Historical Research

My name is Gigi, and I’m a history-aholic.

I’m addicted to history in all its forms – museums, fiction, battlefields, manuscripts, reenactment, film, ruins, monuments, old photographs.  And I don’t discriminate–any era any place from Antiquity to World War II.

My approach to historical research
Although I have a Ph.D. in history, I feel incredibly ignorant. (For more, see What exactly is a Doctorate? Funny and not so far off the mark.) You know what they say, “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” I spend inordinate amounts of time researching– searching out and reading the most recent historical scholarship as well as memoirs, diaries, letters, and other sources written at the time. And I like it. It’s fun. Without it, I’d be bored.

And, yes, I know there’s a lot of information on the web, and some of it’s amazing (particularly primary sources, photographs, maps, and images), but you can’t rely on it. It’s not enough. Much of it is pretty amateurish–superficial and sometimes downright wrong. Even google books is no substitute for a big research library with millions of books and a consultation with a good reference librarian.

When I write fiction, I try to get my history right, but that said, I love this recent insightful article from Guardian Books, “The Lying Art of Historical Fiction.”

Tools I use for research
I find sources using library catalogs and subscription databases. To manage the information I find, I used to use a combination of old fashioned file cabinets,  folders, and photocopies. A couple of years ago I went digital and now I use software– Zotero, Evernote, delicious, Dropbox, etc.  I’m always experimenting.

My favorite historians and their work

Actually too many to name. But some of titles which come to mind:

From memory to written record, England 1066-1307 by M.T. Clanchy; Montaillou, the promised land of error by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie; A fool and his money: life in a partitioned town in fourteenth-century France by Ann Wroe; The cheese and the worms: the cosmos of a sixteenth-century miller by Carlo Ginzburg; Religion and the decline of magic by Keith Thomas; The return of Martin Guerre by Natalie Zemon Davis; Giovanni and Lusanna:  love and marriage in Renaissance Florence by Gene Brucker, The Armada by Garrett Mattingly, Muscovy and the Mongols: cross-cultural influences on the steppe frontier, 1304-1589 by Donald Ostrowski.

Selected sources for my own fiction

Sources for Medieval Russia used for my novel A Disobedient Death

Sources for Adirondacks and Native Americans used for my short stories “War path” and “Wampum”

Sources for the Great Depression used for my short stories “Forgotten Man,”  “One for the Road,” and “Maddie in the Middle”

Sources for Eighteenth Century Paris used for my short story “The Maidservant’s Letter”

Sources for Twelfth Century France used for my short story “Purse Strings”

Sources for Vikings in France used for my short story “Grave Doubts”