Super Sneaky Victoriana Research Tips for Steampunk & Historical Authors

Just had to use my own guest blog for J. Daniel Sawyer from last October for a bit of research, and I had forgotten about the post. Super Sneaky Victoriana Research Tips I was particularly interested in one article on gentlemen’s cravats, and I found this other blog all about top hats. Take a wild guess as to who I’m writing about? I thought I would do a reboot as I have had some email requests on the subject. So here it is…

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nothing beats primary sources. I hate to be a traitor to the Author Guild’s justifiable objection to the Google Book settlement, but Google books does already have a number of good primary sources from the 1800s available online (since they are well out of print and out of copyright).
* One of my personal favorites, with recipes and other interesting tidbits about domestic management in 1876, is Things a Lady Would Like to Know.
* Foote’s Medical Common Sense and Plain Home Talk is another wonderful resource for a historical perspective on the Victorian attitude towards medical science, not to mention a window into scientific, social, and psychological theory. This is an American classic (if non-fiction can be called such).


There are other useful primary sources as well, that you might be able to order through Amazon or a rare books dealer. My two favorites are:
* Baedeker, Karl. 1896. Baedeker’s’s London and its Environs. (or any Baedeker’s dated to the Victorian era) for maps, railroad time tables, popular museums and visitors areas, not to mention names of shops, clubs, restaurants, newspapers, and much more.
* Edwards, Amelia B. 1877. A Thousand Miles Up the Nile. For language and the Victorian adventurer abroad feel.

As for secondary sources, what you need may depend upon what you’re writing. I write comedy of manners, so my needs reflect this more pedestrian interest level, someone with a more military bent probably has a different list. Nevertheless, I find myself constantly reaching for the following:
* Pool, Daniel. 1993. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew. For the basics.
* Cunnington, C. Willett. 1990. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century. For anything to do with women’s attire
* Flanders, Judith. 2003. The Victorian House. For domestic life questions. The information is not well structured, but it is there.
* Farwell, Byron. 1972. Queen Victoria’s Little Wars. For the quickest insight into the Empire Building mentality and military history of the age.


Aside from wikipeda, which can be an OK place to start, there are some good, if not particularly well organized, research tools dedicated to the Victorians online as well.
* By far the biggest and the best is the Victorian Web which is a great spiderweb of all sorts of useful information
* The Victorian Dictionary offers up primary newspaper articles on different topics

And here are a few interesting individual offerings online.
* Victorian Etiquette
* The Illustrated London News (starting in 1842)
* Godey’s Lady’s Book (American)
* Naval Ships of Victorian times
* Some ways to tie a cravat
* La Mode Illustree LiveJournal group

Other tips:
* If you have a DVR or Tivo trigger in keywords pertaining to your topic of interest. You never know what the history channel might be dealing with next. It will at least give you a jumping off point.
* Watch BBC costume dramas, and or, rent the DVDs and check out the extras, they often have interviews with historical experts.
* Having a really hard time answering a research question? Cold call a local university history department, museum, or fashion institute. Experts love to talk about their expertise, perhaps there is someone in the history department you can ask. They may at least give you a book or article to read.
* Don’t discount your local library, or local university library. Some university libraries won’t give you a card, but they will let you do on-site research.


In other news, I have had two interviews drop recently. A podcast from my SF in SF appearance with Blake. We are most silly and tell all our secrets. And the other with Romance Magicians in written form, here is a sample:
RM: Changeless, the second book in the series, was just recently released and takes Alexia to Scotland, the backwater of ugly waistcoats. What sort of creatures and challenges does she find there?
GC: Aside from the waistcoats? Well there is a good deal of ghostly interaction, some very bad weather, more octopuses, and an unanticipated love of haggis.

Want more behind the scenes sneak peeks? Join the Chirrup

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