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Research for Writing Historical Fiction

This guide is primarily developed in support of the course ENGL 3025: Writing Historical Fiction.

About this guide

This guide is primarily developed in support of the course ENGL 3025: Writing Historical Fiction. It outlines elements of research and provides links to resources and research tips.

While many suggested resources are available online, please note that research for historical fiction may require using print resources, visiting libraries and archives, and conducting personal interviews and research consultations.

Pre-research the Period and Location

  1. Identify the location and year(s) of your piece setting.
  2. Look at a variety of resources to immerse yourself in a period/event.

Search Summon

Search tip: Do a keyword search; for example, Berlin Wall

Limit to publications from a certain period

Look at different material types

Search the Library Catalog

Search tips

Create a Convincing Picture

Find personal accounts

Where to find them

Library catalog and suggested databases (scroll down for lists of databases).

Search tips

  • Use the following keywords to find personal accounts:
    • Interview*
    • Diar*
    • Memoir*
    • Narrative*
    • Correspondence
    • Letters
    • Reminiscences
    • Travel
  • For more results click the OhioLINK button on the results screen

Study details of the period

Look for clothes, jewelry, transportation, architecture, etc.in paintings, photographs, documentaries, etc.

Where to find them

  • Library catalog

Search tip: To find images in the library catalog use the following keywords:

  • Pictorial works

  • Documentary photography

  • Digital collections of museums

Look at books/periodicals/media

created at the time of your story.

Where to find books

Tip: In Project Gutenberg explore bookshelves, e.g., US Civil War)

Where to find newspapers

Study historical maps

See "Digital Maps" in the Geography & Environmental Science Resource Guide. May of the maps listed there are historical.

Old Maps Online (multiple countries)

Some databases for researching specific periods include maps (click on the Information button for descriptions)

Research language

"...certain aspects of language can detract from the seeming authenticity of the characters’ words, and these include both archaic or “difficult” language, and anachronistic language or ideas, both of which, in their different ways, can throw the reader out of the illusion the novelist is trying to convey. "
"Ancient or modern? Language in historical fiction" by Carolyn Hughes/

Helpful resources

See also “Find personal accounts” and “Look at books/media created at the time of your story.”

Verify information

Check dates, facts, etc.

Wikipedia is great for this! Libraries have even more resources.

Databases for Finding Details of the Period

Databases for Researching Specific Periods

Primary Texts by Period

The Library provides networked access to many more full-text, primary source databases than can be listed here. Others may be located through the Library Catalog and Databases, which contains an alphabetical list of online resources related to Language and Literature.

All Periods/Long Full-Text Coverage

Middle English

Early Modern

19th Century

Modern and Contemporary

Historical Newspaper Databases

Study Secondary Sources

Secondary sources include non-fiction accounts, biographies, academic papers, interviews with historians and experts.

Follow academic discourse related to your historical period or event for different angles, recent findings, and bibliographies.

Secondary sources will also help you identify social issues of the period.

Suggested databases

Document Your Sources

Who wrote this guide

University of Cincinnati Libraries

PO Box 210033 Cincinnati, Ohio 45221-0033

Phone: 513-556-1424

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