Virtual Research Assignment

(These were initially posted on Romancenovel.tv in Summer 2007.  I’m reposting them here, as they are no longer available there.)

One of the things I really loved about the much-missed Squawk Radio is the way Eloisa James, the inveterate professor, would always manage to include an assignment in her post, and everyone would have a little work to do in their response.

So let’s try an assignment here, and see if it can help develop research techniques. Here’s the situation: your Regency-set (let’s say 1812) novel has a lovely estate, and the entire park and landscape around the mansion has been recently renovated and replanted by one of the foremost landscape architects active in England at the time. Maybe the ubër-gardener would be a minor character in the book, so you need to find out more about him (we will assume his gender, for simplicity’s sake) and what kind of plants and trees he favored, etc.

I would start in Google, plugging in various combinations of words such as: landscape architect Regency England gardener foremost, etc… I know it was officially “Britain,” not just England, but I think a response would be better from using England. I would try using quotation marks judiciously, to narrow the search, hence “landscape architect” and “Regency England,” to help weed out building architects, and the forty-eleven (as my mother would say) hotels that have the word “Regency” in their name. Come up with a few names? I did this last night, and spotted a possible name right away.

Then, take your name(s) to Wikipedia, and see what comes up. I just love Wikipedia, and have found most of the information in there spot-on. I certainly wouldn’t use it for contemporary politics, or controversial matters, but it was certainly the first place I looked for information about obscure German principalities in the early 19th Century, or the Huguenots in England. Most of the articles were written by people passionately interested in the topic, and I usually verify at least some of it in print sources before I consider the entire article reliable. Is this helping? Are you getting corroboration for your name, or able to rule some others out?

Then, give Google Books a try,
and see what comes from there. It can be frustrating, as the most promising source may not allow you to read much, but it’s always worth a try.

Then, since you actually need a physical book about the gardener, try a university library. I use the Knight Library at the University of Oregon, partly because I have borrowing privileges there, and also because I have a friend, a marvelous librarian, who is also an Eloisa fan, and always willing to help.
Or use your local library, public or university’s catalog on the web.

Have you come up with a book? Are you ready to start actually reading about the gardener?

Walk through the steps, and see how far you get, and report back about problems and/or triumphs, and certainly the name & book you settled on. It’ll be interesting to see what everyone comes up with. And I’ll address questions or comments later today.

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