Inspiration and plagiarism are two very different things

A short while ago I read a column from the New York Times with the title ”Slaves of the Internet, Unite”.
Being a journalist by profession and having many artist friends I know the subject of that column way to well.
Lots of writers and artists are asked to do original work for free and for what usually is called ”great exposure”.
This made me think a bit about the SCA too.
We have a wonderful way of sharing knowledge and helping each other find new sources and get more and new knowledge.
What gets me is the times when someone walks up to me or e-mails me and asks me to just hand over all my research.

And the reason they usually feel entitled to my research is because they have been asked to teach or they have been told they need to write up some documentation if they want to advance, and they really don’t know much about the subject because they have up to this point just been making pretty and lovely things but not really studied the field.
Their interest focus has been on making the items – not knowing how the items really were made, who used them and from what materials the items were made.
I am not saying this approach is wrong! Not everyone likes to do research.

Usually I don’t think the person asking me to hand over my research does it out of malice and I really think that they don’t understands what they are asking me to do.
I think we are so used to the sharing and helping in the SCA that we have lost parts of the respect for what goes in to doing the research.
Would you ever come up with the idea and offer to teach a class/hold a workshop on a subject that you have no or very little knowledge about at school or at work?
Would you ever – in the mundane world – ask someone else to write up your assignment to hand in to the teacher to get a grade?
I don’t think so. Unless you belong to the group of people that cut corners by plagiating someone elses work.
And if you are not ok with plagiarism in the mundane world – then you shouldn’t be ok with plagiarism in the SCA context.
Stealing is stealing. People will get upset.
Using someone elses research as a base for your own – that is ok. Just as it is in the mundane world.
But if you are not prepared to do some research on your own – don’t say yes to teaching a subject you do not know and don’t participate in A&S competitions where a proper documentation is required.

The internet and the possibility to google just about anything and have someone else give us all the answers have made many of us lazy and made us think that well what the heck – I’ll just google it. And in the SCA – we sort of google by going to the person we know that knows the most about a subject.
Don’t get me wrong. We should share and we should help each other in the SCA.
But to ask someone who has spent YEARS on researching a subject to hand over all the research so that you yourself don’t have to do any work and then use that material for your own advancement and teaching – that is plain rude.
Some of my own research comes from material that I have gotten by contacting museums to get articles sent to me in languages like Czech, Polish and German and that I then have spent time on translating. Not to mention what work went into actually finding out that there was material to ask for…

In my work as a journalist I have to rely on other peoples information to get the basic understanding of a subject – but when I write the article – I do my own original piece.
Or when I see some other newspapers layout that is brilliant – I can of course lend the idea – but then adapt it for other content that suits my newspaper. I do not just take the entire subject and layout and do the exact same thing.
Inspiration and plagiarism are two very different things.
And this is what I wanted to get to.
I happily share my handouts.
I have posted a link to my LibraryThing where people can see all the books I own (or they will soon when I get the time to add the rest of the books) and hence see what books I have used to do my research. I like owning the books so I have invested quite a lot of money in my research materials.
I also happily teach.
I can even tell people in what book they can find the information they are looking for.
What I do NOT do – is to do the research for them.
I do not make handouts for others.
I also won’t put together classes for others.

If you want me to comment on your handout, your lecture structure and what you plan to bring up in your lecture – I will happily comment and help.
But you have to do the work yourself.
In the end – you will feel great about what you have accomplished and on top of that – you will have shown those who have done research in the same field before you, that you understand the hard work they have done and that you value their help.
So this is my SCA take on how I do not do original work for free for others.
I can help you, show you in the right direction – but the reading and writing I will not do for you.

16 thoughts on “Inspiration and plagiarism are two very different things

  1. Agreed, agreed, agreed. My own blog has links to my research, but I’m of the feeling that you have to do the work. It may be too many years of college and high school bullies wanting my work, but I worked for my stuff. I’d like to be respected for my work!

    Konstantia Kaloethina, Calontir

  2. Usually, in my handouts or blog posts I just don’t cite within the text. I include a list of references at the end so that anyone wanting to find out where to go for information knows where to start. Of course, in my research papers for A&S I use traditional citing… just like I did in my thesis. Does that amount to “handing over all my research”? I think it does, but that’s the point, right? To share what you’ve found?

    ~ Giata from

    1. Well yes. And I also do that here on my blog and in my documentations that I always post online too. The handing it over in my post was reffering to people asking me to write up all the stuff I have in my head and give it to them so that THEY can teach a class or make their documentation. Not everything you have researched is down on paper somewhere. A lot is in your head and you can say: oh you can find the answer to that in book X by author y.
      The people I am talking about here want me to write all this knowledge down since they don’t want to bother with reading themselves. I share my research, my documentations are up there and I am avaliable for questions and pointers. I am however not avaliable to do the work for them. I would also not ask my professor to write up all that stuff he or she knows but hasn’t written down anywhere. Does my destinction become more clear? I don’t mean I don’t want to share. I just won’t do the work for those that know nothing on the subjetc and don’t intend to do any research on their own.

  3. Doug Shannon

    I understand your point, but I don’t entirely agree with you.

    Many years ago my (now) ex-wife was trying to do some SCA personae research and the only person she could find within hundreds of miles that had any information on the subject flatly refused to share their research and would only give her the title of a single book. Said book was only available in Poland and had never been translated to English, meaning my wife would need to purchase a very expensive book sight unseen from a foreign country and also learn to speak and read fluent Polish just to render out small snippets of information from within the hundreds of pages of archeological research… This wasn’t even a matter of her wanting to do documentation for an A&S project, this was just a matter of her trying to be more accurate in her personae and garb – this is also one of the major reasons she no longer plays in the SCA.

    I agree that people need to do their own research (especially people that want to run their own class), but the more hurdles we put in the way of that research the fewer people will even bother and the knowledge will be lost. Personally, I feel it is equally (if not more) important that people are “making pretty and lovely things”, performing the actual crafts and sharing the skills with others than just collecting the intellectual knowledge and telling others they need to start from scratch and reinvent the wheel (i.e, sending people to primary sources to do all the same slogging through and collating of data with the hopes of coming to the same conclussions).

    I have been working for large engineering firms for most of the past 20 years. My experience in the work place is that you are expected to share 100% of your research without question, without notice and without recognition (unless it’s wrong, then it’s all you). If you don’t freely and openly share your research you will be labeled as “not a team player”, you will be passed over for promotion, you will be passed over for bonuses, you will be left out of future projects in favor of your much lessor qualified co-workers. If you don’t write full reports and presentations for your manager/director/VP with zero expectation of any form of recognition or attribution you won’t likely have a job for very much longer. The whole point of employees is to do the work that management does not have either the time, expertise or willingness to do themselves; in the end, the customer (and investor) doesn’t care one bit who did the research as long as the project is finished on time and under budget.

    Just my thoughts on the subject.

    1. I am sorry it has taken some time to get around to approve your comment and also reply to it! My mundane job has kept me busy!
      I am not saying I want everyone to start from scratch. I am not saying I don’t want to share.
      Most of the litterature I use I own and I have put it up on Librarything and it is avaliable here on my blog. My documentations with references are avalible here. Links to useful websites are here. I teach at events and I help with answering questions and giving pointers.
      As I wrote in my text this is what I won’t do: I will not write someones documentation for them and I will not write them a class handout.
      A lot of knowledge is never written down – I have a lot in my head that I haven’t put down on paper.
      This is the information that people have come around and asked me to write down so that they can teach a class on the subject or make their documentation.
      This is not my profession – this is my hobby. If I haven’t taken the time to write down all this stuff that I know it is for a reason. And that reason is that I haven’t had time to do it. So why would I do it for someone else if I haven’t been able to find the time to do it for myself? Especially since some of the people asking for it have blatantly said that they will use it to teach and they have no intention to adding to it themselves.
      I am all for sharing and development.
      There are many that can testify to me being very generous with information when someone is in need of help in their further research.
      I am not that generous when people ask me to spend my spare time writing up THEIR teaching material.
      That is sort of like doing school work for a bully without the being bullied part… So why should I say yes to doing that?

      1. Doug Shannon

        The delay is not a problem, I tend to be incredibly busy between my day job and my SCA related hobbies.

        I whole heartedly agree that anyone wanting to teach a class should be doing their own research and at least writing a draft of their lecture and handouts before asking for assistance.

  4. Audrey Stone

    To My Lady Annika Madejska,
    I totally agree with all you have said and your reasoning.
    So, please don’t think me presumptious when I ask a question. I am really hoping you can help me find the information I want and have looked for, unsuccessfully, for quite some time.
    I am a weaver, formerly in the SCA, and enjoyed making garb from handwoven goods. I know there are many weaves that could have been done in 1100 +/- AD, with pick-up if not loom controlled. Since I do not have any access to older fabrics, I have had to rely on photographs.
    My question is; How many of these apparently beautifully embroidered garments *could* (then *would*) have had woven patterns instead of embroidered?
    I would greatly appreciate any references you could give me. Even though I live in the country, our Library is excellent at locating whatever books I request.
    Congratulations on both your Pelican and Laurel titles. I have neither but do know how much talent, work, and knowledge is required for either.
    Respectfully, Audrey Stone

    1. I do not take offence at all!
      I am not an expert on weaving and especially not early period materials since my main focus is on German 16th century…
      Three books I can recommend though are: Merchants, Princes and Painters: Silk Fabrics in Italian and Northern Paintings 1300-1550 by Lisa Monnas, Ancient Danish Textiles from Bogs and Burials: A Comparative Study of Costume and Iron Age Textiles by Margarethe Hald and finally Ancient Textiles: Production, Crafts and Society edited by Carole Gillis and Marie-louise B. Nosch.
      I hope this helps!

  5. Jennifer Atkinson

    Doug- That’s someone being as ass to be an ass. These days, however, we are not limited to A book or A single source. We have gotten lazy, and because the internet has spawned a “swipe it, no one will really care” attitude, people are getting their intellectual property stolen all the time. In fact, I ran up against it with a friend, who simply downloaded a photograph of mine without asking, because we were friends, and he “wasn’t going to do anything with it…” So what? I am a professional photographer, and that’s how I make my living.

    And we are supposed to be an educational society. Not an engineering firm, not a Fortune 500 company, and there is a HUGE difference between “Hey, can you give me some pointers” and “Hey, can you just send me all your research and you don’t mind if I just use your handout for my class right?”

    1. Doug Shannon

      Understood and agreed. That entire “local” group was full of people like that and the only reason I continued in the SCA at all is because of a Knight 90 minutes drive away that was so personable it was my pleasure to commute out and participate with his household.

  6. Nods. It’s a lot like teaching/tutoring versus doing

    I really do like the idea of leaving out all the in-text citations before posting online. I really am all over the map on that one; I know way too many foljs that have have had their work stolen.

    Mundanely, I’m The Mean Bioligy Professor … I make my students write and cite correctly! And I’m a research junkie. 🙂

  7. What is written, lives forever! 🙂

    There’s a reason my handouts for classes I teach (in the SCA and in my job as an academic) typically consist of an outline and a bibliography. (PPT lectures are bulleted lists or figures. … I had a student tell me once that I needed to put more words on my slides, because when he got around to studying, s/he’d forgotten what I said!

    I need to add your entry to my bibliography!

    1. Annika Madejska

      Feel free to use my entry if it helps you. 🙂
      I do not teach – but I have gone back to being a student so I currently work and study at the same time.
      Being an older student I find it a bit baffling how some of my fellow students are trying to cut corners. Getting messages with plain questions to send examples of how to solve the latest assignment is not totally uncommon (I study digital design).
      My standard reply is: I don’t really know what the teacher means myself so if you’re worried you’re getting it wrong – ask the teacher for a clarification.

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