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.
Search tip: Do a keyword search; for example, Berlin Wall
Limit to publications from a certain period
Look at different material types
Where to find them
Library catalog and suggested databases (scroll down for lists of databases).
Look for clothes, jewelry, transportation, architecture, etc.in paintings, photographs, documentaries, etc.
Where to find them
Search tip: To find images in the library catalog use the following keywords:
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
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)
"...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/
See also “Find personal accounts” and “Look at books/media created at the time of your story.”
Check dates, facts, etc.
Wikipedia is great for this! Libraries have even more resources.
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.
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.
"Helpful Research Sources for Historical Fiction Writers." Write to Done.
"How to Do Historical Research for a Novel by Claudia Merrill.
"How to effectively research historical fiction" by Kat Clay.
"Historical Fiction: 7 Elements of Research" by M.K. Todd. Now Novel blog.
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