Historical Fudgery: First Steps

Yesterday I took some initial steps for research that I have to do on Book 3 (The Shores of Spain). That includes researching 3 Spanish cities: Barcelona, Lleida, and Seville.

So what do I do to start?

I usually begin with the Free Information. There are two main sources of this, the library and the internet.

1) To get background on the cities, I checked them out on Wikipedia. Yes, I use Wikipedia, although I’ll warn you to take anything you read with a grain of salt.

One of the advantages for me about Wikipedia is that when I type in the page for, say, Lleida….down in the left sidebar is a space to click for different languages. You see, Spanish Wikipedia has far more to say about that city than English Wikipedia. (I’ve used Portuguese Wikipedia extensively for my Portugal research.) My Spanish is mediocre at best, but between that and machine translation, I can usually get through an article there with reasonable understanding.

One of the other advantages of Wikipedia is that it provides both links to external (tourism, etc.) websites as well as a footnote list which might lead to other interesting articles that are closer to ‘primary’ sources.

Also, because I’m working in 1902, one of the additional things on the internet I check out right away is the 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica and the 1902 Encyclopedia Brittanica. They don’t have articles about everything, but they are excellent for my time period (if I can ignore the ‘all peoples are inferior to the English’ bias.)

2) Now I check online book-sellers. I’m not buying anything at this point. I just want to see what’s available out there. I search the booksellers for the things I’m hunting (at this point, geographical). If a book looks promising, I scroll down and look at reviews to see what other readers have to say about them.

In addition, if a book is from earlier than 1923, I make a note of that, because there’s a chance the whole text is available Free on-line. I can do a Google search where I put in the name of the book followed by something like ‘read on-line.’

3) My next step is usually to head to my library. This is a FREE resource that too many of us overlook. I’m fortunate in that the Metro Library System has its catalog on-line. So yesterday I went and pored through the catalog….and reserved 5 items to pick up at the local branch. Convenient, huh? This includes a couple of Rick Steves videos of the area, which will give me a ‘feel’ for the place, even if not a great deal of history.*

Books from the library can often give me other places to look, as well. If you check the ‘Bibliography’ section of a book, you can often find more places to go from there.

Of course a library’s resources are limited. They can’t store every book, but…

…there’s this awesome person called the Research Librarian at many of them, who is often more than happy to help out in steering you the right way. While writing Iron Shoes, I even contacted the Research Librarian in Saratoga Springs (via e-mail) to ask about something I was having trouble finding.** She hunted through her files for me, something I couldn’t have done myself.

There are far more resources, of course, but this is where I start.

*Travel guides can turn out to be pots of gold. I found one on Porto that included one important factoid that, oddly enough, no other resource bothered to mention–Porto doesn’t have any palaces in the old city (other than the Bishop’s Palace) because nobles weren’t allowed to build there or even spend more than 3 days in the city.

**As it turned out, she didn’t have the information. However, I found it a few days later in the on-line archives of the New York Times. So I sent her the link, and she put a copy of the article in her files for the next person who came along. That’s what they do ;o)

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