Great Historical Research Resource

Writers of historical romance are constantly on the lookout for sources that give a glimpse into the details of daily life of times past. Visiting a museum is a great resource, but if you’re like me and live about as far away from any museum of note as is physically possible, that’s not a viable option. Blogs are also a good resource, but the odds of the  blogger writing about exactly what I need to know are pretty low.

So far, the most helpful resource for me has been biographies, and I’ve become quite the fan of Harlow Giles Unger who has an excellent series on the founding fathers. Even if the biographies are written about men and from the male perspective, they give glimpses into daily life that can be useful when creating fiction that draws the reader into 18th century America. More than once, reading these biographies has given me interesting ideas for plot twists as well.

However, my most useful resource going forward is likely to be the book I picked up this morning – If Walls Could Talk by Lucy Worsley. This book focuses on the history of the home and answers such questions as:

-        How often did people bath throughout history?

-        What did they use before toilet paper?

-        How did our progenitors get anything done when they drank all the time?

If you’re like me, you just have to know this kind of stuff, even if you might not have your hero or heroine reaching for a ripped up piece of newspaper after they use the privy. (Or a corn cob, heaven forbid, as has been suggested by other sources!)

Ms Worsley’s short, concise chapters read much like a series of blog posts, entertaining and easy to digest. I just wish they dug a bit deeper. For example, contraception, from the time of Henry VIII to the Victorian age, is covered in four short (but entertaining) pages. Still, it’s enough to give clues to what my characters might have thought or experienced in their age.

The history is focused almost exclusively on the history of the British Isles. Lucy Worsley is chief curator of the Historic Royal Palaces, so that’s not a complaint against her focus, it’s just that as a writer of American historical romances I have to extrapolate a bit.

Some of my fellow amateur historians have suggested that Americans in the 18th century were nothing more than displaced Englishman so the customs would have followed them to the new world. That’s not always true as there was a strong influence from the Dutch, French, German and other cultures as well as the English. Plus, as the Revolution drew near and boycotts of British goods became the norm, I suspect many Americans developed customs that were purposefully un-British.


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