Black and white photo of a Chinese pavilion in Minnesota.

Historical Fiction Research

The following was sent as an ask on my Tumblr blog:
You have one of my favourite blogs on Tumblr! I just wanted to know if you have any tips for researching for historical/fantasy? I just can’t seem to get into it, even though it’s one of my favourite genres. Thank you so much! Again, awesome blog!!

Thank you so much for the super kind compliment, and for the ask!  I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to you.  I wanted to check in with my network of writers to see if any of them had recommendations I would have missed.  And they did!

I start out with articles that talk more about the process, and how to go about researching; these sometimes include good resources as well.  Below that I have some resources that can be useful, though this list is not remotely exhaustive. 


Tips on Performing Research For a Historical Novel
This is an essay from LetterPile by Rhosynwen and it covers some basics about keeping track of your sources and making educated guesses based on your research.

A Research Primer for Historical Fiction Writers
This is an essay posted on Writing-World by Erika Dreifus, who has taught workshops on this subject.  At the bottom of the article, she links to an archive for Victorian periodicals and to a site that is useful for British historical locations (if your story happens to be placed there).

Historical Research for Fiction Writers
This is another Writing-World essay, this one written by Catherine Lundoff.  She covers the various types of sources you’ll find and how to use them, what resources may be available to you, how much research you really need to do, and the importance of embracing research as an essential part of writing historical work.

Writing Historical Fantasy Fiction: Resources and Tips for Writers
This article was written for The Book Stops Here, by Ash Krafton, a best selling historical speculative fiction writer.  She talks about some of the resources that may get overlooked, such as cookbooks and folktales, as well as some obvious standbys.

Videos and Documentaries

Secrets of Henry VIII’s Palace 
Documentary offering a romanticized historical look at Hampton Court, Henry VIII’s favorite palace.


The British Library
The library’s collection of public domain works is available on Flickr.  Some state historical societies have similar photo libraries you can browse.

JSTOR is a digital library, providing access to academic journal articles, books, and primary sources for 75 disciplines.  It used to be really hard to get JSTOR access.  You pretty much had to be a student or professor at a university, or pay through the nose.  But effective recently, US residents should be able to access it as long as they have a public library card.

The Minnesota Historical Society’s Photograph Collection
This is a great resource for historical photos of people (clothing and accessories) and places (cities, buildings, streets, homes) in Minnesota.  This includes pictures of historical artwork and postcards as well as actual photos.  It can take a little time to learn your way about this resource, but it can be useful. 

Other states may have something similar, just google * Historical Society Photograph, substituting the state’s name for the *. Most state historical societies have a way for you to virtually explore a growing number of their collections.

The Public Domain Review
This is an online journal and nonprofit project dedicated to the exploration of curious and compelling works from the history of art, literature, and ideas.  The focus is on works that have entered the public domain.

Virtual Mappa
This collaborative digital humanities project collects and annotates medieval maps. It includes the Hereford Mappa Mundi, the largest medieval map of the known world still in existence. If you haven’t used a Digital Mappa interface or are unfamiliar with T-O map structure, be sure to read the introduction.

Other Places to Start
Historical reenactment groups like the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), can be excellent because while these folks are often not professors of history, they have done as much (if not more) research.  They generally have a passion for the era they have chosen, and they are eager to talk with someone who’s interested.  Historians knowledgeable in the time period you’re looking at can be useful.  If you’re fortunate enough to live near a college or university, you might be able to post that you are looking to talk to students or grad students (who tend to be much more accessible than professors).

You can find my growing curated list of additional resources on my Research and Resources category page. These are resources particularly of use to speculative fiction (fantasy, dark fiction, science fiction) writers, but many may appeal to writers of other genres as well.

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Author of adult and young adult speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, dark fiction)

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