Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Guest-blogger Sanda Gulland's 5 Top Research Sites for Historical Novelists

I met today's guest-blogger, historical novelist Sandra Gulland at last February's San Miguel Writers Conference. She's a dynamo--- not only a fun conversationalist and fellow Mexico aficionada, but she's admirably prolific (a new novel plus the Josephine Triology) and--- this is also close to my heart--- keen on the whole Web 2.0 thing for books. ("Thing?" you say... well, I'm still trying to figure it all out, never mind the vocabulary.) Check out her website,, read her latest newsletter, go ahead and sign up for it here, and check out her blog. Apart from all of that, be sure to check out her latest novel, based on the true story, Mistress of the Sun. It's forthcoming June 3rd in the US; already it's been a best-selling novel for many weeks in Canada. Over to you, Sandra.

As a writer of historical novels, I increasingly rely on the Net for both research and inspiration. Here are five outstanding historical sites:

#1. The Medici Archive Project, Document Highlights
This is a site I go to for inspiration, to refresh my delight in all things historical. As the workers who toil in this dusty realm of historical documents put it, every now and then a document comes along that casts a spotlight into that far-away realm and demands to be shared. From this site I’ve read the historical accounts of a rain of frogs, disemboweling kisses, and the sexual crimes committed under cover of the rite of the Tenebrae-— or "The Darkness"-— during Holy Week.

#2. The Diary of Samuel Pepys
I enjoy reading Pepys delightful diary on almost a daily basis. It gives me the feeling of life in the 17th century. The annotations are informative and well worth reading, as well.

#3. BibliOdyssey: Books—Illustrations—Science—History—Visual Materia Obscura—Eclectic Bookart.
There are many, many delights in the realm of historical research, and coming upon unusual and captivating illustrations is one of them. This amazing blog revels in the unusual, the charming, the beautiful. Not all of the images are historical, but most are. I could linger on this site all day.

#4. Google Book Search Google wasn’t the first to put digitized books on-line (the French on-line library Gallica was an early pioneer), but it has quickly become the best, in my view, and certainly the easiest to use. If you specify “full view only” in your search, you will be shown books in the public domain, often published some time ago. If you go to Advanced Book Search, you may even specify the time of publication. You may also begin to build up your own on-line library.

I use it for research, but I also love to search for old expressions — for example, how someone in the past might have completed the phrase: “as hot as a ... “ A Google Book search reveals these tasty possibilities: “as hot as a turnspit,” “as hot as a plum pudding,” “as hot as a melon bed.”

#5. Oxford English Dictionary
If I want to know if a particular word or expression was used in the 17th century, this is where I can go to find out. If I want to know what words were used for—say—”pretty” before the 18th century, the OED on-line will tell me (comely, quaint, jolly...). The site, however, is restricted: one must use it through a library that subscribes or pay. I couldn’t do without it.

--- Sandra Gulland

--->For the archive of Madam Mayo's guest-blog posts, click here.