Sunday, May 27, 2012

Helpful Research Tips

 Please Join me in welcoming our second Guest Writer, Craig Schmidt

This a few helpful research hints for you gentlemen that are just starting out. The hardest thing to get, surprisingly enough, is where to start. Who are you? Where are you from? What time period? What profession? All these things will dictate your dress, and accoutrements.
For example, my area of “expertise” is Colonial and Republic era Texas (c. 1821 – 1845). I usually portray a ranger or Republic era dragoon. What makes this a challenge is that the history is so intertwined with legend and myth that finding the truth is a hard thing. But the basics are fairly easy. Fashion of the time is well documented and easy enough to reproduce. But a few notes of caution.
Be sure you know the usage of terms. Many word definitions today do not reflect what they mean it the late 18th or 19th centuries. For example, my first flintlock was a Jaeger rifle. I had seen where a list of stores requested by the Consultation for the People’s Army included Yager (Jaeger) rifles. So I assumed that this was the short German style rifle used by German Jaegers (Scouts/light infantry, literally hunters.). Later in my research I found that this reference was most likely in regard to the M1803 Harper’s Ferry Rifle, or even the M1817 Common Rifle. Just as a reference to a “biscuit” is not necessarily the light fluffy breakfast food, but depending on the usage could be hardtack (aka sea biscuit).
Also, spelling can be tricky. Especially in firsthand accounts (Journals, diaries and the such.) spelling is often phonetic, and sometimes the same word is spelled differently in the same sentence. Names also suffer from this same affliction. So what you think might be references to two different people, are, in fact, referencing one person.
The other maddening thing about using firsthand accounts is that usually there is only detail about the unusual. The common place is just that and there is no need to detail the common as everyone knows it.
Let’s consider sources for a bit. It’s tempting to use the internet exclusively. The internet is convenient, but there’s no substitution for good old fashioned book work. My personal library for specifically Texas pre-state history has a rough total of between twenty and thirty volumes. And it continues to grow.
Whenever possible, firsthand accounts are the best material for really getting a view on the attitudes of the time. As well as an insight into speech patterns
It’s not necessary to buy books like a wild thing. The public library is a perfectly fine resource. I just like to be able to access my references whenever I want. Amazon, Alibris and Powell’s are my friends… And don’t forget periodicals!

Another word on books/articles etc., always check the bibliography. It’s a treasure-trove of new sources and could possibly lead to a nugget that could easily be overlooked. Which explains why my bookshelves are overflowing currently…
Somewhere along the line in your research you’ll run across some really neat accoutrement, or article of clothing that you really like. But you need to be able to justify why your persona would have such an item, or article of clothing. Just because something exists at the time period doesn’t necessarily mean it was available to you where you’re located.
Using me as an example, as a ranger in Colonial/Republic Texas I probably would not have leggings in the style of the northeastern tribes (A recent immigrant might… But I usually portray a person that has been in country for a while.). It is more likely that I would be wearing Mexican style botas. See the picture of the Soldado de cuera below.
Photo courtesy of Armas y armaduras en Espania
Likewise a large clip-point Bowie, while I personally love them, wouldn’t be quite appropriate for an early Texian Anglo. I use an eight inch “Longhunter” knife, or a ten inch Spanish/Mexican Belduque.
Top to Bottom: Mid to late 19th Century Bowie, Spanish/Mexican Belduque, “Longhunter” Knife (Photo: Craig Schmidt, C. Schmidt Collection)
While all three are similar, the correct blade can make the difference between an O.K. impression and a stunning impression.
I hope that this helps somewhat. There are many other pitfalls, and cautions, but you need to take the first step. Make your decisions on your era, and profession, and go from there.
Happy hunting, um… researching!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Magic, Science and the Regency Era

 Please welcome our first guest writer, Professor D.R. Schreiber, "The Historical Conjurer"
Chevalier Joseph Pinetti 1750-1800

In the late 18th and early 19th Century, science, industry, technology and innovations were on the move.  It was the discoveries of many men from the age of Enlightenment that lead to these early ideas that planted the seed for the industrial revolution.  The relatively fast pace of advancements made it challenging for even the most educated of gentleman to stay attune.  

The gentlemen conjurer  (magicians) of the Regency era took advantage of this fact.  Often during a demonstration or lecture, a “Professor of Natural Philosophy,” as many conjurers would call themselves, would display what he claimed to be his experiments into science.  Most of the gentleman in the audience would have read about these types of advancements in the newspaper, but had yet to behold them in person.  It was only imagined what they might look like.  So too the conjurer most likely had little or no scientific knowledge.  Instead, his imagination would recreate the experiment using the trickery or deception necessary to make the experiment work correctly.

As a conjurer myself, I attempt to evoke the style, emotion, and spirit of the late 18th and early 19th century by asking the question, "What would a Regency gentleman have believed to be possible?"  With the recent harnessing of lightning, would they be led to believe that man can control the weather, or perhaps that lightning can be directed at man’s own will?  The ideas and theories of Dr. Franz Mesmer led many to believe that mind control was just a step away.  With simple concentration, a person could be made to perform the wishes of the mind controller.  The development of steam power helped to forge the concept that man could move anything with the aid of a machine.

It only took the slight imagination of a conjurer to create a way to make these discoveries come true.  These creations filled the scientific lecture halls with all sorts of apparatus and experiments, many no more than “bells and whistles” meant to hide the actual workings of the illusion.  Gentlemen and ladies alike flocked to places like the Royal Institute to view first-hand these performances of magic disguised as demonstrations of science.

While some might argue that these conjurers were deceptive manipulators, it could be argued that their demonstrations helped to move forward scientific exploration by feeding the public’s fascination for these scientific pursuits.  One example is the use of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas.  The gas was isolated in 1772, but was first demonstrated to the public in 1801 as a humorous display of a scientific discovery.  Soon, many conjurers incorporated a laughing gas performance into their act.  It was during one of these conjuring performances that an audience member, a dentist, finally imagined an actual medical use for nitrous oxide, and the next day he performed the first painless tooth extraction with the use of the gas.  If not for the inventiveness of these conjurers, the true power of nitrous oxide would not have been discovered.

One can only imagine what other innovations or developments of science and industry would have lay untouched or unmoved, if it were not for these gentle conjurers.

Your Humble Servant,

Prof. D.R. Schreiber.

Resources & Further Reading:

 "The Great Illusionists" by Edwin A. Dawes. Published by Chartwell Books in 1979.
"Modern Enchantments: The Cultural Power of Secular Magic" by Simon During. Published by Harvard University Press in 2002.
"The Illustrated History of Magic" by Milbourne and Maurine Christopher. Published by Carroll & Graff in 2006
"Chevalier Pinetti - Conjurer" By Henry Ridgley Evans.  Published in "The Open Court" magazine in 1903.
"Memoirs of Robert-Houdin" by Jean Eugene Robert Houdin.  Published by George G. Evans in 1859.
"The Lives of the Conjurers" by Thomas Frost. Published by Tinsley Brothers in 1876.
"Leaves from Conjurers Scarp Books" by HJ Burlingame.  PUblished by Donohue, Henneberry and Company in 1891.

Contact the Professor here:

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Art of Dueling

The History of Dueling is a bloody one based around the idea of
‘defending one’s honour.’

The personal Duel of Honour vs. the older Judicial Duel most probably
has its roots in the duel of Jarnac vs. Châtaigneraie. Officially,
this was a Judicial duel, both men had grievances and brought them
before the King. In theory, the duel would have been fought and the
winner declared ‘right’ in the eyes of the King and God. In reality,
the fight dragged on, Châtaigneraie was severely injured, but would
not surrender. The King refused to declare the fight over and
Châtaigneraie bled out on the field.

This duel is often cited as the ‘last’ judicial duel or the ‘first’
duel of honour. This is oversimplified, but the point is valid. Before
this time duels were primarily judicial, overseen by the Crown or
representative thereof and were considered legally binding. After this
time, duels became private affairs between individuals over points of
honour and were usually considered illegal (but often unofficially
sactioned, pardoned or out right ignored).

There were a variety of dueling codes (code duello) used in different
parts of the Western world at different times. The codes defined who
could be challenged for what, what rights the challenged had, what
rights the challenger had and what the ‘win’ conditions were.

A copy of the 1777 Irish Code Duello may be seen here:

In the movie “The Duelists” the character Jacquin offers up three ways
d'Hubert can avoid fighting Feraud again:
“You cannot fight,
One: if you're in different places. Physical impossibility.
Two: if you're of different rank. Breach of discipline.
And three: if the state is at war. Duels of nations take absolute precedence.
Therefore, keep away from him. Keep ahead of him. Put your trust in Bonaparte!”

Two additional  links, that got me thinking about this article:

“The Duel at Blood Creek”

“A Gentlemen’s Duel”

-- Colonel Etienne de Valois, duelist