By THL Madoc Arundel
One of the privileges of belonging to the SCA is that anyone may recommend anyone else for any award. As an armiger (someone with an Award of Arms or higher), I believe that it is not only my privilege but my duty to recommend people in whom I find merit. While I have never been royalty, I have been a member of at least one polling order for more than 15 years and have read some sketchy recommendations. I am also married to a royal peer who has shared stories of recommendations that left her with more questions than answers regarding a nominee.
I will preface the remainder of this article by stating that I was an officer in the US Air Force for 25 years. For 14 of those years, I was responsible for writing and processing award packages based on someone’s recommendation. For another 4 of those years, I was part of several consideration boards that determined whether awards were approved. Many of the same factors that go into military awards and decorations apply to organizations such as the SCA. I would like to share some tips for writing awards recommendations that give the royalty/baronage as well as the members of polling orders sufficient information to determine a nominee’s suitability as a potential award recipient.
First of all, royalty cannot possibly know everybody in the kingdom. Therefore, it is important when writing a recommendation to provide enough information to familiarize the royalty with the individual. Local group, persona and time period, number of years in the SCA, if they have lived in other kingdoms, how long they have lived here and in what other kingdoms they may have had an impact: all of this helps paint a picture of the person. This also provides information that can be useful in writing an appropriate scroll. A recommendation may even include a recent event at which the royalty or members of a polling order may have had cause to meet this person. For example, “You may have seen Janice teaching ‘Medieval Muckraking: Not Just For Politicians’ at War Practice in May”; “Peter was one of your retainers at Crown Tournament. He was wearing the purple and green lozengy codpiece.”
Next, while it is important to highlight any relevant offices the individual may hold or have held in the past, as well as any projects on which they worked or activities they may have staffed, this alone is not enough. It’s wonderful to know that Richard has been the herald for the last five years, but all that tells the royalty is that no one else wanted the job. It does not tell us whether Richard was effective in the position. In the mundane world, when writing a performance report or review, a key factor is writing what are called “impact statements” or – in government-speak – “cause and effect statements.” These are statements with 4 very clear and distinct parts.
The first part is identifying the role of the individual: “Richard has been our shire herald for the last five years.”
The next part is identifying something that the individual has done in that role that was of some significance. “When he first took over the job, our shire had not had a submission considered by the Garnet office for almost a year. Richard immediately set to work to clear up the backlog of submissions.”
Next is the actual impact: did the individual succeed and what was the impact on the target community? “As a result, within four months, all of the previous submissions had been processed, and more than half our shire now has registered names and armoury.”
Lastly, has the individual continued the same level or greater over time, or did the project conclude? “Richard now holds quarterly consult meetings at his house, and has not had any quarter go by without at least one submission considered by Garnet.” OR “Although Richard has moved on to become a kingdom herald-at-large, his efforts to organize the shire office made it much easier for his successor to step in with no interruption in service to the local group.”
For lesser awards, such as an AoA or one of the AoA-level orders, one or two impact statements may be enough. For polling orders, several such statements may need to be included to reach the level of activity expected of the higher-level order. Polling orders also like to see impact over a longer period of time, with some consistency and improvement as the individual progresses.
Here are two sample statements. The first is a statement I have seen many times in one form or another in recommendations. The second is one possible example of how it should read.
“Marilyn does wonderful work. She is always so cheerful. She has taught at the last four Æcademies and War Practice, and is always willing to help someone who wants to learn more about her art.”
Obviously, Marilyn is a lovely person … but the recommendation says nothing about her level of performance, her consistency, her improvement over time, or her impact on the community. Let’s try it again with actual impact statements:
“Marilyn does wonderful work. Compared to her entry in the A&S display at Agincourt two years ago, the effects of both her research and practice show massive improvement. At A&S Faire last month, I examined her work and found the quality to be consistent throughout the piece, documented period materials used, and the addition of some flourishes from a related craft in the same location and time period. Her documentation even included examples of how the piece would have been used in her chosen country and time, and included three primary source documents. Although I have not attended any of her classes, I have spoken with some of her former students who have stated that her instruction is clear and concise, and that she has supported each portion of her conjecture with facts from reputable sources. She even took time near the end of the class to do some practical demonstrations of the techniques she had discussed. It seems that she is popular among adherents of her craft because of the number of repeat students she has from one event to the next. This speaks to improvements in both her technique and her research, as each iteration of the class has the students learning something that was not available in previous iterations.”
Wordy? Yup. But guess what – it cites specific achievements, specific improvements over time, and specific benefits to the community.
Finally, it is important that the recommendation be appropriate for the award. For the most part, the SCA has three “tracks”: Martial, A&S, and Service. There is a lot of crossover between these tracks, and within each track there are multiple avenues (e.g., Martial = heavy, fencing, archery, siege, thrown weapons). When choosing justification for an award recommendation, ensure that the justification is appropriate. For example, a heraldic artist may be nominated for an A&S award for doing period research and producing period-appropriate heraldic art. The same artist may be nominated for a service award for using their research and their skills to provide support for heraldic submissions or for the shield tree used at Crown Tournaments. It is important to make the distinction, since it would not be appropriate for the same achievement to be used to justify two different awards.
THL Madoc Arundel is the current Garnet Herald of Æthelmearc and has served in a variety of offices at various levels in ten different kingdoms. He is a member of three polling orders: the Millrind and the Fleur from Æthelmearc and the Silver Hammer from Calontir.
Christopher Miller is a retired US Air Force officer, former small business owner, and current Social Studies teacher. He has twenty years’ experience writing award recommendations for the military and employee performance reports for the government/military and private industry.