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Captain Tightpants

Captain Twill - FAQ

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Are you interested in what really happened in the Golden Age of Piracy? Do you want to separate fact from fiction?

Excellent! Welcome to Captain Twill!

Like the main Forums page says, Captain Twill is for "Academic talk on maritime history, research, & interesting info". Does this mean fun is not allowed? Of course not. It does mean that we discuss things in an often rigorous academic way.

Some people come into Captain Twill and get confused or upset at the differences. The tone of the discussions here can be very much different than the rest of the Pub. If you don't know about that, Captain Twill can be an upsetting place.

So here's a FAQ to read, which (hopefully) will help you successfully participate in Captain Twill discussions in a meaningful way.

1. Why are you guys such jerks?

We're not. Really! Even so, topics can sometimes get heated. History is seldom cut and dried. Opinions can differ, often wildly, among historians, each of which is eager to defend her position. Even though that's often the case, it is never acceptable to engage in ad hominem attacks.

2. What is "Academic talk"?

"Academic talk" means precisely that. Should you make statements in a historical discussion, write only that which you can support by documentation. Whether that's a book, contemporaneous evidence, personal experience attempting to perform a period task, or similar, 'documentation' does not mean "supporting" your ideas with something along the lines of "I can only imagine that this was so". In other words, if you're going to come in here and make statements, you must be prepared to support them in an academic fashion. Does this mean you have to have a college degree? Nope. Just read how others write.

Let me give you some examples:

Good: "Captain Chuckles wrote of tattooed savages in his book, Voyage to a New Worlde."

Better: MLA citation or equivalent. See this website.

Good: "I happened to be working in the rigging of the Kalmar Nyckel, and I can tell you that bare feet suck on ropes; when I wore shoes - yes, leather-soled period shoes - I was utterly secure aloft."

3. How do I do good research?

Here's the whole skinny, taken from Moderator Kass's website:

Good Research Techniques


Don't Make the Rare Common and the Common Rare

You find a picture of an unusual outfit and you want to wear it to the next event. The picture dates to the time and place of the event, but you've never seen anything like the outfit in the picture before. Is it documentable?

The answer is that the outfit probably is documentable to that time and place, but reconstructing this outfit and wearing it to a reenactment event is a bad idea. If this is the only picture of such an outfit, that makes it a rarity. And at reenactments and living history events, we are meant to be accurately portraying people from a certain place and time in history. It will not do to represent a rarity unless there is a specific lesson to be learned from it.

Don't Document Backwards

So you fell in love with Kiera Knightly's undergown when she gets stranded on the island in Pirates of the Carribean I (you know, the one with the lacing on the sleeves?). But now you're going to a Golden Age of Piracy living history event and you want to wear it. Is it period?

This is called "Backwards Documentation" and it is always a bad idea. The truth is that you want to wear the dress so you will take the smallest bit of evidence that justifies its existence. You'll substantiate the sleeves from one gown and the body of another, ignoring the fact that one is from 15th century Italy and the other 12th century Romania, and neither can be traced to Port Royal in the early 18th century.

Don't Do "I'm A Pirate and I Stole It" to Justify Having Unusual Things

You love your fancy earrings and never take them off. So you don't want to take them off for the living history event. So you search all the only art sites for a portrait of such earrings. And you find one! It's in an engraving of a South American woman in native dress. Yay!

The problem is that you portray an Englishman. Many people will say, "Well, I am a pirate and I went to that part of the world and brought this back with me." While this seems logical to us, it doesn't make it good documentation. There were something like 5000 pirates during the years 1680-1725 and we have many pictures of the more famous ones. But none of them are wearing bits and pieces of native dress.

Beware Generalizations

Just because something is period-appropriate for 13th century England doesn't mean it was used in Germany... or in 16th century England. Be precise. Focus on a time and place and be specific.

Use Primary Sources

Nothing beats a primary source. You can argue and argue and argue that darts aren't period, but when you find them on a 16th century gown in a bog find, you can't argue with that!

Know Your Source and Beware of Bias

It is very valuable to know who your source was. In Irish research, many sources are Englishmen who were trying to discredit the Irish. These sources are not reliable because of their obvious bias. Investigate who your source was and how he came to represent the clothing of the people in question. Also, some paintings are allegorical or fantastical. These cannot be trusted to accurately mirror the kind of clothing that was worn by real people. After all, if you were a painter, would you paint the Greek god Apollo in a three-piece business suit?

Never Say Never (or Always)

Frankly, this is a hard one for me to remember. When I feel passionately about something (like the Irish never having worn kilts), I get practically evangelical!

It is safer to say, "No evidence exists of this," or "The current research supports this." Try to avoid saying, "They always did this" or "That was never done in period." Unless, of course, it's something totally provable like, "They never used polyester."

Three Equals One

Although it is not absolutely or always true, three separate secondary sources can be used in place of one primary source. Of course you must be careful when doing this substitution. Sometimes the secondary sources come from the same artist or "school" and you find that they are copying each other, not the reality of the clothing they portray. In this case, it is best to do a little research into the history of your source. If, for example, you have three paintings of a chemise, they are all by different and unrelated painters, and they occur in the same time period, they are reasonably reliable as sources.

"Lack of Evidence Against" does not Equal "Proof For"

Perhaps you have heard the phrase "you cannot prove a negative". This is true. However, if you cannot prove the positive, you are not documenting anything. If, for example, no evidence exists of men wearing neckties in the Middle Ages, it doesn't mean they did. "They could have" isn't documentation. It's guessing. If you cannot find an example in a period source, it is best not to assume its existence. Just because it makes sense to modern people doesn't mean it existed in the Middle Ages.

"Traditional" does not necessarily mean "Ancient"

Many countries' National Costume are based on folk costumes dating no earlier than the 19th century. Do not assume that because they are traditional, they date to the Middle Ages or before. After all, 21st century Americans don't wear Colonial short gowns and petticotes (unless we are Colonial re-enactors too!). Why should people from other countries be wearing clothing from centuries before? Even in more traditional cultures, fashions change. Assuming that "old" equals "medieval" is a trap. Beware of it.

Types of Sources

It is best to define types of sources and their levels of usefulness so that you may judge what will be helpful and what will be a waste of your time.

The best source for historical clothing is an extant example of the garment. Extant means that someone dug the garment out of a bog, grave or cess pit (rarely do garments from the Middle Ages survive in someone's closet as have garments from the Colonial period and American Civil War) and it is preserved in a state that it can be studied by archeologists and anthropologists. This is known as a primary source.

In terms of documentation for material culture, paintings are secondary sources. The painter is in effect "telling" you what the garment looked like. You are not looking at it yourself. Even though you may think that a picture is worth a thousand words, paintings can lie. The artists that made them were not tailors. They may have missed an important seam here or there, or drawn the drape of the gown differently because it "looked better." Also, in most of the medieval period, the concept of "perspective" was not yet known in painting. This makes it difficult to figure out what people and their clothing really looked like. However, they are still useful sources, especially when used in conjunction with primary and tertiary sources.

However, paintings are primary sources for painting techniques, pigments, canvas and other things that can be garnered from the study of a painting.

Verbal descriptions are either secondary or tertiary sources. The author is either describing the garment to you (secondary) or describing a painting or description he witnessed of the garment (tertiary). These are the least reliable sources. However, sometimes they are all we have. When used along with other types of sources, they can be useful. Some paintings are also tertiary sources. If the painter based his work on a verbal description or someone else's painting and not real life, it is a tertiary source.

© 2002, 2003 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

4. So how do I participate?

That's easy! Read, read, read. If you happen upon a thread in which you think you might contribute, pen your thoughts (subject to the above).

5. What if I have a question?

That's the whole reason for Captain Twill: to answer questions. So ask away! But before you click on the "New Topic" button, do yourself and the rest of us a favor - click the "Search" link towards the top of the page. There are a bunch of questions that get answered over and over again, and endless repetition makes people a little testy. So search the Forums for terms surrounding your question. For example, if you want information on "authentic" "sea" "chests", search those three words.

There will be more here, I'm certain, as people weigh in. So weigh in!

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