Society for Creative Anachronism

Ken Mondschein at Medievalists.net is saying good things about the SCA. No objections here, but it has me wondering how many medievalists have belonged to the Society of Creative Anachronism at some point. I did. Kind of. Maybe it would be more accurate to say I stopped by from time to time.

I don’t think I can pin down a start date. Probably 1982 or 1983 in Shire of Loch Salaan (Salt Lake City). I can’t remember now whether I saw a notice at Cosmic Airplane, or whether we were just driving by the park (which park?) and happened to see them. Which park? Wasn’t Liberty Park. Had to be Sugar House. What I remember more clearly is that I struggled to come up with an appropriate costume. My early attempts were an ongoing annoyance to a certain woman, who nevertheless continued to believe I would be interested in her constant stream of trivia about weaving in the Middle Ages.

Then on and off through the years. Never very far but neither very close. The last serious bit was about 1997 or 1998 in the Kingdom of the Outlands, with a last cursory bit about 2005 in the Canton of Hawks Hollow, when I finally registered my name as Juste de Beauharnais, a persona I had nurtured for some time. (I would have said it was 2002 but I looked it up and it’s 2005.)

There was another persona before that but I’m not remembering. Jamie Hamilton? Maybe. Probably. And a persona, something to do with Orkney, but that one is so far distant I doubt there’re any traces anywhere inside my skull.

I think of SCA as a path not taken. About 20 years start to finish, although saying “20 years” might give the wrong impression. It was all duration and very little depth.

I went for a more clearly academic path. No matter how much I might in principle like the idea of a medievalism that is both popular and accessible, in practice most of it drove me nuts. Too pretentious. And by that, I mean even more pretentious than academia.

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Edited to removed broken links.

A Better Diaspora

What does it mean — a better diaspora? I started thinking about this a couple of weeks ago when a friend who is Latina mentioned how often people are surprised when they find out she doesn’t speak Spanish.

At the time I just laughed. I don’t speak Swedish or any of my other ancestral languages, so we’re in the same boat.

Later, though, I started thinking. Why would people think Latinxs would be more likely to retain an ancestral language than anyone else?

Historically, most of the United States has been part of the European diaspora. Learning to speak English is a benchmark for assimilation. Yet, there are cultural enclaves everywhere. I’ve lived in Salt Lake City, New York, and Denver. In each of them I lived for a time in particular cultural areas, including Latinx, Russian, German, and Jewish. Now I live on the edge of the Muslim part of Denver.

When I hear the news about Americans who hate immigrants, I think to myself these people must have led very sheltered, small-town lives. In the cities, immigrant communities are just part of life. Their native cultures give us new restaurants and cultural festivals, which are part of the joy of living in a city.

While all this was fresh in my mind, I came across an old Michael Newton article. If you’re not familiar with his work, he’s been called “a leading authority on the literature and cultural legacy of Scottish Highland immigrant communities in America.” I’ve been giving up on him, because he’s retreating behind a paywall but I still read him when I come across something.

Newton argues that most of what passes for Scottish culture in North America — kilts, clans & whisky — is a sham and sometimes even a vehicle for white supremacy. In this “new” article, he is promoting learning Scots Gaelic as a way of improving the Scottish diaspora.

The idea of learning Scots Gaelic as a way of strengthening the culture of the diaspora strikes me as interesting. Despite what I told my Latina friend about not speaking Swedish, I did take a semester in college. I also had high school French and German, and college Latin, German (and Swedish). And, I’ve tried now and then, but without much success, to learn Gaelic and Old Norse.

So, I wonder. Is knowing the language an essential part of affirming identity and belonging? I think I’d want to read a wider spectrum of opinion and debate but it feels like there’s something “there”.

More Information

  • Dr. Michael Newton. “A Better Scottish Diaspora is Possible.” Patreon <patreon.com/posts/27706625>, July 17, 2019. Retrieved May 27, 2020. 

Updated May 27, 2020 to replace the Patreon link, which works but is “Forbidden”.