The past is a different place – as different as any unfamiliar part of the world. Think of ancient China or Egypt or Greece.
The food people ate, the way they lived, the games they played, and the politics and economic systems that sustained them. All are different and foreign even to those of us who live now in those places. Yet human nature – our capacity to love, worry, hate, and fear are universal and follow us across time and across oceans.
This is a blog for people who don’t consider themselves as historians but find they have a historical project in mind or need to carry out some historical research in the course of their work; people like writers, realtors, community developers, artists, and genealogists.
I’ll write about how to navigate in the rarified world of archives and how to track down obscure documents, trying to eliminate as much jargon as possible to streamline your research.
And I’ll take you on a winding journey as I share some of my own discoveries while researching the historical novel and short stories I’m currently working on set in early Vancouver of the late 1800’s.
Things like the likelihood that there would be wallpaper in the house of my protagonist in 1885. Or how long a wagon ride took from New Westminster to what later became the city of Vancouver and how often they went. Or the history of typewriters and if there would have been any to buy in Vancouver by 1890. Or which streets had sidewalks and how far they went before petering out into dirt, mud, and skunk-cabbage.
Before I can put my own imagination to work to place my characters in a setting or have them interact to best build my plotlines, I need to think about the weather, the built environment, the clothes, animals, pests, illnesses, timing of events, and all sorts of other details.
And although I initially carried out deep research to give me the historical framework for my story, it is during the writing process that I discover the gaps.
Then it’s off to the archives, or a library whether virtual or physical, into google search, maps, images, youtube, and blogs, down to museums, or union halls, the police station, or anywhere else I can think of to track down people or documents or artifacts that might give me the information or background I need.
As a writer, archivist, and community activist I spent many years helping others and contributing to local historical projects and publications and now I’d like to help you.
So pack your bags, grab your passport, and jump aboard as we travel together, back in time.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton