Archives, Artists, Audio archives, Historical documents, Jewish archival resources, Klezmer, Music, Research, Ukraine, USSR, Writers

Vernadsky national library of the Ukraine

Vernadsky

Vernadsky National Library of the Ukraine in Kiev

 

I’ve been working on a short story for a contest this week that’s been percolating in my mind for more than 10 years – that’s the way it goes sometimes – but I was happy to have the chance to finally write it.

The story would probably never seen the light of day if it hadn’t been for the break-up of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) in 1991 when archival records that had been restricted and virtually inaccessible, were released

The idea for the story I wrote all started at a concert at the Chutzpah festival in Vancouver when the band leader, Alicia Sviegels told the story of an ethnomusicologist, Moishe Beregovski, who travelled through the Ukraine in the 1930s and collected Klezmer folk music in one of the world’s most comprehensive studies. 

Beregovski was sent to prison in the 1940’s and his research was confiscated from the Ukrainian Academy of Science. He never knew what had happened to it by the time he died in the 1960s’s, but probably assumed they had been destroyed by the Communist government. 

However, after the break-up of the Soviet Union – a whole slew of archival records were released, providing a glimpse into the USSR that academics and geneaologists have been gobbling up ever since. 

It was at that time that Beregovski’s early recordings on wax cylinders and his extensive documentation of the music – more than 100 questions for each piece of music – were unearthed and are now available for researchers at at library in Kiev, the Vernadsky National Library of the Ukraine.

I’ll write some more about this in the weeks to come and also will post parts of my story, which is called Pale Shadow. 

 

Archives, Artists, British Columbia history, Canada history, Historical documents, Historical research, Paintings, Photos, Research, Vancouver history, Women, women's history, Women, Women's History, Vancouver History, Lisa Anne Smith, Michael Kluckner, Nursing History, Midwifery, Journalism, Early women travellers, Women writers

A picture – the proverbial 1000 words

Red Cross booth 1918
Red Cross booth at a war-time carnival in Vancouver. Image by James Crookall, circa 1918. Courtesy of the City of Vancouver Archives (photo 260-1048)

 

As with paintings, a photograph can give so much information about a place and its people and they are well worth the time and effort of tracking down. But stay focused or set a timer for yourself because it’s easy to unintentionally spend a lot of time on this kind of research.

Like many people, I am fascinated by historical images and find that as I work on my novel, set in Vancouver 1885-1913, I return to archival photos, either online or in person, to review scenes that help me re-imagine and hone the details of my story to bring it further to life.

This picture from a WW I era carnival in Vancouver in 1918 is a great example of the kind of detail I love. I can see the fashion of the time, including hats, hair-styles, nurses’ uniforms, street lights. Even the price for admission to some event at this carnival.

It gets me thinking how tenacious people are, trying to carve out a semblance of normalcy during times of war or disruption. There is an inherent seriousness to this carnival scene with the Red Cross as its focus.

So as I let my imagination go with the idea of setting a scene there with all the carnival’s inherent energy and sensations – the smell of popcorn and feel of it getting stuck between your teeth. Or getting sticky fingers from eating candy-floss. Of watching out for horse manure on the ground. And hearing the sound of children squealing as they come over the top of the Ferris wheel. The music and the hucksters.  The coloured lights as darkness falls.

And what was that 10 cent attraction?

A temporary reprieve from the worries of loved ones on the front.

Because there’s a good chance the people in the picture had lost someone close to them, in the Great War, the name given to WW I at the time. Or had a family member on the battle front. Or missing.  The Red Cross stand and its link to the war brings all the frivolity back down to earth and speaks to what’s really on everyone’s mind

You can write an entire scene of a novel, or a play, or a movie – maybe even an entire story based on this one picture.

As a writer or artist of any kind, these are the real-life images that you can hold in your mind’s eye as you ponder your scenes and characters, absorbing historical details and events almost intuitively.

As for the nuts and bolts of doing photo research itself, I’ll come back to that next week.

 

Archives, Artists, British Columbia history, Canada history, Chinese Canadian history, Historical documents, Historical research, Library, Paintings, Research, Southeast Asian community in Vancouver history, Vancouver history, women's history, Writers

Beauty of artwork – in more ways than one

Vancouver historical image
Edward Roper painting of Burrard Inlet, circa 188_. Property of the City of Vancouver Archives

I can’t tell you enough how much I love looking at old paintings and photos of a place, not only for the artistic pleasure they give but, from a historical research perspective, for the detail they convey.

Take this painting of the early Vancouver waterfront by Edward Roper, for example. It shows people working – from what I can tell possibly some Squamish people hauling boats onshore, a couple of Chinese men, and others at the waterfront.  It gives me a strong image from that very time, from the perspective of an astute observer.

And even thought the complete image is undoubtedly contrived, there is a lot here to feed my imagination and fuel the creative process for the novel I’m writing set in Vancouver beginning in the 1880s.

Whereas many photos of the times are of people of prominence or group shots of factory workers or picnic groups, there is a lot of historical artwork that shows everyday people doing ordinary, everyday things.

Clothing, attitude, work being carried out, tools, scenery, and more can be conveyed in a single painting that could take a long time to discern through written records or be difficult to set up in a photograph.

Yet, along with historical photos, they are a rich resource for any creative or documentary research you may want to do. They are further different from photos, however, in that an artist can add in details that might not be present or apparent from a photo.

Check your local archival repositories, art galleries, and museums for any local historical paintings they might have in their collection.  Even though, in some cases, the artwork itself may not be very good, drawings and paintings will give you a “snapshot” impression of a place that may be just enough for you to imagine your own creative work emanating from it.

Enjoy!

Artists, Geneaology, Historical documents, Historical research, Writers

Start with books on local history

old books on shelf

 

Because it takes so long to do archival research, and because even after many hours of work there’s still a low probability of yielding as much useful information as you may have thought, I recommend that your first research be to seek out local historical publications.

Professional historians and academics spent hours, weeks, months, years even – combing through archival records to track down enough documentation to be able to make blanket statements about historical events, people, trends, and movements. And they add context, maps, and illustrations to supplement the information that also comes from a great deal of research.

Libraries pride themselves on housing books on local subjects – books that are usually unavailable anywhere else .

For background, and substantial information, these local historical and geographical publications can’t be beat and may give you all the historical information you need to write a story, paint a picture, or design an ad campaign.

Be sure to note the citations for photos, maps, and footnotes; as well as taking a look at the bibliography to give you ideas about the source of similar things you might want to take a look at.