Guest Blogger – THL Iohannes Weisswald

The first week of every month I try to showcase the work of other people. These past two months I have been sharing links to people’s blogs and websites on the internet.  However, not everyone who is a scribe has blog or website.  So I am also including class notes, articles etc written by other scribes into this monthly feature.  In other words I am including guest bloggers onto my blog.

So without further ado please welcome THL Iohannes Weisswald as my first guest blogger.


A Plain Spoken Guide to Historiography for Scribes (and Heralds, and anyone else!), Research Libraries, and Research.

By:  Dennis Hillers, Saginaw, MI.  April, 2013

–commonly known by the byname of  HL Iohannes Weisswald, CCL, etc… within the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc.

Notice:  implied Copyright 2013 for publishing is reserved, no unauthorized copies may be made of this class, and all opinions herein are solely my own, not those of the SCA, Inc, or Saginaw Valley State University in any way.  This document may be shared once between all peers on the electronic for a yahoogroups SCA Scribes and SCA Heralds at no charge with no further notification, insofar as there is no other copy made that exits that strict limit.

There, that’s done.  Legalese is a pain…but part of the process we do as researchers.  Respect intellectual property rights and fight for them…it’s your work.


There are reasons to pursue good practice as writers and re-creators of history.  Adopting professional historiographical practice will always fend off the charge of “that’s not period!” because you in confidence can produce the documentation that says it is.  It’s simply living in a “Fact Based World”.

Another reason is intellectual honesty, as re-creators, we pledge to try to be as accurate as possible in our work, within our ability to do so.  If you do research into our period, you begin to expand your horizons toward a larger re-creationist world, know and understand more, and get better help in understanding how things were done, made, and what motivated the Artists, and the Patrons.

Finally, it’s the right thing to do, for everyone involved.

I. Sources and Practice

We derive facts from our sources, sources fall into a set of classifications:

Primary Sources:  the actual historical artifact, such as a manuscript, a roll, a legal document such as an indenture or patent, or any such “real” object.  Primary sources are also photographs, recordings, documentaries that are critically reviewed to be non-fiction, interviews with eyewitnesses, and in some cases professional opinions of very respected academic sources in their areas of expertise.  For we scribes, In these days of digitization, public access to manuscripts is growing daily, (I’ll discuss that later on)  –and most all reputable academic critics do not question a digital copy as a primary source, so long as the hosting website is considered a reputable and/or scholarly organization.

A good primary source reflects the needs of the researcher, or turned on its’ head, the researcher much more often fits the needs of the primary source!

The basic cry of the Primary source is:  Here I am!  You have to tell everyone about me!

A Secondary Source is something written about a primary source.  Someone actually listened to the primary source and obeyed! <grins>  to my way of thinking as an almost BA’ed History major, secondary sources come in two flavors.

2a. the person who studied the Primary source and then worked his/her butt off to understand it, interpret it for other professionals and seriously interested people, then wrote a book or monograph about it to explain to everyone else about why the artifact is important enough to tell other people about how awesome the primary source is.  So the opinion of the researcher is most often a solid secondary source of this species.  An excellent example of this kind of source for scribes is a Doctoral Dissertation in Art History covering something we do!  Any of Millard Meiss, Janet Backhouses’, or Christopher de Hamel’s books will do nicely too in art history, and Edward Johnston, or Shelia Waters  technique books bend the line between 2A and 1 at times, but are still secondary sources.

2b. –Critics and people who have read other secondary sources, have a documented understanding of what’s being discussed, and are making comments about it, formulating other possible theories about the artifact;

— or passing the knowledge gained through such wonderful professional microscopes as Literary or Philosophical Theory, being generally critical of the other sides of the professional argument going on about the artifact, or generally trying to stake out some intellectual turf on the subject.  It’s all in some degree, a game of words played by the knowledgeable to win their side of an argument or at least win a few points for their side.  –this is the Historians’ stock in trade, and that’s how Academia really works, btw.

Then there are Tertiary sources.  Your average well-intentioned and informed web page, serious popular magazine/blog, or newspaper article is somewhere between a 2b and a 3 on the credibility scale, more tending toward the 3.  Formally, a tertiary source is where people talk about secondary sources with an agenda or only with some part of the whole facts in good faith.  Or it is a fact passed down from one person to another to maybe another in good faith, and then reported on.

A tertiary source always has two dangers attached to it.  One is that it begins to be like the third on to the last person in a game of “Telephone” it has most of what was originally said by the first person who said it, but not all of it, and not always the way it was actually said, and eventually the fact cannot help but be lost in the repetition of the idea.  Chicken Little is a story of a Tertiary Source taken to its extreme logical ends and gone so wrong. Two, you have the distinct danger of inadvertent plagiarism involved in quoting it. Three is that you’re using unknown people’s opinions who have unknown levels of expertise or its lack for facts.  (Beware the Spanish Inquisition!!!)

A solid reputable tertiary source is any TV on PBS, and arguably someone like Dr. Rachael Maddow when she talks in her specialty of Political Science for MSNBC.  In all cases a good rule of thumb for a tertiary source is that: The facts are meant to entertain, not inform, yet alone soberly argue a fundamental point of fact.

And I have a joking Quaternary (not recognized by any professional) level of documentation between we friends.  The prime examples of Quaternary documentation are: people talking out of school, such as the PhD in English Literature giving medical and psychiatric advice on a radio talk show. many shows after 5pm on History Channel, Fox News in it’s entirety, to be fair, MSNBC when they get preachy and bring in company paid analysts, and waaay out on the fringe of being “quintenary” are Conspiracy Theory websites and “mockumentaries” that claim that the End of the World is coming and to sell your property for gold only right now!!!!!!, (which, btw, took a 40% price hit in the last 2 weeks!!) –other than your bomb shelter stuffed full of survivalist food for the second coming of the Lord, because Obama is the anti-christ alien Muslim Satan form out of the country in human form who mutates back in the White House every night.  That is a quaternary source, full throttle.  If you do believe that, my apologies for offending you, as an intellectual liberal, I’ll die for you to have the right to be that stupid… and I did spend 11 years in the army just for that.  But I’ll still call you stupid, and this class is not for you, because I deal in artifacts, and the facts that are derived from them, and live in a fact based world that requires me to be a critical thinker and consumer of information.

Which brings me to my next point…  If I have learned anything in spending all this money for an education, it’s that you need to be a curious, open, critical thinker who questions every morsel of information you ever put inside your head.  You have to follow your own compass as to what is true or not, but what is fact is based on two to three respected other opinions and a lot of time on Manuscript/Evidence/Primary Source.  Being a lazy thinker and consuming information junk food makes you a flabby researcher, and your credibility goes down in direct proportion to how your intellectual flabbiness goes up…good information is unfortunately more like a vegan diet to most people…it takes work to find out what tastes good, and is good for you long-term…and is not for everyone, it seems.

Along those lines, in the hell of academia, are the Cardinal Sins of research and academic pursuits, the biggest single mortal sin is plagiarism.  You are telling people that you thought and wrote down something that someone else actually wrote down and thought for your own credit.  Imagine what your significant other would say if you claimed that you won a million dollars in the lottery, and then failed to produce it while caught in flagrante with another partner.  That’s how academics think of plagiarism…plain cheating and lying.  The cure is alarmingly simple…footnote your passage, and give credit where credit is due.  You can write a whole passing freshman level paper just by copying other sources, as long as you try to interpret it a bit, and get to be a wizard at footnoting quickly.

The other Cardinal Sin that is Mortal in every way, and leaves your feet sticking up out of the ice of the lowest circle of Dante’s (Academic) Inferno is just making up the evidence.  That’s a more creative, and even less tolerated version of Cheating.  Don’t even try getting back into someone’s good graces after being caught doing this…it won’t work.

The new variant Cardinal Sin (more like entering “heck”) is “satisficing” where you find a book online, and then just copy the bibliographic information online into Son of Citation Machine without ever actually looking at the source.  It does not get the same level of sanctions as plagiarism, but if caught, makes you look very lame as a researcher.  It’s like smoking marijuana in most states, illegal as hell, but many so inclined tend to do it anyway, –often because there’s little time to actually do the research.  It’s often a form of padding your resume’…you mostly get away with it, but woe betide if you’re caught.

After one collects and discusses the sources, it comes time to put them in some kind of decent order to share with everyone else interested in your work.  To do that, at minimum, you need to follow the English 101 level of theme writing where you construct a paper consisting of:

An Introduction…why you’re writing a paper, and what you intend to say

A  Thesis Statement:  exactly what you believe, based on evidence you’ll present, why you think you have a point, what that point precisely is, and why that point is right on.

Optionally, a research hypothesis:  this tells your reader what research you meant to do, and how you did it, and also how it contributes to the Thesis Statement

Then your argument–  Usually 3-5 points, until you are a grad student, ordered weakest to strongest, that all logically point to the conclusion that you meant to prove in your Thesis Statement.

Then sum it up in a summary paragraph, as my communications teacher taught: “Tell ‘em again what you told ‘em”

And then a conclusion paragraph.  “To tell ‘em again, so it sticks”. And also to point out new research that can be done based on your findings, anything you want to say about how the results came out and a “thank you”, without being overt , to the reader for reading your work.

A word about Context:  When you find a source, consider where it is, what it is doing, and what message it has in a larger sense than just what the thing in front of you is plainly saying.  Thinking in those terms is thinking about the context of the artifact or words and ideas you are working with.  You get to a larger sense of meaning when you have an intact context that you can report on, and give people you report to a larger sense of what you are doing when you discuss the context of the work.  Don’t forget to tell more than just the bare facts, you’ll learn and teach so much more if you do.

A word about philosophy:  History as a social science is interested in interpreting facts that occurred in the past. Contrary to popular belief, nothing in “real” history is written in stone or even wet concrete, and everything is subject to critique and revision if new facts come in.  even paradigms as sacred as the bubonic plague caused the Black Death of 1348-51 are not sacred cows…there is a current theory that is gaining credence that the Plague was caused by a form of Anthrax.  The real truth is that nobody really knows the exact cause of the Black Death.  We do not have any of the microbes that caused it in modern times to analyze it.

There are different approaches and styles of telling the story of what happened, from all different viewpoints.  Not one of these stories is “wrong”, but some are more controversial and subject to much more proof than others that are widely agreed-upon.  Just stating these ideas actually makes me a Post-Modernist in theory, to be honest.  That is my particular bent to some degree.  So there are traditional historians “Positivists” who believe that the past is sometimes very predictive of the present.  It’s not a currently overly popular position, but if Yogi Berra can say “it’s déjà-vu, all over again” then it’s still a valid point of view.  Annales Historians tend to think of history as a story composed of facts, more literary in nature than a strict social science.  Ken Burns Films are Annales School to the central core, telling as little personal interpretation in narration as they can, and rather personally interpreting history through guiding the observer though primary sources and leaving you to decide.  That was the genius of The Civil War.  Then there are literary criticism schools I won’t go into in this discussion, but Feminists, LGBT, Marxists, modernists, and post-modernists are but a few of the literary critical schools that exist and currently analyzing history and art today.

To sum up, the real “trick of the trade” in research is to learn the trade.  Be honest, and you’ll never have to fib.  Give credit where credit is due, and you’ll never be guilty of plagiarism, honor the primary source with your best efforts, and then tell others that you’re geeked about what you saw, and share what you know, using a researcher’s toolbox of communication tools, and you’ll write good history.

Here are two great books on how to Learn the Trade:

Doing History, Research and Writing in the Digital Age, by Galgano, Arndt, and Hyser,

Wadsworth, New York, 2008

which is my academic resource for this discussion, and gets credit.


A Short Guide to Writing About Art.  Sylvan Barnett, Longman, New York, 2003

And I would be remiss if I forgot to mention Son of Citation Machine as a huge timesaver-

just remember that SOCM does not cover every case, and in History, Turabian or Chicago are the style manuals used.  You get the Chicago Style Manual mostly free at:


II. Doing Research on Primary Sources:  a quick guidebook-

On Friday the 19th of May, 2013, the day before the class this outline was written for, I went to the Lilly Library at the University of Indiana to do research.  Maybe some of you joined me… but here are the fundamental things a researcher should know before entering an Archive, Special Collections Library, or Depository for Manuscripts and Incunabula, in somewhat near actual order…

Write ahead if you are unsure of the rules of access to the library and its collections.  Know in advance if photography is permitted, and never assume that flash photography is ever allowed.  Try to get to know the librarian who answers you a little bit, he/she is often the person you’ll be dealing with, or you’ll be transferred to the person who is going to deal with you.

Absolutely always bring your photo ID, about $1 in quarters for the lockers, your library card if you have been there before, and some money for lunch.   You will have to prove your identity when you apply for a reader’s card.

Arrive early, make sure you take care of your comfort by having a good breakfast, going to the bathroom, etc…and expect to be cloistered in a locked and/or guarded room with no food, water, or restroom inside the reading room all day.  The other reason for this is that time flies when you have time on manuscript…you’ll be wondering how the heck it got to 4:30 already at the end of research hours.

When you arrive, leave all sharp objects, anything with water, liquid ink, permanent markers, extra clothes beyond what is absolutely necessary, and anything you can cut, mark, or hide a book in behind in your home or car.  You will be asked to remove all objects down to a normal layer of clothes when admitted to the reading room and likely be under observation, for security reasons.

Bring a camera, 2-3 pencils, an eraser, and a sketchbook for your time researching.  Ask at the desk for other supplies like a ruler, etc.  That’s how you take notes.  Pencils are the only allowable marking instrument in a special collections reading room, because they can be erased without much damage.  (sneak an exacto knife in, and get to know the local police…at first hand.  Just taking a page fragment is a damned shame, a destruction of property, and most of the time, grand larceny.)  I only mention this because some folks find books tempting targets, and even small cuttings are not cheap…remove context, remove value, and deprive others of it.

The librarian on duty or security guard present will direct you to a set of lockers or a room for coats/food/drinks/extra purses and bags/stuff to put everything else you brought into the building you don’t absolutely need to go to the Manuscript Reading room.  You will be inspected before entering.  There is no choice, you do, or don’t see the books.  No offense, and it’s worth it…what you’re seeing is absolutely one of a kind, cannot ever be replaced, and should be saved for people not even born yet—it’s already miraculously survived over 500 years, at minimum…

Wash your hands with soap thoroughly, as if you were handling food, before entering the reading room.  Many libraries now allow clean hands on parchment, for the reason that the oils in your clean skin are actually good for the parchment.  But to be true to the source, and allow your great-grandchildren’s children to work on your source, keep them scrupulously clean.  Have and wear white cotton gloves if required, the rules for conservation vary by library/archive.

After meeting the monitor/docent for the Reading Room, being assigned a seat, and introduced to the catalog system, once inside the reading room, you will normally have two choices for requesting books, depending on how much tech the institution has.

1. The old school way is to take your pencil, and go find the request form, fill it out from the card catalog or inventory book, and give it to the docent, who hands the ticket to a runner.  You’ll be assigned a table to sit at, and then await the book.  You are normally allowed one to two books at a time in this system.  If you go to the Newberry Library in Chicago, this is the system that is used.

2.  You are given guest access to the library catalog computer, and then find the books/materials you want to find.  Then you fill out a request form online, and when finished, go wait for the materials at your assigned seat.  A runner will be along in about 10 minutes.  This system is used at university libraries like Hatcher at Michigan, Lilly at IU, Ransom at Texas, or Spencer at Kansas.

You will be set up at your table with a bookstand and reading snakes.  They are velvet tubes partially filled with sand that you use to hold the pages back while you study them.  Always, always, always turn the pages from the top 1/3 of the page to avoid tearing or damage, using as little parchment and force as possible under your fingers.  Many MS have a large brown discolored spot at that upper third on the recto (right hand) side because of page turning over the years.  Reminds me that the book was old long before I was!  And to treat it gently…. The bookstand is for preserving the binding, and for your convenience in reading it…and best of all, it’s Period to do so, and you have a SCA time travel moment at times getting lost in the book, and thinking you’re the first person to read it…

If you are with a group, ask for a private room.  Elsewise you have to remain quiet as possible in the general reading room.  –Plain courtesy to others here.

When the bell rings at 4:45, return books, clean up after yourself, don’t forget anything, (I have to check several times for that)…and repeat as desired.  I usually celebrate in Chicago by going to Giordono’s or to Girls Town for supper after a good hard day’s work… then go home and bore my long-suffering wife to tears with my pictures ….   : )

Research Libraries in the Midwestern area


Oberlin College  (some)

Ohio State University (a small collection of 50 books, medieval scholars have first dibs, always)

Cleveland Public Library??

Cleveland Museum of Art (good luck getting in, I don’t know the procedures)

Generally, check for college libraries, and main branches of large public libraries in Ohio.  Facsimilies are more often available on the reference and sometimes on the general circulation shelves.


Lilly Special Collections Library t Indiana University, Bloomington.  –a trove.  They also have a number of their collections online.

University of Notre Dame, South Bend.  You need a special research permit from ND faculty or your local Bishop if you are Catholic.  They also have a trove of MSS, but are highly restrictive of who they allow to research.


Hatcher Graduate and Research Library, Univ of Michigan, Ann Arbor- open permits, open 9-12 Saturdays, have a limited but OK selection of Western MSS, and a TROVE of Arabic Manuscripts to study at will.  the staff is reserved, but helpful.  Stop by RanthulfR’s house afterward if you can.

Michiagn State University Library, E. Lansing:  has a good facsimile library, plus a few MSS.  Library is very confusing in layout.

Western Michigan Univesity, Kalamazoo.  Judy Kirk/Mistress Siobhan is one of the librarians.  WMU has a 100 book library of MSS, in a very nice facility, largely focused on Cistercian Studies and some books for Art Historians,  a department of Medieval Studies with courses in Paleography and Codicology, but the huge attraction for medievalists is the International Congress on Medieval Studies every second week of May.  550 sessions for about 2000 papers presented on a diversity of topics.


The Newberry Library, Chicago.  830 MSS, most western, but the Newberry also houses the rare book room of the Moodly Bible Institute as well.   A Trove!  –In so many ways.  Don’t bother driving a car there, parking is $18 on weekends, and $30 on weekdays…park and ride the Red Line to Chicago and Clark.  The library is 2 blocks south of the subway stop.

University of Illinois Graduate Library, Urbana-  nice choices, about 500 volumes, many very interesting.


Saint Louis University – St. Louis.  has a full manuscript studies program and a national conference in given years on manuscripts in the Medievalist professions.  Some art history is discussed as well in the sessions.  I have not visited their library as of yet., so I cannot tell you a lot about them.


Spencer Research Library, Universty of Kansas.  900 volumes, specializing in English legal documents and general works.  Some are online.


Harry Ransom Research Library at the University of Texas in Austin.  1500 volumes. Some truly amazing.


Philiadelphia Free Public Library, Philiadelphia.  3000 volumes, I can’t wait to get there someday.  Their collections were featured in an exhibition book in 2004

New York:

The Morgan Library; New York City.  Nirvana.  Plain and simple.

The Cloisters division of the Metropolitan Museum.  Near nirvana.  More objects than books, but who’s arguing when you have the Hours of Catherine of Cleves as your start attraction book?

There are many more, I’ll update this list as I go along, and post it on SCA scribes.

Online resources:

My Standbys…

The British Library-

Main Catalog:

All the Additional MSS, and full digitized MSS including Lindesfarne:

Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Gallica digitized service: (finally in English!!)

whole digitized MSS, including the hours of Rene’ d’Anjou, the Echtenach Gospels, and Charles VII’s Royal Library are up and available.  They are still working on doing English translations of the pages beyond the main public ones yet…so dust off what French you have, or get Google Translate to garble things a bit more.

Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.  Corsair Digital Library

did I mention that this collection is NIRVANA?  It is…and it’s 95% digital now.

Digital Scriptorium- Bancroft Library, Cal-Berkley.  Consortium of US university libraries digital collections.

great for less seen, more workaday, and more curious works left by the “big players” in the manuscript market.  Spencer at KU, and Lilly at IU both participate.

Ransom Library, University of Texas at Austin

Ransom Center has the makings of a world-class MSS library.

Trinity College Dublin has just released the digital copy of the Book of Kells to the net.

All British Library digitizations are now copyright free!

I will post more libraries on SCA Scribes in the months to come…these sources should be sufficient to get anyone lost researching for several years in any period.  But for me, hands-on is still best.

I hope this guide and discussion was useful to you.  Thank you for listening.






One response to “Guest Blogger – THL Iohannes Weisswald

  1. Pingback: Book of Hours- Tours – The Script | scribescribbling·

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