. I went to my first ReenactorFest with Stephen, Alena, and Tom and a couple others in 2006. Amanda joined us for the trip the next year. And in May 2009 the five of us had the meeting that led to the founding of The Guild of Saint Moritz/Das Geld Fӓhnlein.

Over the past five years, my favorite reenactment events have been timelines. There’s just something about getting to geek out with other reenactors, hearing about what they’re researching, seeing what interesting little bits of material culture they’re collected, and seeing how they’ve chosen to present their little slice of history to the general public. I always come back from ReenactorFest feeling energized and psyched up to dive back into some research.

But one of the coolest things about the trip to ReenactorFest this year was getting to chat with my friend Kass McGann, proprietress of Reconstructing History and her fabulous husband Bob (pictured). Kass gave me a little advance peek into her plans for a Golden Age of Travel dream birthday. I still remember her descriptions of her trip on Cunard back in 2010 (which totally made me want to run out and book a cruise! If only I could arrange to have vacation time and extra money at the same time….).

I spent a lot of time reading Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers myself, and I’m getting ready to finally start watching Downton Abby on Netflix. It’s going to be a whole lotta fun watching her research the 1930s, construct her wardrobe, and plan this trip. I hope to see the occasional blog post from Bob too. I never did find out his verdict on whether or not his new dry cleaners did an acceptable job on his dress shirts. He does wear that tux rather nicely, doesn’t he?

How can you not love a couple who plan to cruise in proper style? Damn, now I wanna reenact the 1930s too.

#ReconstructingHistory, #Cunard

August 27, 2011

Modern Marvels – Weather predictions

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frau Magda @ 10:09 pm
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Every now and then someone (usually my mother) asks me why I’m a reenactor. There are many reasons, but one is because it gives me perspective on modern life. And reminds me how lucky I am to live in this century.


As the East Coast has been preparing all week for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, several times I’ve thought about how blessed I am to live in an age when we get advance warning of severe weather like hurricanes. Irene isn’t due to hit New England until Sunday, but as early as Tuesday I was aware that she was headed our way (and e-mailing the Hauptmann about possible rain dates for Saturday’s workshop). Five days is plenty of time to stock up on food, water, and batteries.

My whole life, we’ve always been able to find out the weather in advance. But we’ve only had these early warning systems for about a century. The National Weather service was founded in 1870. And the National Hurricane Center was founded a little over a hundred years ago.

I’ve been thinking about what it must have been like to have storms just blow out of nowhere, with no warning and no idea if it’s going to be a summer shower or a major blow.

I am blessed to live in the 21st century because we can predict the weather and prepare for it. Knowing the weather five days in advance is a modern marvel.

January 4, 2011

Appreciating Albrecht Dürer

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frau Magda @ 9:37 pm
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For many many years now whenever I see a nice coffee table Art or Art History book on the remainder shelf of a bookstore, I’ve taken it home with me. When I my interest was mainly Elizabethan England, I collected quite a few Hans Holbein books. Now that my focus has shifted from England to Bavaria, I’ve been collecting Albrecht Dürer.

Last year the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston had a small exhibit of images by Albrecht Dürer. I went to see them with a friend in March, and then went back for a quick second solo visit in June, just before the exhibit closed. The MFA exhibit focused on is woodcuts, drawings, and etchings, but Durer also worked in watercolor and oils.  He was recognized as a master when he was still in his twenties.   He became so famous that people would add his famous monogram (his initials) to woodcuts by other artists in order to increase sales.

Hans Sebald Beham woodcut
with AD monogram
Circa 1520

After the visit in March I found a collection of Dürer’s woodcuts on DVD. When the disc arrived (more…)

December 29, 2010

On History

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frau Magda @ 9:06 pm
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Quote of the Day

“History isn’t dead. New facts are constantly being uncovered and published.”

From the fascinating comments thread for this post [Warning! NSFW!] over on Trashy Books, Smart Bitches.  The discussion contains some, um, rather frank discussion of period terms for lady bits and manly bits.  But also some fascinating insights into how authors research and write historical romances, and what readers look for in their historicals.

Oh, and did you know that there is a Historical Novel Society?

 *waits patiently for Christmas cheque from mum to arrive*

December 27, 2010

The Devil’s Stripes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frau Magda @ 9:44 am
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I got a bee in my bonnet this week, and started drafting some costume guidelines for the Guild.  And as I sorted through the rather extensive collection of woodcuts and portraits on my hard drive, I noticed how very many of them contained stripes

I can’t remember when I added The Devil’s Cloth: a History of Stripes to my Amazon wish list, but I suddenly had the overwhelming urge to read it.  I toddled off to the local Barnes and Nobles, intending to order it.  But what to my wondering eyes should appear, but the in-house book search showed that it was in stock and on the shelf!  In the social sciences section, of all places.  Clutching the book to my breast, I did an internal little dance of glee as I scurried off to the checkout.

It’s a slim volume.  And quite scholastic.  It reads much like the sorts of academic articles I had to slog through back when I was in graduate school. Luckily it isn’t a very long book, a mere 90 pages, not counting the 30 pages of bibliography and footnotes.  But despite the dry academic tone, right from the beginning I knew that he was going to have something useful to say to me.  (more…)

Somewhere between the Medieval and the Modern

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frau Magda @ 2:33 am
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The Magdalen Reading
Rogier Van der Weyden
Before 1438

I’m a child of the modern world. And one of my main challenges as a 16th century reenactor is trying to understand the medieval mind so that I can more fully inhabit my character. (more…)

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