Aug62013

26 Tips for Researching Victorian Set Story, Steampunk & Beyond (Important for Writers)

Good morning, Gentle Reader, some tips for the writers amongst you today!

Victorian Research Tips Header

This is an amended reblog of a post originally entitled In Which Gail Reveals All Her Researching Secrets written for J. Daniel Sawyer many years ago. I’ve found more sources since the original blog and have added them in (and others are now gone). As with anything even faintly academic, this kind of thing is ever evolving. The bottom of the post contains the latest update date. If any of the links are obsolete, please let me know about it via the calling card feature of this website.

In this post I offer tips for online, book, and other sources for researching a Victorian-set novel.

1880 Ladies Dahabia Egypt Nile Parasol Travel

1880 Ladies Dahabia Egypt Nile

I’ve been obsessed with this time period my whole life, my first self-made Halloween costume was an entirely unsuccessful 1850s dress incorporating a hula-hoop. I’ve lived in England for various stretches of time. I prefer BBC comedy to American. I’m addicted to costume dramas. I read Dickens and Gaskall voluntarily outside of school.

You might call me an anglophile, if I wasn’t equally obsessed with Victorian flaws.

New Research Books Wolf Cravats Victorian

I do think that if you are intending to write in a historically accurate Victorian England setting, you need to at least like that time and place. You are going to be dwelling in to for a while.

Otherwise, I suggest bringing an American tourist main character to Victorian London, or setting your steampunk in a culture with which you have more affinity.

Some errors are forgivable, we all make mistakes, but some are not and will throw readers out of the story due to an innate sense of cultural discomfort.

Tea Books Teacup Research

For example, I once read a sentence in a steampunk book of some repute along the lines of:

“He had worked with the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and the House of Parliament.”

Sigh.

There will always be pet experts in specific fields. If you make a mistake about sausage casings, or call blood sausage black pudding in the wrong geographic area, someone will write an angry email or review.

As writers, most of us learn that we can’t worry about the sausage casing experts of the world, our first objective is to finish the manuscript, not present an academic paper.

We must keep writing, not constantly researching. There also aren’t that many sausage casing experts in the world. But a mistake that every native born Brit will catch is going to hurt an author’s reputation, and possibly cost them a UK rights deal.

(At which juncture I direct you to FAQ regarding the vocabulary in my own work. And remind you I never said what kind of ships docked at Canterbury.)

The List of 26

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nothing beats primary sources. Google books offers a number of public domain primary sources from the 1800s but there are plenty from universities and libraries as well. Victorian primary sources are (mostly) out of copyright, so have been digitalized.

1. One of my personal favorites, with recipes and other interesting tidbits about domestic management in 1876, is Things a Lady Would Like to Know by Southgate. (digitalized by google)

2. Floote’s Medical Common Sense (digitalized by google)  is a 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:

3. Edwards, Amelia B. 1877. A Thousand Miles Up the Nile. (digitalized) For language and the Victorian adventurer abroad feel. From more on researching Victorian Egypt: Victorians in Egypt (Timeless), books used for researching Timeless, Egypt from a dirigible (Imprudence), and the 1882 riots. Davidson’s Hints to Lady Travellers (1889) is also really good.

4. 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, news papers money lenders, and more. These are by FAR my most useful resource whenever I take my characters abroad I only take them to a place I have a Baedeker’s for.

Some of my research books.

As for secondary sources, what you need will depend upon what you’re writing. I write comedy of manners, so my needs reflect this more pedestrian interest level, someone with a military bent probably has a different list. Nevertheless, I find myself constantly reaching for the following:

5. Pool, Daniel. 1993. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew. For the basics.

6. Cunnington, C. Willett. 1990. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century. For anything to do with women’s clothing

7. Flanders, Judith. 2003. The Victorian House. For domestic life questions. The information is not well structured, obviously stemming from some kind of PhD thesis, but it is there.

8. 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 okay place to start but is sometimes dodgy, there are some good, if not particularly well organized, research tools dedicated to the Victorians online as well.

9. By far the biggest and the best is the Victorian Web which is a spiderweb of all sorts of useful information with a painfully old fashioned UI

10. The Victorian Dictionary offers up primary newspaper articles on different topics

And here are a few interesting individual offerings online.

11. 17 Euphemisms for Sex From the 1800s

12. Victorian Etiquette

13. The Illustrated London News (starting in 1842)

14. Godey’s Lady’s Book

15. OMG That Dress

16. Dictionary of Victorian London

17. Order of Precedence in England and Wales

Other general searching tips:

18. Use Google Alerts to keyword your specific topic of interest within the time period.

19. Try both YouTube and Pinterest. Remember these two platforms can also act/behave primarily as search engines.

20. You never know what the history channel or streaming services might be dealing with next. Documentaries at least give you a jumping off point.

21. Watch BBC costume dramas, and if at all possible get ahold of the DVD and check out the extras, they often have interviews with historical experts. Sometimes these pop up on YouTube.

22. Having a really hard time answering a research question? Cold call a local university history department. 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.

23. Of course you can keep an eye on this blog or follow me on Facebook or Twitter, I often put up bits and bobs I’ve discovered around the net.

24. There are links to the research I’ve used on my wikia.

25. Each book I have written has it’s own page on this website, there is always an extras post for that book. It’s like DVD extras and includes any fun sources I used. (For example here’s how to stock and airship medicine box from Imprudence.

26. Academic search engines, not Google!

  • refseek.com (skip the ads at the top)
  • www.worldcat.org/ (a library resource, particularly good if you are looking for a physical copy of a rare book)
  • link.springer.com (mostly for scientific research and documents, but sometimes someone is investigating a Victorian “cure” etc..)

Want more?

Miss Gail’s Childhood Favorite Books & Research Bookshelf Reveal Video (Behind the Magic)

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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.
* One of my personal favorites, with recipes and other interesting tidbits about domestic management in 1876, is Things a Lady Would Like to Know
* Floote’s Medical Common Sense 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, news papers and 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. Never the less, 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 clothing
* 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 okay 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 Slag Dictionary
* Victorian Etiquette
* The Illustrated London News (starting in 1842)
* Victorian servants
* The Ladies Journal
* Godey’s Lady’s Book
* Naval Ships of Victorian times
* Nick Names of Cavalry regiments
* 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 DVD 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. 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.
Lastly, of course you can keep an eye on my website, I often put up bits and bobs I’ve discovered around the net.
– See more at: http://jdsawyer.net/2009/10/10/super-sneaky-victoriana-research-tips/#sthash.xBdpVlLU.dpuf
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.
* One of my personal favorites, with recipes and other interesting tidbits about domestic management in 1876, is Things a Lady Would Like to Know
* Floote’s Medical Common Sense 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, news papers and 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. Never the less, 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 clothing
* 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 okay 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 Slag Dictionary
* Victorian Etiquette
* The Illustrated London News (starting in 1842)
* Victorian servants
* The Ladies Journal
* Godey’s Lady’s Book
* Naval Ships of Victorian times
* Nick Names of Cavalry regiments
* 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 DVD 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. 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.
Lastly, of course you can keep an eye on my website, I often put up bits and bobs I’ve discovered around the net.
– See more at: http://jdsawyer.net/2009/10/10/super-sneaky-victoriana-research-tips/#sthash.xBdpVlLU.dpuf
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.
* One of my personal favorites, with recipes and other interesting tidbits about domestic management in 1876, is Things a Lady Would Like to Know
* Floote’s Medical Common Sense 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, news papers and 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. Never the less, 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 clothing
* 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 okay 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 Slag Dictionary
* Victorian Etiquette
* The Illustrated London News (starting in 1842)
* Victorian servants
* The Ladies Journal
* Godey’s Lady’s Book
* Naval Ships of Victorian times
* Nick Names of Cavalry regiments
* 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 DVD 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. 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.
Lastly, of course you can keep an eye on my website, I often put up bits and bobs I’ve discovered around the net.
– See more at: http://jdsawyer.net/2009/10/10/super-sneaky-victoriana-research-tips/#sthash.xBdpVlLU.dpuf
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.
* One of my personal favorites, with recipes and other interesting tidbits about domestic management in 1876, is Things a Lady Would Like to Know
* Floote’s Medical Common Sense 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, news papers and 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. Never the less, 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 clothing
* 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 okay 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 Slag Dictionary
* Victorian Etiquette
* The Illustrated London News (starting in 1842)
* Victorian servants
* The Ladies Journal
* Godey’s Lady’s Book
* Naval Ships of Victorian times
* Nick Names of Cavalry regiments
* 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 DVD 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. 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.
Lastly, of course you can keep an eye on my website, I often put up bits and bobs I’ve discovered around the net.
– See more at: http://jdsawyer.net/2009/10/10/super-sneaky-victoriana-research-tips/#sthash.xBdpVlLU.dpuf I also have a segment on my website wherein I mention other books from which I take inspiration for my own personal world building, including the humor.

GAIL’S DAILY DOSE

Your Moment of Parasol . . .

1900-1905  Museo del Traje

Your Infusion of Cute . . .

1890s Brooch  Late Victorian  Sotheby’s

Your Tisane of Smart . . .

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Your Writerly Tinctures . . . 
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(this post updated Sept 2022, sure to obsolete links and an emailed request)

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Posted by Gail Carriger

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Comments

  1. Ruby Scarlett said:

    This is a really useful post! I'm not writing anything so not useful to me but you know what I mean. I'm glad someone's speaking out about how poor the Judith Flanders book stands as non-fiction for us non-academics. Consuming Passions is the same.

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