Favorite On-line Research Sites

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

Hello again!

I bet everybody can help me out here. Let’s list some of our favorite online information sites. I’m picking these straight out of my favorites folder, so they won’t be in any order. At all.

Disclaimer: Like any source of information, the reader has to decide its correctness and suitability. I’ve had very good results from these sources, other than picking a small bone with the folks at the Georgian Index.

18th Century wine trade in France.

Regency lexicon; dictionary and thesaurus

Great background on the Great North Road, needed information for those trips to Gretna Green.
I’ve corresponded with the owner, and he’s been very helpful.

Bio of the Duke of Wellington

Titles and ranks for British nobility. I know, I recommended a book for titles; this works, too.

Concise history of the British newspaper, beginning in 1700.
Comes in very handy.
Current value of old money. Links to many sites with various types of financial information.

another gateway site to different aspects of 18th Century history

Information about corsets & 18th Century costumes. The illustrations, photos of authentic clothing, alone are worth a visit.

terms in fencing; a must-have for the duels in Desperate Duchesses

This was mentioned on Eloisa’s bb; shows the counties of Britain as they would have been, up to the 1970s. another fab gateway site.

I know. This isn’t the front door of the Georgian Index, but it’s the page I always end up at: I need to find a furniture-maker’s shop; I need a fancy address. I need this page of the Georgian Index. You can get there from here.

The Naval Re-enactors. Everything to do with the mighty British Navy, late 18th Century to early 19th. They’ve been very helpful with questions, too.

In case you need to find something for Georgian scientists to chat about.

Used much in the Essex Sisters. You enter any name you’ve selected for a horse, and it will tell you of any horse with that actual name, and its ancestry.

good for searching word and phrase origins, if you don’t have access to the OED.

You need to maneuver around a bit in this, but has great information about the regiments that conquered and made a mighty emperor. They much prefer you find the information yourself, rather than asking questions.

on-line version of Horwood’s famous 1800 map of London; extraordinary detail.

Information and maps of the famous Vauxhall Gardens.

Okay. List YOUR most useful sites here.
Thanks for your generosity in sharing such precious information.
I’m eager to see what you come up with.

Six Favorite Reference Books

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

Okay. Here’s the start of my bibliography. I’m not saying you need to buy these books, or even use them. I’m saying I’ve found them helpful. I always like to work with a book before buying it, unless it’s something so specialized, like Jane Austen’s Christmas that I knew it would be my best choice. My rule of thumb is that if I’ve had to get it from the library twice, I can buy it. I use my own library, and the local university library. I can get interlibrary loan books usually free from my library, and I use that to examine possibilities. I’ve always used abebooks.com for my purchases. I’ve never had any problem with them. So again, I’m not saying you should shop there, just that I use that website. I also make it up to the legendary used bookstore Powell’s in Portland a couple times a year, and check out what they have. (Sorry to be so insistent. We can’t advocate any commercial enterprise at the library, so I have to be clear that I’m just saying what works for me.) And I didn’t own any of these books when I started, and I still managed to find information. Unfortunately, a furniture shuffle in the house has placed a very large bookcase in my study. I feel strangely compelled to fill it. Completely.

But I don’t want anyone not writing because of research issues or a too-small personal library. okay?

I already sang the praises of the Oxford English Dictionary, and mentioned Paterson’s Roads, and Parissien’s Regency Style. I won’t go there again.

Cunnington, C. Willett and Phillis. Handbook of English Costume in the Eighteenth Century. Boston: Plays, Inc. 1973. These authors have turned out a fabulous series of costume books, by the century. Eloisa refers to this one in her romancenovel.tv piece in which she discusses deciding on a character’s costume. (I take credit for introducing her to the book.) I also have the authors’ book on the History of Underclothes, which is fascinating, but possibly the worst-illustrated book I’ve ever seen. I’ve found everything I’ve needed to know about all aspects of 18th Century costumes in this one volume.

Glover, Michael. The Peninsular War 1807-1814. Hamden: Archon Books, 1974 An epic, fascinating, account of the Napoleonic wars that England fought in Portugal, Spain, and Southern France. (Waterloo isn’t included, but the author has another, smaller book, on all of Napoleon’s military campaigns.) What I find especially useful is an Appendix that lists the dates of arrival and departure of every British regiment that was posted to the war, and the battles they fought in. This is great if you want to track the motions of a particular soldier, or if you need to find a battle that fits a particular wodge of time.

Murray, Venetia. An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England. New York: Penguin Books, 2000. This is one to read all the way through. This isn’t just a reference book, but a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the peculiar wildness of Regency society. The descriptions of the clubs, the spas, the individuals, the high-jinks will prove useful information, and help enliven any book set in Regency London.

Picard, Liza. Dr. Johnson’s London. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001. This is a great social compendium of everything that was going on in London in the late 18th Century. Need to know what hospitals were in London at the time? It’s here. Or how streets were cleaned (or not cleaned) or who cleaned the cooking kettles, and by what method. This provides fascinating and useful information about all aspects of life in London.

Titles and Forms of Address, Thirteenth Edition. London: Adam & Charles Black, n.d. It’s all here, everything you need to know about referencing and addressing everyone from the Queen, to Mayors when Ladies to Irish Chieftans.

Weinreb, Ben and Hibbert, Christopher, (eds.) The London Encyclopedia. Bethedsa: Adler & Adler, 1986. This is a huge and good companion piece to the Picard book, as it covers a much large time span, but you have to know what you’re looking for, though the almost impossible-to-read index provides some direction. You could find a reference in Picard or another source, and then see what happened to the reference before and after Dr. Johnson’s time in here. It’s the sort of book you dip into, and continually find new interesting things to read about, while hours pass, unnoticed. It also makes you long to visit London, and see these places for yourself.

Okay. There’s a start. At some point, I hope you’ll begin to share your favorite print resources, which need not just be British, or Regency. This would be as good a time as any. I’ll do another listing later in the week.

Oxford English Dictionary

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

If I had to pick just one resource for the work I do, it might just have to be the Oxford English Dictionary. I bought it on cd when I was first starting in the business, and I have it up on my computer, and running, every time I’m working on questions or a manuscript. I use it that much.

The OED is also in print form, multiple volumes (18 volumes?) and a two-volume compact edition, and I have neither the space, nor the eyesight to manage those. It’s also available online, by subscription (this version is updated regularly,) or perhaps offered as a data base by a library or university system.

I know the reviews for it on Amazon.com are not universally adulatory. I’ve never had any problem with running it on the computer, and verifying the application every three months or so is just not that onerous. And I know it’s not perfect—there are mistakes and omissions. Sometimes Eloisa James will know a word that has been used by Shakespeare, but it’s given an 18th Century date by the OED. But if the date in the OED will suit your needs, you can rest assured that your information is valid.

And the subtleties in it are excellent. For instance, in looking up “nuclear,” the original citations, dating from 1846, indicate just scientific usages in cell formation. But by 1912, the usage has expanded to meaning “central” or “cardinal” in issues of phonics and linguistics. I’ve found many such terms, in which a specific scientific usage gradually expands to a general vocabulary, and you have to decide when your character would have learned the term.

It’s also very useful as a dictionary of slang and idiom. “Last resort” meaning a final attempt, is 1950, but “last gasp,” meaning almost the same thing, is first cited in 1921. It also provides geographic origin, and you would do well to avoid anything labeled “American slang” in your Regency-set novel.

As a caveat, because the spelling is British, with “theatre” rather than “theater” and so on, you will still need an American dictionary, online or in print, to verify the actual spelling of a word. Rather ironic. (1630, per OED.)

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.

Questions I get asked to research

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

Hello again!
The questions most asked fall into the two varieties you mentioned.
There’s overall thematic questions–for Eloisa James’s Essex series, I did a lot of research about horse racing and horse breeding in Regency England. For Desperate Duchesses, I spent some serious time finding out about Chess in Georgian England. I write up short essays, summarizing the most useful information, and submit these to the author.

Then there’s specific questions, and these are perhaps my favorites. They (these are all hypothetical) range from “How much plumbing would a fancy bathroom have?” to “What are the politicians talking about over their port?” to “I need two neighboring churches in a medium-small town in Devon. Where were they, and what are their names?” to “Tell me some names of the debtors prisons in London.” These I respond to on a need-to-know basis.

I’ll talk about my favorite sources during the week.