Monday, February 22, 2016

Poor Scholarship or No Scholarship?

I know, I promised Fabris next. And I'm drafting that entry now, but a couple discussions came out of some thoughts I had earlier, and I figured they were worth putting up here.

Out there on the internet, someone had posted a link to John Clements' book on rapier combat, saying that it's a super great resource. These days though, it's really kind of worse than no resources at all in a lot of ways.

This led me to start to wonder - what's worse, poor scholarship or no scholarship?

When Clements published this book in 1997 (if I'm not wrong), there was a huge lack of commonly available resources for rapier combat. Wilson's The Art of Defence came out in 2002, I believe. Windsor's The Duelist's Companion was out in 2006. (I'm pretty sure of those dates, after some digging. If I'm wrong, please correct me.)

Today, there are any number of excellent resources available for rapier combat. Even discounting online communities, blogs, and self-published ebooks to focus on traditionally published works, we have Wilson's book in a second edition, Windsor's take on Capo Ferro, Leoni's translations, and more. Venturing online, there are a huge number of quality blogs, Dante's self-published ebook, and the Acadamie Duello website and DVD. There are so many high-quality scans of the original manuals, and various translations of them. The Wiktenaur site is amazing. We're really spoiled for choice in many ways.

So because of the time it came out, Clements' book was really the only game in town, and I'd venture to say that the sweeping majority of people sure didn't know how to really judge the contents. That's fine, though - we know better now, and have more and more available resources to us.

The thing is, I think that just because it's been around for so long, some of the early bad scholarship has entered our long-term DNA. Clements' book keeps getting brought up on occasion. Weird little snippets of bad technique keeps reappearing. I'm certainly guilty of this - very early misinterpretations of concepts appeared, were taught, and while they've since been corrected, it seems like the corrections are playing catch-up to the spread of the original poor technique.

How do we excise the existence of what we know to be bad resources or bad technique? Is it even possible, with books and papers just being out there? A friend compared it to Kudzu - it just spreads, and when someone rolls in from the outside to try and correct what a group has been taught and keeps teaching, there's a risk of being seen as That Terrible Reenactor/Scholar/Whatever.

On the other hand, some of that early bad scholarship led to good scholarship and led to what we have today. It got people interested, and learning. It helped bring about what we have now.

Even today, newer people can have ideas based on poor understanding of the work, but the community is generally such that it's caught, taught correctly and in a generally helpful and encouraging way, and we all move on better for the experience.

How do we give due credit to the scholarship of the past, which helped us form the community we have today, while acknowledging that the scholarship was poor, and not letting the erroneous conclusions of it become ingrained any further?


  1. I had a five-paragraph reply typed up, but the essence is this: Any scholarship is better than no scholarship, because people should be able to learn to differentiate between correct and incorrect actions and explanations for actions. This is especially true in this age of Wiktenauer.

  2. I think logically discussing your viewpoint, like you did here, would be the best way to excise the existence of bad resources and bad techniques. The view of swordsmanship within the SCA circles is changing at a pretty good rate thanks in no small way to the work many of you are putting.

    I've very much been on the fringe of the historic rapier studies groups but even I end up hearing where to look.

    Keeping the discussions respectful and productive is key.

    Giving credit to the resources from early on should be pretty simple. "At one point, this is what was available. After years of research and study, like science, other things have come to light....". I'm sure you get the point.

  3. As for your original question, since I skipped right past it. I think some scholarship is better than none. It's at least a stepping stone to better things.