Friday, January 23, 2009

What I'm trying to accomplish as Lady Patricia of Trakai

In my five years of participation in the SCA, I've dabbled in a lot of different activities, some more so than others. I've made a few garments, I wove/braided/knitted several wire necklaces (in a technique some call trichinopoly), I've learned about the historical uses of knitting, I've brewed a few concoctions of varying quality, and I've tried to learn nallbinding and sprang. At the moment, I'm probably most active in instrumental music. (When I sing around a campfire, people tend to drift away to another campfire.)

But I have one overarching mission, one to which I alluded in my introductory post: I want to increase and spread the knowledge of Lithuanian history and culture within the SCA.

The method of "spreading" knowledge is obvious -- teaching classes at our SCA "universities" -- but what about increasing knowledge? As someone who is partly of Lithuanian heritage, I've been aware all my life that most Americans (from whose ranks the SCA draws much, though not all, of its membership) hardly know anything about Lithuania. During the Soviet era, it was one of the most closed regions of the USSR, and it was difficult if not impossible for Americans to get permission to visit the region unless they had relatives there. Fortunately, Lithuania regained its independence right around the time that Internet technologies exploded in the early 1990s, so suddenly I was learning about stuff I'd wondered about all my life.

Since its inception, the SCA has been mostly about Western European medieval culture -- it's what we all learned about as we were growing up, and it's the inspiration for countless fantasy novels and movies. However, as our modern society has grown more diverse and less Eurocentric, SCAdians are exploring all sorts of other cultures that interacted with Western Europe prior to 1600 (or 1650, depending on how you define "pre-17th-century").

For Eastern European countries and cultures, the umbrella group within the SCA is the Slavic Interest Group (SIG). SIG covers a huge swath of territory, from the Balkans and Poland to Kievan Rus to the central Asian steppes. I've been on the SIG e-mail list for a few years now, and I've found a few other Polish-Lithuanian enthusiasts -- from as far away as Australia (Lady Asfridhr of the Barony of Stormhold in the Kingdom of Lochac).

So far, I've learned enough about Lithuania to teach an hour-long "introductory" class (again, see the link in the first post in this blog). The warm reception I got for both classes (at Pennsic, it was SRO!) has convinced me that there is an interest in the topic -- at least, the title of the class gets people in the door to see what they've missed in all the other medieval history courses they've taken throughout their lives. But I feel as if I've only scratched the surface.

What do we mean by "Lithuania"? The incorporated borders of the modern-day nation? The farthest extent of the Grand Duchy, which stretched to the Black Sea? The ancient tribes who inhabited the Baltic coast -- the Letts, Semigallans, Livonians, Curonians, etc? Watch for my future posts on the subject.

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