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Re:Reverse documentation

Poster: "Terry L. Neill" <Neilltl@ptsc.slg.eds.com>

Lady Magdalena wrote:

>I think the telling phrase above is 'a little' - the issue here is not the
>order of one's research (before or after creative juices flow), but the
>quality of the research.  If one is just punching a ticket, then study is
>a waste of time.  If there is a real interest in increasing knowledge, then
>one  way of learning is as good as any other.  Don't knock someone else's
>method as long as the end result (both the cordial and it's documentation)
>are good.

When advising people who are interested in learning a medieval skill from the
ground up on their own, without a teacher, I often advise starting with the
modern side of the skill.

The reason for this is to learn the 20th century techniques and science behind
what they're doing.  Then when they read those primary and secondary sources,
they understand what part is important and what part might be medieval
misunderstandings or superstition, and what part is just downright dangerous.

I'm teaching myself soap making this way.  I'm reading through modern soap
making instructions and Firefox.  Our ancestors made soap by filtering water
through wood ash and mixing it with fat or oil.  By reading the modern soap
making instructions I have learned that I can go to the grocery store and buy a
can of Red Devil lye drain cleaner and use that instead.  The modern books also
caution about lye water, which not many of the period sources I've been able to
get my hands on do.

I agree with Melisande that one shouldn't do shoddy research. But there is much
value in figuring out how it's done *today*, then using that information to
interpret how it might have been done then.  Especially for those times and
places where there are no written records.

It may end up through research that the particular thing you are attempting to
document is utterly out of period.  But by then, you've found so much more that
is appropriate and have learned a lot in the process.

        - Anarra
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