[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Author Index][Search Archives]

No more Pollings! (report to the Crown)

Poster: Peter Adams <adamspf@erpls.com.maxson.com>

Well, maybe not NO more pollings, but it is my opinion that the polling
nature of the Atlantian Kingom Orders of Merit needs to be severely
reexamined, and that consideration must be given to whether OM pollings
are in any way statistically valid for representing the will of the
Orders, or even helpful to the Monarchs in selecting candidates.
	The below document was generated as the result of the Pearl meeting at
Emerald Joust 1998.  The long delay can be summed up in one basic word
	This is however, in my opinion, still a very important topic, and I
think the kingdom needs to consider changing the nature of the OM.  To
reassure all, I am all for the enfranchisement of every member of the
Kingdom, not just the Peers, but I consider the OM to be in serious need
of re-definition.  


by Badouin MacKenzie, CP, OL

There are a number of difficulties in administering the pollings of the
Orders of Merit (the Pearl, the Sea Stag, and the Golden Dolphin).  This
document contains my opinion on the nature of two major problems, their
cause, and some possible solutions.  I have written this in the spirit
of helpfulness, and have tried to keep it reasonably clear of ranting
for my favorite policies.  A bias in favor of my own analytical
techniques, of course, remains in the content.  This document was
generated at the request of (Then) Prince Anton, although it goes well
beyond the original analysis which he initially commissioned.

Criteria for Entry to the Order
At Emerald Joust (May 23, 1998), during a meeting of the Order of the
Pearl, Prince Anton asked if the order had and specific criteria by
which it judged candidates.  On the whole, we looked around
flabbergasted.  However, this had also been much on my mind recently, so
I made an on-the-spot attempt at defining how I though the Order as a
whole recommended candidates to the Throne.  His Highness commissioned
this report at that time.

I have observed over the years, that often a Companion brings forth a
candidate for consideration and the candidate's name is simultaneously
greeted with profound disbelief by some members and fervent acclamation
by others.  Oddly, the membership of the pro and con groups has not been
at all consistent, but has changed from meeting to meeting.  That is,
the pro and con groups were not simply static power blocks trading
influence for personal reasons, or even, in my opinion, dynamic
alliances of power blocks, based on the fairly thorough randomness of
the groups.  Herein lies a more considered attempt to explain why the
Companions seem to have no fixed set of criteria.

This is a departure from the traditional interpretation of the
requirements for entry into the Pearl (as delineated in Atlantian law)
but I believe it more accurately assesses the current practices of the
Order of the Pearl, and I ask you to bear with me, please.

THE CATEGORIES.  I use five categories to consider the artistic activity
of myself and others in the SCA.  These categories are similar to those
which have been used with some success to standardize judging criteria
for arts competitions.  These categories are:  Original Research, Period
Profile, Period Technique, Education, and Excellence of Execution.

* Original Research is built on the foundation of the known SCA
bibliography of a given area of study.  This "known bibliography"
includes the books referred to on a regular basis by the artists in the
SCA.  Once this groundwork is absorbed, original research may involve
adding sources to the SCA bibliography, working directly with
transcriptions/reproductions of period documents, or the development of
theories and interpretations which may contradict the experts.  Such
theories are often obtained by "experimental archaeology" (the act of
reproducing artifacts by period means).  The goal is to experience the
process without preconceptions, observe how well or poorly the process
produces the object,
 and to see the context of the object in a primarily hand-powered

* Period Profile is how closely an artifact produced by the artist
resembles either a graphic image of an actual medieval object, (either
from a period source, or a modern photograph), or in fortunate cases,
the medieval artifact itself.  The artist usually goes through
successive phases of approximation.  I describe these as being the "no
plastic" phase, the "Hollywood" phase, the "craftsman" phase, and the
"medieval artisan" phase.  For example, a knockdown plywood chair is
created from a desire to do away with modern furniture (the "no plastic"
phase).  The so-called "Viking tourney chair" is also at this level of
artistic achievement.  Painting the chair brightly to emulate a common
medieval usage and adding
 molding will make it look more attractive and increase complexity, but
does not actually attempt to copy a medieval piece.  (This is the
"Hollywood" phase.)  Using photographs and illuminations (it is
surprising how late the use of an actual picture comes into the process
for most artists) of medieval chairs to build one which is made using
appropriate joinery, proportion, and decoration without following a
specific example, results in the "craftsman" level.  The "medieval
artisan" level is achieved when an artist copies, as closely as
possible, specific medieval artifacts.  Most SCA artists produce
artifacts at more than one of these levels during a career and may drop
back to a lower level at various times.

* Period Technique includes materials, tools, and processes.  This
generally progresses from a stage of "I just want to make the object
with as little difficulty and time as possible, so long as it looks
good" to "I have academic knowledge of the material, tools, and
processes, but chose not to use them for this project (due to restraints
of time, money, energy)" to "I have replicated the medieval craft
experience to the best of my ability."

* Level of Education can be thought of as an evaluation of the artist's
ability to communicate his or her grasp of medieval artistic matters. 
It is demonstrated in various ways-by documentation/display, written
materials (articles, published or hand-circulated), verbal interaction
with other artists, and classes.
	Accuracy of information is important when considering the educational
work; the artist usually starts out repeating the content of the first
source material regardless of its content-after all, how should they
know better?  The artist goes on to expand his base list of sources,
integrate the new information, and start discussing the contradictory
aspects of the information.  The artist can then either resolve the
contradictions by experimentation or by choosing an academic position
and defending it.  However, if the artist reaches conclusions which
contradict the opinions of the members of the Order to which he aspires,
then that artist will either have to convince the Order members, recant
the heresy, or hope for Royal patronage.  (Unsurprisingly, this is a
microcosm of the academic world throughout recorded history-consider the
example of Galileo!)
	In other words, I do not count a person who has taught 10 classes with
information that I consider wrong to have achieved in the area of
education, and if the misinformation becomes "current information,"
especially among newcomers to the art, I consider it negative work in
that area, unless the artist can convince me of my error by presentation
of new interpretations of the evidence with which I am familiar, or the
introduction of new evidence.

* Excellence of Execution is easy.  All other factors being set aside,
how do the parts fit together; how appropriately do the processes of
manufacture show in the finished product, how well is it finished, and
in general, does it please the eye.  However, this does not mean "Is it
shiny, gaudy, and bright with lots of decorations?"
I have made unsatisfactory attempts to copy medieval objects, using the
same techniques which served quite well both immediately before and
after.  Excellence of execution steps away from the medieval nature of
the SCA and simply states "I may not know art, but I know what I like."

What Does this Mean to the Pearls?
My observation is that all members of the Order of the Pearl have
achieved a respectable level of competence in at least two of the five
categories, and lesser achievement in a third category.  (Two majors and
a minor, if you will.)  This accounts for the difference of opinion over
some candidates-if they are strong in excellence and research, with some
reputation for profile, then those whose strength was primarily in
profile and education, with some reputation for technique, will be
mystified why an artist who has only some small reputation for good
period profile would be considered for the Order, though the candidate
is, in fact, as qualified as the member!

What Does this Mean to the Laurels?
I believe that the members of the Laurel have generally achieved
competence in a minimum of four out of five categories of ignificantly
higher than that required for entrance into the Pearl.  The fifth,
least-developed, area is expected to be at least Pearl level.  Acrimony
in the Laurel, therefore, arises from non-overlapping weaknesses (i.e.,
are the four top categories sufficiently developed?), not
non-overlapping strengths, as in the Pearls.  This explains the huge
gulf between Laurel and Pearl.  The Pearl-level artist must increase
both the number of skills, and must increase all those skills to a more
demanding level in order to be recognized at the Laurel level.

Is the Pearl a "Baby" Laurel?
Not at all.  The Pearl, as has been demonstrated above, is far less
requiring of rigorous study and application.  The Pearl seems (to me) to
be more of a reward for those who have made the Kingdom more
attractive.  The Laurel is more focussed on the academic and scholarly
study of medieval material culture and the reproduction of artifacts as
close to the medieval paradigm as possible.

Should There be Another Arts Award between the Pearl and the Laurel in
No.  Actually, there cannot be an award "between" the Pearl and the
Laurel since they are not in a straight line in terms of artistic
development (see above question).  There may be room for either a "baby
Laurel" or a "super Pearl" or both, but their natures are currently
problematic, and need much discussion.

Poor Response Rates for Pollings
At the same meeting where His Highness asked about criteria, Her
Majesty, Seonaid, broached what I understood to be Her longstanding
concerns over the statistical validity of pollings in defining the "will
of the Order."  The response rate to the polling on any given candidate
is often significantly less than the number of people who made some
response, and is always less, sometimes far less, than the number of
members actually receiving the pollings.  I am NOT including abstains as
responses, as they merely represent a Companion's inability to respond,
as discussed below.

Why Does This Happen?

The 200-person social limit referred to by Troy L. Byer in TI #127
("Soothing Pains of Change:  Group Dynamics and the SCA") provides a
useful tool for analyzing the difficulties in administering the Order of
the Pearl.  The essential nature of this limit is that the vast majority
of people are only able to keep tabs on 200 other people, give or take a

According to Terrafon, there are over 200 entries for watch list and
active members on the Pearl roster.
This means, to me anyway, that the members of the Order cannot possibly
devote sufficient time to the regularazation of standards in the Pearl.

I believe this may in large part have bearing on the low percentage of
polling returns for the Orders.  Despite the best intentions, no
Companion can devote full attention to the Order.  This leaves the Crown
in the position of trying to determine the "will of the Order" based on
a statistically negligible sampling.  The returns which are sent usually
refer only to candidates who already stand inside the 200-person limit
of the responding Companion.

Does This Problem Exist in the Other Orders of Merit?
Heck, yah!

What Can be Done to Address the Problems with Polling the Orders of
1.	The situation can remain as it is.
2.	The Orders can be closed.
3.	Each Order can be closed and replaced with one or more new awards,
polling orders, or non-polling orders.
4.	Kingdom law can be altered to re-establish the Orders as non-polling.
5.	Kingdom law can be altered to define polling as a verbal act,
performed at previously announced Order meetings.
6.	Kingdom law can be rewritten to allow polling privileges in only one
Order of Merit at a time, while not limiting membership in multiple
7.	Other - you tell me.

Which Option is Most Desirable?
	The answer to that lies in the demographic history.  To make an
informed decision, a study of percentages of the population receiving
awards and membership in Orders over the last decade or so would be
best; with an evaluation of trends overall and in the Orders and
Awards.  Greater accuracy could be obtained by correlating that data
with the membership roster year by year, so as to cull dropped
recipients from the total count.  While reluctant to undertake this
study myself, I believe this work is important.  I recommended to his 
then Highness that a project considering the statistical trends of the
award structure in Atlantia was in order.

There are two basic problems.

1.	The Crown is confused by the responses of the members, in which each
member seems to be using a different, unrelated set of criteria to
2.	Some members of the Order are confused by what appears to be the
Crowns' unwillingness to act on the pollings.An intriguing fact is that
while both problems can be documented, they affect separate segments of
the decision-making population which do not strongly overlap:  to wit,
the problem of unified criteria affects the Crown most strongly, and the
Members are most affected by the frustration with the Crown.

I believe this accounts for the fact that previous discussions on
"fixing the Orders" have come to little conclusion-there are not one but
two problems besetting the Order, but the members (including the Crown)
only concentrate on that one which most affects them.  I suggest that
there is no fault to be assigned to either side-the failure to resolve
the issues has simply been a failure of communication.

Changes to the nature of polling orders in general, and the Atlantian
Orders of Merit in particular, is a very controversial topic.  Each
Companion has his own agenda, designed to maximize personal enjoyment of
the SCA.  It is important to choose a solution (if it is universally
recognized that there is, indeed, a problem) which is likely to maximize
enjoyment for all participants, while maintaining the essential
character of our awards structure (i.e., the three "tracks" laid out by
the peerage orders - service, artistic achievement, and martial
List Archives, FAQ, FTP:  http://merryrose.atlantia.sca.org/
            Submissions:  atlantia@atlantia.sca.org
        Admin. requests:  majordomo@atlantia.sca.org