BEYOND the MANTRAS of VEXILLOLOGY
..b y Peter Orenski
Call me FlagDude. Call me FlagDude and count me among the incredibly tired. Count me amongthe incredibly tired of hearing the flags-hugging community introduce our hobby to the world with shopworn mantras like Hi, I’m a vexillologist; vexillology is the study of flags; the word comes from the Latin vexillum; the word was invented in 1957 by Dr. Whitney Smith. Am I the only one getting the buzz of Parrot-Speak 1.0 – Hi, I’m Polly, Polly want cracker – from our cherished mantras?
I hope not. For I believe that Smith’s genius arches far beyond the mere fathering of a word. In Edisonian terms, I think it has been his extraordinary blend of perspiration and inspiration that set down the twin foundations of organized modern flag culture:
•Over 50 national organizations and one international body devoted to furthering, along with flag fellowship, the precise and systematic study of flags.
•A host of flag publications inspired and anchored by the Flag Bulletin.
Without these foundational pilings the wordvexillology and its derivative minions would have remained empty vessels.
Then why, oh why? do we so often keep parroting our mantras as we introduce our hobby to the press, to acquaintances, to potential flag enthusiasts, and particularly to those ‘youngsters with bright eyes,’ as Lee Herold calls them? Why do we keep rattling off mantras that make people roll their eyes at the nerdy sound of it all? Who gives a brass grommet about a Latin-Greek construct?
Or about its etymology? Or about the year a geeky word was coined? Certainly not the cybergeneration, I wager. Let’s slow down hugging the trees of special words and start taking in the forest.
I’d like to propose a change of (dis)course. Instead of mantras, how about setting down the stories of our achievements in flag study, flag collecting and flag design – that is, our flagship contributions since 1960 toward preserving and advancing the world’s flag legacy. Rather than update the recitation I attempted inQuo Vadimus (pp. 13-17) – and to avoid looking more ignorant than I absolutely have to – I invite workers from flag vineyards around the globe to tell American Vexillum the proud stories of their national achievements over the past decades.
Can you think of a more useful way to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the word that launched a thousand flag tales?
Ted Kaye –-Main Accomplishments – an Overview
What would I consider the main 2-3 accomplishments of organized flag study in the past 40 years?
1) The tremendous increase of documented, reliable, and available flag information (beginning with the Flag Bulletin and currently epitomized by FOTW), through books, periodicals, and the Internet. [credit due to Whitney Smith]
2) The linking of like-minded flag enthusiasts/scholars through national and international flag-studies organizations, creating the networks through which the development, verification, and propagation of this information can be coordinated. [credit due to WS]
3) The codification and testing of the basic principles of good flag design, and their dissemination through the efforts of NAVA and other national organizations--reaching millions of people; and the systematic encouragement of non-vexilliferous groups to adopt flags following those principles.
Jarig Bakker —Dutch Vexillology 1960-2006
Municipal flags, city flags and village flags have been quite popular in the Netherlands since the 17th century, as documented on old flag charts and flag books. A major boost was received in the 1930's, when for the 750th anniversary of Den Bosch, Noord-Brabant province, all Noord-Brabant municipalities received flags with as main field the Noord-Brabant flag (chequy of red and white), and in the canton the municipal arms. A little later all Dutch municipalities received flags, consisting of the provincial flags and in the canton the municipal arms for the celebration of Queen Wilhelmina's 40th anniversary as queen (1938). Unfortunately it is not documented which municipalities retained those flags. Some did, most didn't.
In the 1950's some enthusiastic flag-fanatics started a search for municipal flags, headed by Klaes Sierksma. Actually this was a search-and-design programme. It was prompted by general disagreement with the "banenvlag" - the principle that a flag should consist of x horizontal stripes; Sierksma c.s. suggested using municipal arms or elements of the arms in order to enhance esthetic characteristics. In 1962 Sierksma published the "Nederlands Vlaggenboek" (Dutch Flagbook), Het Spectrum, Utrecht, 1962, which contained black and white images of flags of circa 75 % of the Dutch municipalities.
That book, tiny as it looks, became the base for Dutch vexillology for over 40 years. It attracted great designers like Mr. Bontekoe, who was responsible for the very attractive Drenthe municipal flags and arms, Mr. van Heijningen, who filled a major gap in the southern provinces, and many more. In the 1990's nearly all Dutch municipalities could boast their own flags (but for Abcoude, a Gallic village southeast of Amsterdam).
All is documented in the magazine of the Dutch Vexillological Society (NVVV), entitled "Vexilla Nostra", of which the old papers are extremely scarce.
During the past decennium most municipalities have adopted their own "house-style", consisting of a logo, replacing arms and flag. Fortunately there are limits tologoitis: The "Hoge Raad van Adel" (High Council of Nobility) is by law entitled to approve coats of arms - and will never approve logo's. It also archives flags, but the only authority which can approve a municipal flag is a municipal council. Furthermore there are concerned citizens refusing being rolled over by logo-idiots.
In conclusion it can be stated that most Dutch municipal flags are well designed by professional designers, who are known beyond our borders. A sad exception is formed, alas, by big cities insisting on two-bands and refusing any modern concession (but as soon as a high-quality designer-company comes along: down with the bucks and up with the logo!)
Jan Oskar Engene —Nordic Flag Society
I consider the following to be the three major achievements of the Nordic Flag Society:
The Nordic Flag Society was founded in 1973 and is still operation after more than thirty years. Organizational survival cannot be taken for granted and I consider it an achievement in itself that an organization working in a narrow field like vexillology has actually managed to survive as a broad membership organization, especially as the Nordic Flag Society has been faced with the challenge of balancing the interests of both private individual members and trade members (flag manufacturers). I consider this an achievement because whereas the number of vexillological organizations and institutions (particularly institutions!) might seem impressive, the organizations often turn out to be composed of a handful of members and the institutions are usually one-man outfits rarely deserving of the label institution by the standard definition of that term. To my knowledge, none of the vexillological institution belonging to FIAV has been through a transition from the founder to the second generation of leadership. Several associations have ceased to exist.
Given this state of affairs vexillology is a field with more organizations and institutions than is good and effort tend to be fragmented rather than pooled. Thus keeping a five-country broad membership organization alive for more than three decades might be considered an achievement.
2. The ICV20.
Planning and hosting the 20th International Congress of Vexillology and publishing the congress report in record time - within a year of congress closing - is a major achievement for the Nordic Flag Society. This might not seem so special perhaps - there have been more than 20 congresses - but I think the efforts behind a congress should not be forgotten. Those who have not been involved in organizing a congress or editing a report often do not consider the huge effort involved, and as the congress is over and the success has been declared those involved in preparations soon forget all the work they put in. For the Nordic Flag Society it was even more important to make the ICV20 a success because an earlier effort to host the congress was abandoned.
3. Our periodical:Nordisk Flaggkontakt.
Our journal Nordisk Flaggkontakt has seen a considerable improvement in content and in quality of printing and is now the world's only vexillological periodical published in full colour professional printing. The journal is distributed to our society's members, to vexillological organizations around the world, and is available to the public from university and public libraries in the Nordic countries. I consider this particularly important as many vexillological publications have a very low circulation and are not available in libraries. Putting out a full-colour professionally printed journal is also an important achievement in a situation where people can get so much for free on-line. In my opinion the only way to face this challenge is by taking advantage of new technology to improve our publications.
Michael Faul —The Flag Institute
The Flag Institute began as the Flag Section of the Heraldry Society. In 1971, this split amicably from the parent body to form the Flag Institute. There were seven founder members. The leading figure was William Crampton. He remained so for the next 25 years. He held the archives and library in his home in Chester, began and developed Flagmaster, answered flag enquiries and prepared specification sheets of national flags throughout the world. In addition he also wrote and edited flag books and charts. His death in 1997 was a severe blow to the Flag Institute, but it survived.
From its inception, the Flag Institute has been active in the international world of vexillology. It hosted the Fifth International Congress in London, in 1973 (only two years after its foundation), the Tenth Congress in Oxford in 1983 and most recently the Nineteenth Congress in York in 2001. It has also been represented at all other congresses, wherever they have been held.
Its most obvious contribution is probably its quarterly magazine, Flagmaster. William Crampton edited it from the outset, until shortly before his death. It was then taken over by Michael Faul.
The latter's co-operation with Graham Bartram and Robin Ashburner enabled the magazine to go at first partly and more recently fully into colour. Colour being an essential part of flags, this was a natural and desirable step. It has been followed by virtually every other vexillological magazine (although a few used colour before).
The Flag Institute has also been active in encouraging the adoption of new flags. Members Bruce Nicolls and William Crampton were responsible for the designs of the flags of Guernsey and Herm respectively. Robin Ashburner promoted the county flag of Devon and saw it through to adoption. Others have included the proposed flags for Yorkshire and Lancashire, the Memorial Flag of the Holocaust and civic flags. One of the more telling campaigns was that by John Hall and Barrie Kent on the use of flags on Anglican churches, resulting in a poster now in widespread use in the Church. There has also been serious Flag Institute input in the present flag of Bosnia Herzegovina, in the Golden Jubilee of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, the annual Remembrance Day commemoration and in numerous international sporting events throughout the United Kingdom.
Recently too, Graham Bartram produced "British Flags and Emblems", an up-to-date reference on British flags of all types, which is already a standard work.