Thursday, 13 February 2014

On Change Among Heralds

It can be a curious pleasure to look back at 30 year old correspondence between the heralds of the SCA, and marvel at how things have changed. Most of the time, it can feel like the College of Heralds changes nothing it isn't forced to, preferring their hidebound tested methods... And then there comes a big change, before it settles down again, and people become convinced we never change anything.

Some of the biggest changes that I've seen, looking back on records older than I am, are mostly around communication. In the early days, when rocks were soft, all of the heraldic correspondence was done in hardcopy, through the mail, meaning that discussions which would take days in the modern email-heavy world would take months. This is possibly the cause of the single greatest improvement to the speed of heraldic submissions - down to six months in many cases, from over two years.

The online version of the Ordinary and Armorial, the combined record of all names, devices, badges, and so forth which are registered in the SCA. I have held a twenty-years-outdated copy of the O and A, and it was three heavy folders worth. Every submission would need to be conflict checked manually using this monster example of slain forestry. And this is with the database as it was 20 years ago. It has approximately tripled in size since then, if my maths holds true - nine or ten hefty folders... would prevent a lot of convenient quick conflict checks.

In Lochac, we've just experienced another of these moments of change (three, in fact, but they came in such rapid succession that I consider them as part of the same revolution).

The first part of this change is the variance in the number of submission forms required - from six copies of the form, down to only two, in cases of device or badge submission, and from three copies down to one, in cases of name submissions. A significant decrease in the amount of work required to prepare a submission, especially when combined with the next point.

The second part of the change is that heraldic submissions can be prepared using colour printer, rather than the hand-colouring with approved textas (markers, for the continental audience). Instead of hours spent designing, followed by hours spent pains-takingly illuminating the submission forms, the design of the arms and preparation of the forms can be combined into one process - for those who wish it. The hand-coloured option remains for those whose artistic abilities are more manual than electronic.

The third part, and I think the most exciting, is that the minimum number of submission forms printed on lovingly prepared slices of dead tree... is now zero. Lochac has officially implemented electronic submissions. The process is still in the careful, experimental stages, but with the provision of a correctly formatted file (the format is enforced by the Society-wide submissions system), you can make your name, device and badge submissions with no postage, no printing. I took advantage of the system myself, with some recent submissions.

For more information, please see the Submissions page on the new Lochac College of Heralds website.

These changes have been a long time coming. People have often asked - why did they take so long?

Part of the reason is the scale of the problem. As mentioned previously, there are many existing registrations. Approximately one hundred thousand entries, if I calculated right. Any changes to heraldry processes need to be compatible with the existing work, or the existing work made compatible with the new.

A great example here is that all of Lochac's heraldry records are now kept digitally: the old paper files have been scanned and transferred to disk. As to the fate of the now redundant paper records, I shan't speculate. I'm told that the Society-wide records are making progress towards this goal, but it's a massive task for a volunteer organisation.

Another part, I think, is the permanence of decisions in heraldry. There has been, from the earliest days of registration, a guarantee that items registered would be protected from conflict and presumption in perpetuity. This has been argued (convincingly enough that I shan't try to affect it otherwise) that this constitutes a legal obligation, especially considering that money changes hands for registrations.

A submission in the latest Letter of Acceptance and Returns had to be returned for conflict with a badge which was registered in 1979. Not too bad on its own, however the badge was Tinctureless, devoid of colour. This means that that same charge, in any tincture, would conflict with this badge. Tinctureless designs are now all but banned (except for Principal Heralds' Seals, one per Kingdom), but these registrations from before that sensible decision remain in force, bearing down on the clients of today with clumsy wrath.

Future decisions made by the College of Arms may have such an effect on the state of Society Heraldry, unless done after a lot of study and analysis of the problem, and so the decisions are made with rightful caution.

No comments:

Post a Comment