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Friday, December 2, 2011

My Gratitude Journal: Research

What was the most prominent Protestant church in Sydney in 1857? What was the name of the Catholic church nearby?

How were executions conducted in Renaissance Florence? What kinds of crimes were considered worth the death penalty, especially for Florentine women?

How did a goldsmith operate his bottega, and where did he fit in the social structure of Florentine citizens? How might a daughter come to be part of a goldsmith's business practice, even though officially forbidden that masculine role?

If you want to know it to create versimilitude (read that: It didn't happen, but it could have) in a work of fiction, you can find it on the Internet these days.

Okay, that's not always true. In fact, if you want to know much about train schedules in the East prior to the Civil War, you won't find that online and it's pretty tough to find that info anywhere since train stations were frequently war targets and their records burned with them. (Ask me how I know! I ended up in the white-glove library affixed to the Railroad Museum in Sacramento, looking through precious copies of the few old schedules that remain, and in the end, I never wrote that book, either.)

Today I am grateful for research, and I have found that -- except in rare cases like the railroad schedules -- there is plenty of it available for almost anything I want to know.

Lately I've been writing a book set in Sydney in the middle 1850s. When I need a fact (What newspapers were printed in Sydney in 1857? Did they cover social news?), I can find it online. At the same time, I have been doing research for a BIG BOOK I want to write someday soon, which I'm setting against the life of Lorenzo di Medici, Il Magnifico himself, in Renaissance Florence. In the process I've begun collecting a rather impressive library of everything from academic textbooks on the social structure of Florence, circa 1400-1480, to other fiction set in that period.

The scope and range of material is astonishing and there's always more where that came from. In the cases of both these books -- the one set in Victorian Australia and the other in Renaissance Florence -- the question is not whether I can find the material, but where to stop the research and get the writing done, and that is a conundrum for another day.

Today I am grateful for research -- for the wealth of information made readily available by others, and for how much fun I've been having turning the academic and scholarly into imaginative fun. So historians and researchers, this bud's for you: My thanks to you all.

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