Your Guide to the 50 Books
to Look for,
in Learning Order.
These are the subjects you probably need to
cover. In some cases, a big fat book on life at the time may
cover several of these topics. Odds are, reading it will be like
reading three or four regular books, but it gets you out a little
faster, and ties the parts of life together better for you.
Think of this as both a guideline and a checklist.
If you aren't used to histfi research, it's good to have someone
remind you to check things like the lower classes (which are
sleeping in doorways) or travel means, rather than assuming you
know it already. Unless you can think of the book that should
go there, odds are you don't know and will often get it wrong,
as I know from my own further research making revisions required.
Also, please note that I don't assume books
on violence are necessary, for all that they are useful in most
histfi. Weapons and warfare may play very little part in your
schemes. Ditto music and dance, for a different book. Consider
this part of the thirty "other subjects" books you
will read that are still necessary books, depending on your story.
1). A general history of the time, not
over 200 pages.
Yes, a skinny little dickens, just so you can see if you're in
the right place. Something called "an outline history"
is probably perfect. Like George Fox Mott & Harold M. Dee;
Outline History of the Middle Ages: From the Decline of the Roman
Empire through the Reformation (1933-1950; B&N,
NY) which covers European history from 395-1564 CE. That's a
lot of history checking in one place. Look for the same sort
of thing in other eras. Often, reading one or two fat encyclopedia
articles on the period will do. Look for ones called "Nineteenth
century" or whatever your century is.
2.) An "everyday life" book of
Look for one written for Young Adults, not children. The latter
are so simplified they give too erroneous a view. Think 300 pages,
preferably with lots of pictures. Like Rhys Carpenter, Edith
Hamilton, William C. Hayes, E. A. Speiser, Richard Stillwell;
Everyday Life in Ancient Times: Highlights of the Beginnings
of Western Civilization in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome
(1951 as book; National Geographic Society, Washington, DC).
I'll tell you right now the art here is full of errors, and the
text is largely obsolete, but this is the kind of book
you want (still, details I could pick out were good, but I had
to know a lot to sift out the nonsense). This covers ordinary
life, athletics, travel, costume, religion, government, medicine,
warfare, food, etc., in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Crete, Greece, and
Rome, 3000 BC to 200 CE.
You can even do your first research in something like Everyday
Life Through the Ages (1992; Reader's Digest
Assoc, London) which hits the top on everything in the major
cultures from cavemen forward, through not only Europe but occasionally
Asia, India, Africa, and the Americas. This can be useful if
you guessed wrong about when or where you want to write: you
find you really wanted the Renaissance rather than the Middle
Ages, or Korea instead of China.
By this time you should have a more solid
idea of where and when if you had a plot idea and needed a setting.
If you are simply intrigued by an era and place, you may be waiting
for a good idea to jell out of your research. Get yourself well
grounded, and research will hand you "sand for pearls"
and grow you a plot.
3.) General transportation
One good book on this across the ages will do for many projects,
Through the Ages by Peter Bray, updated by Barbara
Brown (1971, Taplinger Pub. Co.) if you aren't doing a lot of
travelling. You might also use the free A
Book about Travelling, Past and Present (1877, London
and Edinburgh, Nimmo) by Thomas Allan Croal, if you're working
in earlier times.
4.) General costume
Costumer's Manifesto is a free
online resource for this. Most of the lap-breaker "Costume
Through the Ages" books will focus on Europe and forget
all Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Okay, Europe has a lot of
changes in a short time, and it's what English-language authors
are immersed in, but Japanese didn't always put their obi knots
behind them. Other cultures have changes over a century, if not
every ten years. If you don't mind something Germano-centric
rather than Franco-centric or Anglo-centric, you can get a free
copy of A
History of Costume by Carl Köhler, edited and
augmented by Emma von Sichart, and translated by Alexander K.
Dallas (1930; New York, G. Howard Watt). For a big lap-breaker
full of colour art, if you travel to many periods, you might
want to invest in a copy of Boucher's 20,000 Years of Fashion: The History of Costume
and Personal Adornment.
5.) Specific transportation
The later in time you are, the more
this matters, as you have more choices. Even so, there's way
too much reliance on horseback and wagons at the wrong time.
The actual preference of the time, for someone not a peddlar
going village to village, may be river boat or sailing ship.
In the later 1800s, everyone who travelled out of town by land
went by rail, and only switched to coach or saddle where the
rails hadn't gone to yet. In Near History, check period magazines
to see what's a family car and what's for execs, and what's a
"secretary's car" (the original image of the Mustang).
6.) Etiquette, and I don't mean morals
Who bows first to whom? Who goes up
the stairs first? Hint: it wasn't until 1914 or so that men stopped
leading the way up, as "ladies first" became engrained
as a general rule after that date. What sort of calling cards
say well-bred, and which reek of vulgarity? By the 19th C, this
decade's fashion is next decade's folly, and vice versa. How
is seating arranged at dinner? "Promiscuous seating,"
men and women together, was not the rule even as late as the
1700s. Check the Library of Congress's American
Memory site for their Dance
Manuals, of all things. It isn't all American, in fact none
is until the early 1800s, and foreign books continue strong after
that. However, before 1830 or so, the etiquette manuals change
In earlier periods, you can learn as much
if not more about etiquette reading the fiction of the day, like
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
7.) Spectator entertainments, a general
Whether theatre or sports, holy day processions or boat races,
any real civilization, not primarily a village culture, has things
where most people watch and those specially selected perform.
Will characters see a play? You need to look into their presentation,
because in 1804 they don't have fancy lighting effects and the
house cannot be darkened (yes, I'm thinking of a particular novel's
opening and I was not surprised the author's grasp of period
law and costume was just as poor). In 1600 Milan, you will see
something different, with players of a different sort, than in
London in the same year.
These, like card games, lawn games, and children's games, are
the pastimes as well as the learning games, and often games equal
gambling. Very primitive people bet stone arrowheads on whether
a wood chip thrown in the air will land wood side or bark side
up. All your professional gambling can be put in here.
9.) Food and dining, including what sort
of public dining was available.
Restaurants are modern. This area
includes table manners, as in some times and places you do eat
off your knife at a noble's table, and especially you need to
know what time of day meals are expected. For much of Western
European history there were only two meals a day, for starters.
10.) Recipes for period food.
There's no longer an excuse for thinking the medieval Doge of
Venice ate spaghetti with tomato sauce. There are period re-creation
recipe books for all periods, starting with ancient Greece, and
you can build back to some of the others. Then, really, go eat
some of the stuff! Get the most authentic ingredients you can
(take the gourmet grocery bills off as research) and don't modernize
it or change it for your family prejudices, or even your own.
You aren't trying to see what would be popular now, but what
was standard then. If you have pre-adult children, don't include
them unless they insist. Just make it for yourself and a friend
or two (fun for your writer's circle!) and keep down the cost.
I can tell you that I would far rather eat in Sparta than Athens,
and that authentically Renaissance food uses herbs like strawberry
leaves that I can't choke down even in a sauce. On the other
hand, boiled garlic is a lovely vegetable side dish if you don't
boil it mushy and you give it some flavor with a sauce or gravy:
it's surprisingly quite bland. Time travel fiction absolutely
11.) Marriage and family.
Modern marriage laws and attitudes
shouldn't be applied in periods when married women had hardly
any rights short of not being murdered on a regular basis: they
could not own real estate, they did not own the clothes on their
backs, they could not sue for divorce under any circumstances,
their husbands controlled the children's fates and could forbid
her to have any contact with them, domestic beatings that did
not cause maiming, as well as marital rape, were both legal,
etc. The last one only became even a topic of discussion in the
last quarter of the 20th century! Yes, most men were pretty nice
to their wives. But there's always the possibility one won't
be, and there's no recourse to the law. Catch S. B. Kitchin,
B.A., LL.B.; A
History of Divorce (1912; London: Chapman & Hall,
12.) Specific dress styles, for your decade,
including specialty costumes for clerics.
In some cases, clerics have huge wardrobes
for various ceremonies. You also don't want to be misled by a
general costume book into putting a lady in the wrong headdress
for her period. There's old-fashioned and there's author slippage,
and many readers can smell the difference.
13.) Religion for the time and place.
Modern Catholicism is extremely different
from medieval Catholicism, starting with no papal infallibility
so church authority is not as powerful as many modern Catholics
like to fantasize it was. Vedic India does not have the religion
of modern Hinduisms. Religion, though, is always underfoot, from
how people curse to what they think in times of peril to when
they have festivals. Consider the movie, The League
of Extraordinary Gentlemen, having Mardi Gras in Venice in
high summer, when it's a late-winter holiday. However, the closer
to our time and your place, probably the less you need this.
Often other books will fill in enough for you to know, whether
the travel books or the etiquette books.
However, this should also include learning about religious institutions
like monasteries, nunneries, ashrams, and live-in temples. They
normally have some effect on their neighborhood, so you need
to decide whether you want one nearby. They are also often a
society's system of public hospitality (you can sleep there if
you can't afford or don't want to chance the inns, or there are
no inns) and of medical care (they run or are the hospitals).
| Notice that we are over
a dozen books into research and we have paid barely any attention
to wars, kings, and other usual matters of history. This is all
historical anthropology, which is more important for you to find
the kind of world you need. But that's going to change
14.) A fat history book of the area and
century as an introduction. If you
are researching Europe, anywhere from Constantine the Great to
the start of Victoria's reign, you can usually go to Will and
Ariel Durant's History of Civilization series for starters.
They aren't strictly political but make sure to include the philosophers,
scientists, and artists of all kinds. (They have earlier volumes,
but they draw a very inaccurate picture of the times.) I bought
the full series in hardback, but it's now online to download
15.) A history of the most influential
country at the time (country A).
16.) A history of its rival (country B).
That's because these influence culturally
and politically what's happening in any area within their influence.
In 1810 Europe, A would be France and B would be England. In
Asia in 1239, that would be China and the Mongol Empire, even
if you are setting in Japan. These can be thin and full of pictures.
You just need to be familiarized, and preferably from that country's
point of view.
17.) A biography of the leader of country
18.) A biography of the leader of country
These will show you the general behavior of
the powerful. In other countries, leaders will often try to imitate
these major wheels. However, as I said, if you are not going
anywhere near courts and major cities, you can put something
more useful here, like period agriculture or falconry.
19.) A history of the country you are setting
This lets you see if you want to adjust your era a bit, or a
20.) A history of the country you are setting
in, that era.
A large encyclopedia article may do (Wikipedia).
You want to see with what general society and what historical
events your characters have grown up with. That means that you
want a book that covers up to your era, not from your
era forward. That is, if your setting is Spain in 1810, you are
helped more by a book about 1760 up to the Napoleonic invasion,
than by one on the entire 19th century in Spain.
21.) A biography of the leader of the country
of your setting.
This will often give you the celebrity gossip of the day. If
you are not going to court or sitting in the government, a bio
of a social leader will do nicely to tell you more what people
aspire to be.
These categories were picked on the idea that
you might be doing Italy in 1825, when England and Russia were
the powers in Europe. If, on the other wing, you're setting your
story in country A or B, say, Napoleonic France or Britain, you
can get away with fewer histories. Instead, you will need to
look more into how the position of primacy (which often involves
wars) affects the characters in these areas in matters like military
recruitment, taxes, political involvements, and so on.
Of course, there may not be a whole book in
English available on, say, particular rulers of Spain, Sardinia,
the Byzantine Empire, the Gupta Empire, and so on. These are
only guidelines, and we have to fake through the best we can.
Most of you will be writing protagonists with the usual British
Isles, Australian, and North American backgrounds, with perhaps
a European setting now and then. Anything else -- I feel your
research pain, because I've been there. For more tribal societies,
you will want to simply hunt more books by different authors
giving you a broader view of them, and different details.
The reason for this big chunk of history is
that I have read far too many would-be historical novels where
the writer seemed to think that the Three Musketeers went away
to fight the Crusades, Richard the Lionheart fought Napoleon,
WW2 happened in the 1960s, and that sort of gross error.
Of course, the people who need this most will
be the most certain they don't.
I recommend it for everyone just to get your
temporal ducks in a row -- you could be off a year on that war,
or when a prime minister was or wasn't in power -- and to let
history hand you part of your plot. I could have chanted you
the whole list of Crusades to Outre-mer, but if I hadn't re-read
Runciman I wouldn't have known about the time the prisoners being
held for ransom took over the castle where they were imprisoned.
Now that's a plot!
22.) An everyday life for the commoner/lower
classes of your time and place.
This may be peasants, serfs, slaves,
factory workers, midwives, labourers, robbers, pickpockets, actors,
whores, surgeons, and the rest of the masses that are assumed
to be a bit dirty or worse, whether they are respectable or dissolute.
Look for the word "underworld," like the books The
Regency Underworld or The
23.) An everyday life for the upper classes
of your time and place.
This may be kings, nobles, voting
citizens, politicians, robber barons, plutocrats, socialites,
tyrants, dictators, archbishops, and the rest of the folks who
run things. Don't forget their hangers-on, like courtesans, court
painters, and fashion designers.
24.) An everyday life for the middle class
of your time and place.
This is usually merchants, craftsmen
& artists, scientists & inventors, bankers and investors,
guild members, physicians, scholars, and the rest of the people
who have to show up for work but are assumed to know how to be
civilized. Some cultures don't have a middle class, like most
invading barbarian hordes. Most Everyday Life books focus here,
London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London by Liza
Picard (2005, St. Martin's Griffin).
25.) An everyday life for women of your
time and place, because the other
books are often too busy talking about the men being scribes,
warriors, and farmers, to tell you what their mothers, sisters,
wives, and daughters do from day to day.
Unless you are setting your story in English-settled
countries, you will have a harder time finding this in English.
At this point, you may have to quit being afraid of university
libraries. There are hardly any subjects in historical anthropology
that have not been somewhat addressed in master's and doctoral
theses. Some of these are written very poorly in thick jargon
("neonates" instead of "newborns," say) and
ridiculously torturous sentences, by academics who think that
is how you show off that you have done your classes. Others are
much better written. Pull one out, start at the beginning, and
give it a shot. Not being able to understand what is written,
if you have done these introductory books, says more about the
writer than about you.
As you can see, getting a full idea of any
of these four classes will probably take more than one book.
These give you enough to decide which classes you want to show,
and their bibliographies will give you some books for the last
twenty of the fifty.
26.) An auto/biography of someone like
your protagonist, or a book as much as possible focused on people
For example, many translated diaries of people from the Middle
Ages forward have been published. If you think there isn't one,
look harder. There were women who left their husbands and families
to travel halfway across the world on their own to suit their
inner cravings, and they left their records. But, yes, sometimes
you have to do without.
27.) A book on houses and furnishings of
the period, if possible.
Is there glass in the windows? If so, how do they open? If not,
what keeps the rain out? Can your sleepy character find a long
upholstered couch if it can't get to a bed, or is it a choice
between a wooden bench or the floor? Illustrated
History of Furniture from the Earliest to the Present Time
by Frederick Litchfield (1903; London: Truslove &
Hanson Limited; New York:; illustrated by John Lane 1892-1903)
will get you through a lot of the basics for free.
28.) A book about courting, romance, and
sex of the time.
Will someone write this series, please, for most periods? This
may or may not be partly covered in the etiquette books, and
often you can only reconstruct it by reading the love poems or
novels of the time. You may have to take books that bracket your
time by a fair piece and reconstruct from that. However, I notice
that an 1890 book on courting has a list of rules that "strongly
echo" the old courtly rules of love from the 1200s. If you
remember that 21st century sexual mores only date from the 1970s,
except as a minority that gets smaller the farther back and higher
in class you go, you find that you can guesstimate real behavior
based on other reading.
29.) A book for naming historical characters
Baby name books are so wrong for anyone
not born around the date they were published. They are all modern
names, including that what were male and female names may have
changed. Most online sources are as bad or worse, the exception
being for the period 300-1600 CE, that the Academy
of Saint Gabriel covers with academic rigor for members of
the Society for Creative Anachronism naming their personas. Otherwise,
I can't help but always suggest People's
Names: A Cross-Cultural Reference Guide to the Proper Use of
over 40,000 Personal and Familial Names in over 100 Cultures,
1997, McFarland.: I originally collected it for histfi writers.
At present, the McFarland edition is OOP and 2nd hand is starting
near $200 (I am so proud), so look for it at the library until
I come out with the revised edition as an easily-searchable ebook,
30.) Medicine of the time and place.
Someone is bound to get ill or injured, on stage or off, in the
characters' past if not in the story. You need to know who were
doctors, how people thought about health and medicine, and that
those stereotypical herbalist heroines of histrom couldn't do
all that much, really. For general use, try the freebie, A
History of Medicine, 1945 Thomas Nelson &
Sons Ltd;. London, Edinburgh, Paris, Melbourne, New York; it
covers around 500 BC to 1940 CE. There's a nice history of the
of bone fractures up to the 1500s from 1936: it includes
information on the Winnebago and Dakota tribes, along with the
31.) Climate, weather, and seasons.
By this time you should know where and when you're working. It's
not that we presently have climate change that makes the current
weather and seasons very different from those in the past. It's
that we have always had climate change, so that you need
to look up both articles on historical climate by climatologists
and books by people of the time talking about weather. As an
example, the Los Angeles weather of the present is not entirely
that of my years there, but both are very different than the
weather of the 1930s, when it rarely got into the 90s (F), instead
of getting above 110° every year.
However, Richard Henry Dana (Two Years before the Mast)
describes seasonal storms rolling into Los Angeles that in
his lifetime ceased to come any more. The Renaissance into
the early 20th century, or perhaps the late 19th century, is
called The Little Ice Age because it was so cold in Europe and
North America. Not just the Thames would freeze over solid enough
to drive beer wagons across: the Seine at Paris would, in the
late 1600s. The Middle Ages were warmer than this. If you are
going ancient, you need to check the data on the deforestation
and soil loss in Greece or Gaul, and the salinization of Mesopotamia.
This changes what food is available, what the country looks like,
and even where a character can lose pursuers. This may be one
book on climate history that most of you can use for many periods:
Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850
by Brian M. Fagan (2001, Basic Books) as it covers what are often
considered the most popular centuries for histfi, 900-1900.
well, it's not necessarily a book, but you need period maps
by this time (you might be lucky and find an atlas from the time
if it's after 1600). You can't use the modern Parisian boulevards
in the First Empire, let alone the Middle Ages. Some maps you
will find over and over, like the changes over time of the Holy
Roman Empire or the Roman Empire, and some you will find as illustrations
in books on a specialty subject, like medieval trade routes or
divisions of Japan in 1500. I recommend copying or scanning them
to print, to put in your research notebook. This being the 21st
century, I actually keep 90% of my notes on the computer, so
they're handy wherever I'm writing, so make sure you can really
zoom in on the maps. Scans below 300 dpi may have severe problems
in keeping data, as opposed to just being decorative on a website.
400 dpi is better.
A good historical atlas for free is Historical
Atlas by William R. Shepherd, New York, Henry Holt
and Company, 1923.
The Cultural Atlas of the World series
is usually very good to excellent with providing various maps
of an area down the centuries. A great source of old and historical
maps is the Perry-Castañeda
Library Map Collection at the University of Texas. Oddin's
map links are more chaotic, but huge.
The Library of Congress map collection is
flawed by being available only as JP3, which are incompatible
or unknown to many programs. This is an improvement on when they
only had them in Lizard format. LoC, will you please contact
reality? (Note: the format choices of the French equivalent are
Some things you might often want to check:
- Violence: not
only warfare, but personal combat or martial arts. Please do
not assume that last is only modern or Asian. Late medieval fechtbuchs
(fight-books) survive, and there are now a large number of people
recovering or re-creating European martial arts techniques from
the literature. Which means there are even more who read about
it, and you will get disdained for having a character lunge with
a rapier in 1590 (rapier, yes; lunge, no) or having a rapier
or fencing at all in 1350.
- Music: Of course
you need the songs of the time, from the courtly to the drunks-at-the-tavern
stuff. You can get recorded Western music about as far back as
you can think, though it's spotty before Gregorian chants: Sumerian;
Bronze Age Irish/Celtic horns; proto-Germanic lurs; pagan Classical
Greek hymns. You can read about the rest.
- Dances: This
overlaps music and etiquette, because sometimes the only etiquette
books we have are the sections relating to the dance. We have
dance books of Europe and America at American
Memory back to 1581, and their essays link to some vids.
Elsewhen, you can read about historical dance. I am weary of
writers who assume all pre-rock dancing is like fox-trot and
waltz and stuff, and have their white-wigged or medieval hero
holding the heroine tightly in his arms when they ought to be
doing a minuet or pavanne where they barely hold fingertips and
can't possibly carry on a really private conversation.
Stone-Age hunters had a hunting economy: it isn't necessarily
about money. What you want to understand for your era/area is
how characters get the things they need or want. The high Middle
Ages were exceedingly not a time of great self-sufficiency: trade
was heavy, and you need to understand that while women everywhere
spin, very few weave or dye: that's Guild secrets applied to
the yarn and thread they buy from the women. An occasional woman
might have a room-sized loom to weave 14"-wide plain linen.
On the other hand, a remote keep in the early Middle Ages may
see a trader ship or caravan once a year, and if they can't make
it, they don't have it. At different periods, very civilized
people may never have seen silk or cotton cloth, and you can't
mortgage a house, only sell it.
- Farming and food sources. Really, you don't want your characters riding through
the standing corn in March in France. In early periods, some
foods simply aren't available at certain seasons, no matter what,
because they can't be brought from the other hemisphere and they
don't grow them in greenhouses. Also, if your characters are
outside the cities, they're usually in farmland at that point.
Equally, a crop may not be grown anywhere in the area: raspberries
were not domesticated until the later 1800s.
- Travel by water.
Don't ask me why everyone forgets that until the late 1700s (and
the mid 1800s in a lot of places), travel was usually by river
and canal inland. There's a reason they built canals instead
of roads. I think writers have a reluctance to get into what
looks like a complicated business of terminology, but if your
characters are just passengers, they'll talk about the front
and back of the boat, and its sides, however much this amuses
or disgusts the ship's crew. (I have a
whole page of book suggestions on boats and ships powered by
muscle or wind.)
- Posts and other communication. You could get a private letter carried in official
bags for the right bribe in the Byzantine Empire, but how do
you get a letter to Rome when you're in Roman Egypt? Most societies
didn't have a postal system. At what point may your characters
have phones to use (things with cords and wires, OMG), or telegraphs?
Don't assume: check. Telegraph wires may not have reached that
area, even if the thing has been invented and set up in major
- Treatment of minorities or oppressed majorities: There's a reason we're still fighting for civil
rights for various groups. Don't forget: heretics in the Byzantine
or Holy Roman Empire were putting their consciences ahead of
their lives. You may find Jews are not allowed to live in certain
areas for centuries at a time, or only under great debility,
and with no protection of the law. Cross-dressing is a crime
in certain times and places, as is "indecent dress,"
so, no, your London Victorian heroine is not going to go to town
in trousers or a corset worn outside unless she's courting jail
time. France is different: the Catholic Church always allowed
women to wear men's clothes if their work made women's clothes
dangerous or indecent, so a Second Empire painteress could wear
a suit and top hat to the horse markets to sketch -- but not
necessarily in the Bois de Boulogne just for the fun and shock
of it. And so on.
The remaining specialty books will depend
on where and when you are, and what you want to cover. One can
no longer assume that a novel isn't going to be set in Asia or
Africa, which means very little connection to the rest of the
world until the last few centuries.
If you decide you want falconry as an activity,
that will probably take a book on the natural history of falcons
and one on falconry today, and hunting up a book on falconry
then, if it can be found. You may have to settle for Victorian
Many topics will expand for you. You have
read the introductory books, and now you want a deeper understanding
of the areas most relevant to your story, so you need a more
advanced or detailed book. As examples I can give you those I
compiled for some of my own projects, or that I got from some
friends. In some topics I jump in deeper at the start because
of, say, my familiarity with historical costume because of my
decades as a costumer or my huge collection (and use) of historical
cookbooks. If I know I'm going to the Victorian period, I can
start with Victorian reference I have in the house. I don't have
to look up whether or not I want the Victorian era, only which
part. You may not have to check anything but maker names on period
firearms, or you already know the exact terrain of pre-Columbian
trade trails, or whatever your particular background is. (Still,
notice that some bibliographies I collected only to find out
I did want a different decade.)
After collecting for many years with an historian
husband, I have a better history library than some small towns
or branch libraries, which tend to specialize in how-to, self-help,
best-selling novels, and celebrity biography (like the one a
few blocks away from me that I have been in exactly once, it
was so thin on what I consider useful). However, any library
may have gems you'll never see elsewhere. I found a few great
things in the 20 x 30 library at the USCG's Yorktown ResTraCen.
A branch library only thrice that size at the closest high school
was two-thirds YA, but had a book, Regency Boximania,
I've never found since, as well as a subscription to British
History Illustrated. If some of mine seem peculiar or old,
it's just that those were the ones I bought, and one rarely replaces
something that still nicely covers what later books rehash. I
need that money for books on areas I haven't got covered! So
you see me listing Boucher as my general costume reference because,
with that, I don't need to buy Davenport or most others. Boucher
covers the very ancient and the Near Eastern, as well as the
Classical, when most others only start at 1066 and never move
east of the Rhine. After Boucher, I'm looking for a specific
time and place.
If you need your basics on watercraft, try
A Little List for Lubbers
that I put together for a specfi writing group. I have also built
a guide to pages for those of you sharp enough to realize that
worlds that are steampunk, dieselpunk, medivalesque,
&c start best with some historical background, if only
to understand how horses, let alone steam engines, work.
The rise of the Internet "libraries"
of public-domain books has been marvelous. The original is Project Gutenberg where
everything is proofed and formatted and proofed again so you
can really read it. This is the very best source. They generally
have all the popular formats, including ePub and Kindle/Mobi.
Automatic text from PDFs is often garbage,
sometimes for pages, so pick up the PDFs themselves if you can
at the Internet Archive
(home of the Wayback Machine, too). They do coordinate from many
sources, like PG and the Library of Congress. Not all books are
in all formats. Some are only in Deja Vu, which I have not found
anyone to be able to run on any machine or ops system.
GoogleBooks mixes free books with pay-for versions of the same
public domain text. Look only for those that are "full view"
to stick to the freebies. On the other hand, some of the ebooks
and tree books here are excellent new research, and you should
check them out to see if they are worth the cost.
If you have an ebook reader, check your usual
store. I'm on Kindle, and Amazon.com is slowly posting a great
deal from PG. This means if you download their (free) version,
it will be in your archive for later reference even if you take
it off your Kindle. I have no idea how the others work.
As the last person in the original
group with a surviving interest, I am now hosting Historical
Novelist's Center, whose unsorted lists may give you
specialty books you need. I will add and update links as I can.
Are you researching for "historicalized"
fantasy or science fiction? You know, steampunk, dieselpunk,
medievalesque. Here's an index for you.
copyright Holly Ingraham
Be warned: the ebook formats of old books on all services except
those deriving from Project Gutenberg are more or less hash because
they're based on the robot-text OCR version without any proof-reading.