Today is all about research. Now you may remember at the outset way back several posts ago I said there would be no scholarly examination of history or words to that effect. I am merely a curious amateur in the field of history, a novice, a rookie, a greenhorn–you get the picture, I don’t really know what I’m doing.
A few years ago I was deep into the first draft of a novel set in 1838. My first difficulty was in researching clothing of the time. There are endless sources for the 1840’s and later and for the teens or earlier, but with my limited expertise there was this great gaping blank from 1820-1840. It was during this time that woman’s figures changed dramatically.
They went from having the high loosely-corseted waist and slim figure associated with Jane Austen….
…to the tight lacing and enormous skirts we associate with the duration of the Victorian Age.
This was pretty much all I could find out in books.
But what happened in between? How did we go from one extreme to the other? Was it a sharp delineation marking the ascension of a new monarch? Was it a gradual change reflecting the shifting moral clime and increased strictures on women? In the regency women experienced an increased freedom of movement (in their clothes) a mini women’s liberation that led to other freedoms, these however were severely clamped down upon during Victoria’a reign the strictures on women becoming ever more regimented and complex.
Thanks to Pinterest which is an entirely different rabbit hole the in-between fashion looked something like this…
But I digress. Who me? Never!
The issue at stake is…
How to do research when you can’t find any leads to get the ball rolling
Here are three places to start that have nothing to do with Google or Wiki-anything.
- Novels–Not novels written 100 years after the fact but novels published during the period you are researching or shortly there after. For example Cranford was published in 1853 but set in the late 1830’s and contains memories form the authors own life. In other-words it is an eye witness view on the time.
- Biographies–Find someone really famous or at least interesting enough for someone to have written a book about: a monarch, a scientist, scandalous duke you get the idea. It can be anyone from the time and place you want to write about. They do not have to be even slightly related to your topic. The thing is Biographers have sources, they have research passes and special access that mere mortals on the opposite side of the planet can only dream of. This means they have details. Details that might take you hours of fruitless research to glean elsewhere. Details about fashion, inventions, ideas, scandals, what people ate for dinner etc, etc, etc of your target time frame.
- Movies–This comes with a caution. I wouldn’t trust any visual representations of past centuries from any movies made pre-1980 unless you have it on good authority that it was well researched. For instance in the 1970 BBC version of Little Woman all the girls are sporting hair styles much closer to the 1970’s than the 1870’s. The best movies are the ones on DVD that come with making of featurettes and extras. Why are these helpful? Because again movie magnets have researchers. Researches have those magic resources known as connections in the business.
Over the next few posts I will delve into each of these three resources and reveal what to look for what to avoid and how to sift for the details that will enrich your own story or deepen your understanding of history. Or maybe you just want to one-up that know-it-all in your life.
Now go find those threads and get your ball rolling.