Aug62013

26 Tips for Researching Victorian Set Steampunk (Behind the Magic)

Good morning, Gentle Reader. As you may or may not be aware I will often do a blog post because of a question someone asked me over social media. Sometimes the information is available on my website, but I am well aware that my website is a beast and not always easy to navigate.

Parasol View Nile Traveler’s Sketch 1860s

So, for today, we have 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.

My stack of primary sources, the red ones

I will say that since I wrote this post I’ve read several steampunk books set in and yet written by those entirely unfamiliar with Victorian London. 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 Gaskalls voluntarily outside of school. You might call me an anglophile, if I wasn’t equally obsessed with Victorian flaws. I do think that if you are intending to write in a historically accurate Victorian England setting, you need to love that time and place. 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.

 Use of a induction coil for x-ray diagnosis (ca 1898)

For example, I one 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 #11 regarding the vocabulary in my own work.)

The List of 26

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nothing beats primary sources. For example Google books offers a number of public domain primary sources from the 1800s.

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 
2. Floote’s Medical Common Sense 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. 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.
4. 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 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. Victorian Slang Dictionary and 17 Euphemisms for Sex From the 1800s
12. Victorian Etiquette
13. The Illustrated London News (starting in 1842)
14. Victorian servants
15. Godey’s Lady’s Book
16. Naval Ships of Victorian times
17. Some ways to tie a cravat
18. La Mode Illustree defunked LiveJournal group, and the ongoing OMG That Dress
19. Victorian Era Names
20. Victorian Newspapers
21. British Manners from an American Perspective
22. Order of Precedence in England and Wales

Other tips:

23. If you have a DVR/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.
24. Watch BBC costume dramas, and or, rent the DVD and check out the extras, they often have interviews with historical experts.
25. 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.
26. Lastly, 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.

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 . . .

Guest Towel H&M

Your Writerly Tinctures . . . 
Self-Promotion for Horrible People

PROJECT ROUND UP 
Waistcoats & Weaponry ~ The Finishing School Book the Third: Editing away.
Curtsies & Conspiracies
~ The Finishing School Book the Second: Release date Nov. 5, 2013. 
Etiquette & Espionage
~ trade paperback will be available in the US October 13, 2013

Manga
~ Soulless Vol. 3: (AKA Blameless) Available serialized through YenPlus. Print edition Nov. 19 2013. 
Prudence
~ The Parasol Protectorate Abroad Book the First: Delayed. Why? Begin rewrite in 2014.

 

The Books!

 

The Parasol Protectorate Series: 1 Soulless, 2 Changeless, 3 Blameless, 4 Heartless, 5 Timeless
BIG FAT SPOILER ALERT on the Parasol Protectorate series!
Please DON’T READ THE BLURB ON AMAZON if you haven’t read the other books first!

The Parasol Protectorate omnibus hardback editions
Volume 1 (Books 1-3), Volume 2 (Books 4-5)
Parasol Protectorate Series manga graphic novels
The Finishing School Series: Etiquette & Espionage, Curtsies & Conspiracies (Nov. 5, 2013)
 $0.99 ebook only short stories: Marine Biology and My Sister’s Song


Book News

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  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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