Friday, 12 June 2015

The SCA Diffusion Study

[Originally posted on the AEthelmearc Gazette and reprinted with permission.]
THLord Thomas the Green recently created a survey he calls the “SCA Diffusion Study,” in which he is attempting to determine how the Society has spread over its 50 years. You can contribute to the survey here. Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope interviewed His Lordship about the project.
When did you join the SCA? Where are you from?
I joined the SCA in 1993 at the Shire of Dernehealde, Barony of the Middle Marches, Midrealm, in Athens Ohio, (Ohio University). Oddly enough, I’ve always lived in the Midrealm.
What sorts of activities do you like to do in the SCA?
Over the years I have been a group Seneschal for the Shire of Drakelaw, in Ashland, KY, a group Herald (same), a Herald at Large within the North and South Oaken region of the Midrealm, and a Silent Herald. I’ve also been a Fencing Marshal and the baronial fencing Champion for the Barony of the Middle Marches, as well as a heavy weapon spearman. Principally, though, I’m a scribe. I’m apprenticed to Mistress Katarina Helene von Schoenborn. So I’ve been pushing ink / graphite / lead for … nearly 15 years or so. It’s part of my monastic persona.
What do you do in the real world?
In real life I’m a doctoral student in sociology at Kent State University. Before enrolling here, I was a full-time instructor of sociology at Shawnee State University for the past 8 years (which seems sort of backwards, but it’s a long story).
What made you decide to do the SCA Diffusion Study?
The idea for the SCA Diffusion Study is one of those “No kidding, there I was” stories. Like many things in the SCA, it all began with a road trip. I was on the road with a good friend of mine who is also a Scadian. Mundanely she’s Dr. Amy Rock, Humboldt State University Department of Geography; in the SCA she’s Lady Catriona MacRath. Originally from the Middle Marches and the Midrealm like me – we met back in college – now she’s a transplant out to the West Kingdom. Her big focus both within and outside of the SCA is cartography so it’s a natural fit to ask for her help in the project. We were talking about how we’re now in A.S. 50, and I commented about how the SCA spread around the country and the world. Both of us knew the stories that the Society started in California and then moved around as people relocated either to or from universities or military bases. But, being a doctoral student, I came up with the idea of actually studying the process as a measure of cultural diffusion; how an idea, like the SCA, moves throughout society. Since Catriona is a cultural geographer and I’m a cultural sociologist., between the two of us we basically came up with the idea of putting the data (when groups were founded) on a map to track how the idea of the SCA spread.
Diffusion survey
I’ve done on-line research before and after a quick survey of what was available on sites like Midrealm Wiki, I figured that the best way to collect the data was to let SCAdians help me out. There’s enough “living history” out there that someone would be most likely to know when a group, barony, principality, etc. was formed. Once the form was completed on Google Docs, it was a simple matter of getting it out into the SCAdian hive-mind.
Other than social media, how are you distributing this study?
 Currently the survey form is being sent around through social media like Facebook, with email sent to a few people I knew in other kingdoms who could spread it on their end, since I’m only a member of the Midrealm and SCA Facebook groups.
Have you thought about how to find information on defunct groups?
The topic of defunct groups is why, specifically, I hit social media. I can dig through records like Gandalf in Minas Tirith but it seemed logical and efficient to ask the SCAdian population at large to help identify which groups are no longer in operation. I would have no idea where to even look for groups who aren’t currently reporting – especially groups that may have formed and gone cold twenty or thirty years ago.
When did you initiate the survey, and how many responses have you received to date? How has it been received?
So far people have been fairly curious about the project and I’ve received a lot of comments from people who were trying to pull in some of those ‘living history’ members who would know the history of the SCA within their region. So far I’ve received 40 responses and the project has only been live for 24 hours (since June 10 at 9 a.m.). I’m going to be tracking the progress on a weekly basis by kingdom, so if I know the total number of active groups (shires, baronies, etc.) within a given kingdom, I can measure how close I am to having data on all of the current groups for each kingdom. I already have responses from Middle, East, Caid, Calontir, Atlantia, and Ansteorra to just name a few, so the word is definitely getting out.
Have you contacted anyone at the Society level to gain additional data?
There was a post on one of the Facebook pages from someone mentioning that I should review the Board meeting minutes since any new group’s origin would be listed in them as an official point of business. I have no idea how to access those minutes but they would be a great resource. I’ll probably use them to fill in the gaps as needed and serve as a comparison between what was reported.
The Board minutes would only indicate when the group became official. That could be years after its founding. However, they would also list any groups that had been dissolved.
Right. Defunct groups will be plugged in as we get them. That may be what I look for in the Board’s minutes – to find where groups did exist but have gone dormant. There may be pockets of a kingdom’s territory that may have been active at one time but are now generally quiet.
You’ll probably also find groups that spring up and then die over and over again in the same location. Small towns and college groups are prone to that.
Yup. which hopefully we can track. What began as a brain teaser of “I wonder how the SCA spread around the world” will probably turn into a much larger project once I start digging through the responses and putting the information in order.
What sort of information do you expect or hope to learn from it, besides the obvious of how the SCA spread over time?
The study of diffusion is a lengthy one. I’m basically tracking an idea. This method only tracks the path the idea took, which is not exactly the same thing as the process. Many people have already told me stories of how one principality was founded when Duke-Sir-Someone broke down on the road and was helped by some people. They asked about the medieval stuff in his car and voila… the idea is passed from person to person.
What do you plan to do with the information you gain?
The idea is to take all of the information on the form (group’s name, area, first year, etc.) and plug it into a GIS (Geographical Information Systems) program. This is where my friend Lady Catriona, the Cultural Geographer, comes in. We can then plot, by year, where certain areas (probably by county) ‘went active’. Since we have 50 years of the SCA, I’d have 50 layers of map, and each one would show which counties light up (are active) or fade (go inactive) over that time period. There will most likely be various iterations of this mapping project where we track active groups over the years and then compare that information to the location of college campuses and military bases around the country/world.
Do you see this information as having a practical application? Or is it mostly of historical / social interest?
As far as practical applications for the research, there are a few things that we’re playing with. An interesting feature of GIS is that we can use existing trends (the spread of a cultural trend like the SCA) not only to see where the trend has come from but also to predict where it will most likely originate next. And that’s the really interesting stuff. Basically, this project will help shed light on questions like: “What is necessary to facilitate the creation of an SCA group?”
So could have predictive value?
I’m not as clear on how that part works, that’s where Catriona’s work in Cultural Geography kicks in. You would assume that SCA groups are formed in proximity to other SCA groups; so that you could have some degree of mentoring.
A lot of people have expressed concern that the Society is shrinking. The numbers I’ve seen on the Society’s membership levels seem to indicate that it’s increasing slightly in the past few months, with some kingdoms stronger than others. I wonder how your study results might correlate with that?
That’s also what I was curious about as well. With the economy being as it is – how much can people afford to “live the dream”? When I helped found the shire of Drakelaw in Ashland KY, we were across the river from an existing group in Ohio and only 30 minutes away from a group in Æthelmearc (Port Oasis). So we had a lot of other SCAdians around to help us build the idea of what the SCA was.
To participate in the survey, click here. If you have any questions about the survey, please email THLord Thomas. His Lordship has promised to update the Gazette once he has the data crunched from the survey. To see regular updates on the status of the study, you can Like its Facebook page.
Diff study Facebook page

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