Authenticity - The challenges of accurately portraying the past.
Research is not about proclaiming all that we know, but recognising all that we don't,
hence a true
measure of understanding is shown not in the answers we give others but in the questions we ask of ourselves.
Every re-enactment society now seems to market themselves as "authentic", yet what one group may promote as authentic for being a big improvement in terms of their own historical accuracy, another will forbid for being a major step backwards. The term authentic is not an independently arbitrated yardstick against which all must be measured or scored, but has become a somewhat clichéd moving set of goal posts each sets only so far away as their own understanding enables them to see. Consequently to judge historical accuracy you must assess the quality of research upon which any definition of "authentic" is based, along with the extent and type of compromises due to modern limitations on time, budget, safety or skill which must inevitably be tolerated in any portrayal of the past.
Within The Skip Felagr several of our volunteers have relevant graduate or post graduate qualifications, and/or are/were professionally employed in various fields of archaeology, museum education, heritage crafts, academic research/teaching or are published authors and lecturers on early medieval history. What is more, we know of no other reenactment society possessing their own reference library covering the subject of early medieval archaeology, culture and period crafts. This collection is maintained and added to by our own qualified librarian in addition to all the academic publications and papers our individual members privately purchase for themselves.
Does this make us perfect or mean that we know it all? Far from it as there are many questions archaeology has yet to provide enough evidence about to reliably answer, or cases where new discoveries cast doubt over previously undisputed theories. As such part of attempting to accurately portray the past is recognising that we can't always reliably define what is "authentic". It is our academic approach to research and experimental archaeology that stops us from naively claiming to be able to offer a "fully authentic" portrayal of the past. Only by constantly re-evaluating what we do against the latest archaeological finds, debating conflicting interpretations and trying things out for real can we be sure we are offering the best representation of the past that we possibly can, Consequently we will not portray any item or action that we cannot support with evidence.
Irrespective of the above we aim to make history entertaining and accessible to all age groups and abilities, so what matters more than what our members have learnt before arriving at an event, is what the public have learnt when they leave. Unlike some reenactors we genuinely view the public as the motivation for what we do, not an annoying distraction that stops us from enjoying time with our friends. As such we place huge emphasis on how we engage with our different audiences to keep them all interested and entertained (something we can back up with numerous testimonials). So whilst we are able to debate abstract academic theories about obscure areas of archaeology if we meet other experts, it is important for us to interact with each member of our audience at a level they can understand and bring history to life for them in a way a stuffy text book can't. Far better someone goes away happy having learnt just one simple fact they found interesting than got bored listening to a plethora of confusing trivia.
We could go on about the things we feel set us apart from other groups, but ultimately the best way to understand what drives us is simply to spend time with us at one of our events. Only then will you truly appreciate the huge range of knowledge and enthusiasm we have for our subject and how complex defining what constitutes an "authentic" portrayal of nearly three hundred years of changing history really is.