Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Primary Sources

Primary sources, I feel, are a writer's best friend, especially a historical writer.
   I collect Victorian diaries and journals, written mainly by women who have arrived in Australia after leaving England, but also by women born in colonial Australia. These diaries give me an insight to how they lived and what was happening in the world around them at that time. From their personal entries, we can learn what was important to them, their daily routine, their views and opinions. They can also lift some of those myths we in the modern world tend to think as true.
   Diaries aren't the only primary source available to us. We have so many musuems and art galleries. I love studying paintings of the different eras and visting museums that have wonderful displays of every era.
We should be visiting our local or state libraries for books, letters, newspapers and articles written in the eras we write. Naturally this is difficult for those writing in the ancient periods, but those of us who write about the last few hundred years have sources available and we need to use them.
   If you are writing about the area where you live, join your local historical society, where as a member, you can study maps, paintings and photos are that district. Also the local councils will have documents and maps going back years.
   It is not always possible to visit your chosen setting, but if you can visit, make sure you don't simply go to the main attractions, like a castle, etc, but find the time to visit the graveyard of the local church, sit in a pew and study the stain glass windows, lay by the river and absorb the surroundings, listen to the birds sing, the insect buzz and imagine what it would be like in your period. Walk the back streets of the village or town, find the oldest parts and touch the walls of the buildings and think of nothing but how your characters would have lived. Would their footsteps have walked where yours have?

The photo is taken from a sketch done of Lower George St, Sydney, Australia 1828. Sketches and paintings like these give us the artist's view of those times and from studying it we can see a little of what life was like then.
I found this photo in a book, but the internet has many websites with great antique photos and paintings, some even for sale.

If you write in the Victorian or Edwardian era, you may even have photos of your own family and this is another source you have to look at their clothes, etc.

   I find it fascinating that we have so many choices to help us become better writers. I guess that is why research is never a chore for me. :o)


Susan Higginbotham said...

There are certainly all sorts of resources out there for the enterprising. Enjoyed the post!

Maggi Andersen said...

Diaries would be a great way to add authenticity to your work and understand the era in which you're writing. I really need to go to England and visit castles and mansions! Such a difficult job, lol.

Dee Julian said...

I admire you, Anne. For me, research is one step above the dreaded synopsis, but both are necessary. I think I get lost in the details. Now if researching my next historical meant time travel, sign me up. I would love parading around as the lady of the castle for a few months. Without the hardships, of course. Thank God for the internet! At least I can get a good idea of what I'm missing.

Liz Fichera said...

I'm with you: Research is half the fun! It's especially intriguing when you uncover something you never expected to find.

Deborah Swift said...

What a great post. Yes, you can't beat handling the artefacts of the past, or the feel of the hand-woven fabric, or the actual language of the period written in real ink!