Today's interview with a philosopher who shares her passion outside of philosophy is Sara L. Uckelman, lecturer in philosophy at Durham University. Let me know at helenldecruz at gmail dot com if you'd like to be featured!
1. Can you tell me something about your side-interest/hobby, and 2. How did you get into this hobby?
I’ll take these two together! It was the summer I was 13, and my mom saw an advertisement for what was essentially a local “Ren Faire”, and thought “that sounds like something Sara would be interested,” and we went on a family outing. Yes, indeed, it was something I was interested in, but I figured – there’s no way my parents will want to get involved, and there’s no way they’d let their 13 year old daughter go off and do this by herself, so I filed away the name of the group so I could look it up again when I went off to university.
One thing led to another and a few months later my mom was like “But I thought that group would be something you’d want to get involved in,” and it turned out they didn’t have any objections to my being involved without them! So that is how I joined the Society for Creative Anachronism a few months shy of my 14th birthday. This year, I have now spent 2/3 of my life as a member.
The SCA is a world-wide educational non-profit dedicated to the study of pre-1600 European culture (and cultures it came in contact with). We have events on weekends filled with all sorts of medieval activities – cooking, sewing, music, fighting, fencing, archery, dyeing, brewing, calligraphy, illumination, you name it, we do it. It isn’t a re-enactment group like Civil War (American or British!) re-enactors are; we don’t re-create specific historic events or characters, and the only level of authenticity required of participants is that one makes an attempt at pre-1600 clothing – and “attempt” can be taken very loosely! People are encouraged to develop “personas”, but this is also not a requirement. My persona, Aryanhwy merch Catmael, lives in the 11th C and is the daughter of a minor Welsh lord; she’s widowed and has three childrens, and beyond that, the details are hazy.
Because it is a world-wide group, I have been able to be involved continuously through undergrad grad school, through moving from one continent to another, to living in three different countries in the latter continent. After we moved to Europe, my husband told me that if there were ever an event in some neat castle or something, maybe he’d like to come too. So I took he to Raglan Castle, where we have a 10 day event every August. Now, the SCA is a family affair; our five-year-old daughter has been attending events since she was four months old. When we moved from Germany to England 2.5 years ago, we moved 20 minutes away from another SCAdian family, whose young daughter was already a friend of ours. How often do you move countries and end up 20 minutes away from good friends?
3. Do you have goals that you want to achieve (e.g., getting to a certain level/winning in a certain kind of competition?)
My main interests within the Society are heraldry and onomastics (the study of names); and calligraphy and illumination. I had long been interested in names, but it was taking on the office of “herald” in the Society (someone who helps people pick a medieval name and coat of arms, and develop a persona) that caused me to concentrate this interest into pre-1600 Europe, and to first learn about medieval names and naming practices, and then ultimately being doing my own original research. As a result of my research, I held the highest onomastic office in the Society for two years about a decade ago – in the middle of writing a PhD in medieval logic, my onomastic research gave me an outlet that was still scholarly but <i>wasn’t</i> my dissertation!
4. Are there any accomplishments that you are particularly proud of and want to share?
So many. A few years ago, I finally took my onomastic research “professional”, so to speak, and launched the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources; (blog http://dmnes.wordpress.com/), an ongoing concern that I have actively incorporated into my academic research agenda. I, who have always felt I had no artistic skill whatsoever, have developed my drawing and painting skills to be able to create beautiful images on parchment, often with real gold leaf (see here for pictures!). And, despite both being bad at sewing and hating it, I have managed to sew enough outfits to keep three people entirely clothed medievally for a 10 day stretch. Oh, and I’ve recently gotten into sausage making and charcuterie. I make a damned good lamb bresaola, if I do say so myself.
5. How do you make enough time for your hobby?
It’s been a part of my life for so long, its just part of the routine. Some years we get to more events than others, but if I need to be sewing new clothes for an event, then I sew while watching TV in the evenings, or I bring my sewing along to departmental meetings. If I have an illumination commission that I need to finish, my daughter and I will sit and paint together on a weekend. My onomastic research has always been my haven and quiet space – if ever I am stressed or anxious or worried about something, if ever my other research isn’t going well, I can sit down and transcribe and analyse some names, and come away relaxed and with a sense of accomplishment. I also like to tie getting to events with traveling for conferences; because it is a world-wide group, pretty much anywhere I might go for a conference is within spitting distance of a local branch. Maybe they’re having an event the weekend after the conference, or even just a local get together, or maybe I can just meet up with someone for a beer.
6. Does your hobby relate to philosophy at all? Any crossovers?
The SCA is how I ended up doing a dissertation in medieval logic in the first place! When I first discovered that not only were they writing logic textbooks in the 13th and 14th centuries, what they were writing was really really interesting in terms of modalities and dynamics, my first thought was “What, you mean I can combine my hobby and my academic interests into one and write a dissertation on it?!” I also love giving classes on logic and philosophy at SCA events. Two of the highlights of my logic/teaching career involved Raglan Castle: One year I lectured on Paul of Venice’s Logica Parva (c. 1400) in Latin (well, partially), and another year, I hosted a public salon on Avicenna’s Logic, complete with drawing a square of opposition in the dirt beneath one of the castle bridges (see here). (for more info on the SCA see here www.sca.org)