Tuesday, April 08, 2008

How on earth do you find these things?

A friend asks how I find things like 17th century archery rules. Good question. In this case I started with a local Boy Scout troop that wanted to include medieval diversions in a series of upcoming events. I realized that I didn’t know much about how archery was practiced as a sport in the Middle Ages

I knew that Robert Ascham wrote about archery in the 16th century, and found a copy of his Toxophilus on line. He mentioned butts, pricks and rovers as contemporary forms of sport archery, without giving much detail on the rules. I did a google search on those terms plus archer. That eventually led me to Roberts, T. The English Bowman or: Tracts on Archery, to which is added the second part of The Bowmans Glory London 1801, among other sources. Roberts wrote when the 18th century was living memory. That wasn’t the middle ages, but it was a lot closer to it than the 21st.

Roberts described archery rules based on Aime for the Finsbury Archers, “rules annexed to Shotterel and Durfey’s Poem on Archery”, and the traditions of the Finsbury Archers. Searching on full view in Google Books, I found that the The Shotterel poem was published in 1667, and Ayme for the Finsburie Archers was published in various editions with different spellings of the title from 1594 to 1737. I could not find the text for either of those rules in Google Books, but did find those for the Aime for the Archers for St George’s Field, published in 1664.

I then was able to find a used reprint of the 1628 Ayme for the Finsburie Archers through Amazon.

A few general observations:

In trying to recreate the Middle Ages, the 17th and 18th c. are useful places to look for hints if you can't find the information in a medieval source. It’s not perfect, but a lot better than using your enormous 21st c. brain to attempt to deduce things you don’t know from first principles. Diderot’s Encyclopedie was a great help to me in trying to recreate medieval scabbards, for example.

Google Books is a really powerful tool for material which has been digitized. There’s a surprising amount that has been.

However, print on dead trees and pulped rags is still your friend.

Lengthening copyright terms are a net obstacle to the diffusion of human knowledge, and I say this as a copyright holder. 95 years from publication is plenty, and a lot easier to figure out than 70 years after death. Obviously, Disney would like to hold rights to the Mouse until the sun is a cold dark cinder, but it’s bad law for the rest of us. Write your legislator.

1 comment:

Steve Muhlberger said...

Thanks, I'll have to link to this.