No, this is not a bizarre idea for a new Christmas panto! Just a plain, factual statement of what took place in Norfolk in Georgian times.
From the late 16th century, thousands of geese and turkeys were walked the hundred miles from Norfolk to Leadenhall market in London each year. The journey would take three months and the birds wore special leather boots to protect their feet. Geese wouldn’t allow themselves to be shod (hence the contemporary phrase “to shoe a goose” for something difficult), so their feet were dipped in tar and covered with sand.
If you want to discover Alaska without breaking the bank, that 99 cents will pay for itself many, many times over. The book includes tips on finding good cruise prices, how to anticipate or avoid hidden costs, information on public transportation, and many ideas of great things to do in port for little or no money.
I highly recommend an Alaska cruise, especially if you like wildlife and nature. If you dedicate some time to watching the water, you’re almost guaranteed to see marine life from the deck of the ship. If you want to see a glacier, Alaska’s the place…
Since the founding of the thirteen colonies in America, settlers have pushed west relentlessly, hungry for land of their own, with little regard for the native inhabitants except as obstacles. This land hunger, combined with a gold discovery on Cherokee land in Georgia, prompted the 1830 Indian Removal Act. The US military forced Indian peoples in Georgia and other areas on a 116-day march in the winter of 1838. For more than 800 miles around 100,000 American Indians traveled through heavy rains, ice storms, and rough terrain to Oklahoma territory. Children and the elderly suffered greatly. Overall, more than 15,000 Indians died.
The scale of the forced march of Arizona’s Navajos was much smaller, but it was also tragic. The National Archives covers it in a fascinating blog post published today, titled The Navajo Treaty Travels to the Navajo Nation. Perhaps this incident is covered in Arizona schools these days, but I was born and raised there and this is the first I have heard about it. I hope it is not the last.
I recently had the opportunity to make use of my master’s degree in history when I gave a talk to a local writers group on how to use history to spice up your fiction writing. The idea is that history is filled with stories–millions and millions of them. Down through the ages cultures have developed, flourished, and fallen, each of them expressing a path uniquely its own. There’s little need to do extensive world-building in your story when you realize the manifold variations of government systems, religions, wars, art forms, costumes, literature, philosophy and so on that have arisen in the past. But how do you find out about such things?
Does it sound boring? Fie up on you if it does! It’s not, once you get the hang of it, and then you will find yourself lost down endless tunnels of delight, rarely to emerge, like a gopher whose treasure lie underground. Wait. Did I just compare you to a gopher? Er … a quite splendid gopher, I assure you.
Let’s get at it. You are after two things in research: primary sources and secondary sources. Both have their places and both work off one another and provide you with juicy, delectable details.
Primary sources include historical and legal documents, eyewitness accounts, results of experiments, statistical data, pieces of creative writing, audio and video recordings, speeches, photographs, artifacts, tools, and other objects. In the more modern age, primary sources can be found in interviews, surveys, fieldwork, email, blogs, listservs, and newsgroups. They are firsthand experiences such as a letter about a battle from a Civil War soldier; a diary entry from the Queen of England about her coronation; photograph of a woman, arms raised in horror, after a student is shot at Kent State University in the 1970s. They can also be artifacts like ancient Greek urns with painted figures on it (beware though – some of these are downright pornographic. Naughty Greeks.). Basically, primary sources are the closest you get to what happened in the past. Consider this primary source from the beginning of Popol Vuh from 16th century Guatemala:
Secondary sources depend upon primary sources; they are the study of them and the interpretation of them. They describe, discuss, analyze, evaluate, summarize, contextualize, and process primary sources. Secondary source materials are articles in newspapers or magazines, book or movie reviews, articles found in scholarly journals that discuss or evaluate someone else’s original research, and most frequently, books and web collections. Here is an example of a secondary source that discusses the Popol Vuh:
Pretty big difference, right? Both are necessary for research. Secondary sources so you can get your head around the culture/event/person from the past in an objective, intellectual way. Primary sources are present, impactful, vivid, in your face – and studying them will inform your fiction by helping your tone, voice, setting, and more.
Okay, so now that we have terms down, here is how you are going to go about finding them. With the ….
Isn’t it beautiful? And by beautiful I mean barely acceptable, appearance wise. But the info! Oh, the info! Let’s dig in.
On the left you see those nifty arrows. You’ll start at the BOTTOM of the triangle, which are sources that are okay, and you will proceed up the triangle to sources that are better and better and more wonderful until finally you will reach the apex of amazing primary sources! *cue dramatic music*
Start with Children’s Books and/or Encyclopedias/Wikipedia
Once you have a general idea of your topic, such as Ancient Rome, I recommend that you start your research with children’s books. Say … what? Heck yeah! And not just because I’ve written a gozillion of them. Children’s books – usually middle grade, not picture books or alphabet books! – are great at distilling information down to a level that will quickly and clearly orient you to place, time, and the people/institutions associated with it.
An encyclopedia is also good for this. I often go to the juvenile section of encyclopedias to get the simplest information, and work my way up. Respected encyclopedias are the best, such as Britannica. My local library has a subscription to the online version that I access from home. Yours might as well.
I also recommend Wikipedia with a caveat. It’s good to get a general overview of a topic and to give you ideas about how and where to start more intensive research. Beware, though, because anyone can change the content and while problems are usually corrected promptly for popular subjects, this may not be the case for more obscure ones. Wikipedia is best for sources which you will find at the bottom of the page – the footnotes and underneath them, the external links. These will give you respected sites to work from.
2. General Interest Books and General Interest Books with Bibliographies
You can find these books at your local public library, or online if you prefer – Amazon, Abebooks.com or Thriftbooks.com. These books are for the general reader, not the specialist, and usually for adults. They will generally be well-written and an overall pleasure to read. In addition to the content and whatever interesting details/important figures/events you discover, you will also want to flip to the end of the book to the bibliography, which most general interest books have, though not all. Sometimes the bibliography is separated by primary sources and secondary sources. These will provide you with many more resources to follow up on.
I recommend that you use a number of different books, since each author has their own biases that color what they choose to focus on and how they present the information. For example, let’s say you are writing about Alexander the Great. You will find no shortage of books by authors who think he was a magnificent bastard who triumphantly conquered in the name of Western Civilization. And then there are those books whose authors find him to be a despicable, murderous megalomaniac. Both kinds of books are helpful but as you can imagine, they provide different evidence to support their theses.
3. Specialized Books and Journal Articles with Footnotes and Bibliographies
These books are authored by academics and can generally be found in research libraries on university campuses. They are usually not written very well and can be dry as the dust, but they can provide you with laser sharp focus into the subject at hand. I find that they can be a bit much, though, since you have to take high level scholarship and translate it to something on the page. Maybe that appeals to you, but sometimes for me it can be difficult to wrap my head around and translate into fiction.
The footnotes and bibliographies will lead you to even more resources. And thus you are deep into the gopher hole. You will begin to find the same names of authors and academics pop up again and again. These will likely be the recognized experts in the field. They will provide you with the highest quality information.
Each of these categories will also list primary sources, which makes up the next tier.
4. Primary Sources in English and Primary Sources in Native Language
As demonstrated above, your primary sources are going to give you fantastic subjective details and commentary on whatever you are studying. Those sources in English can vary (think about how many translations of the Odyssey there are) depending on the translator, so you may want to get several versions depending on what is available. The absolute best primary sources are in the native language but they are not always accessible if you don’t read Old English, ancient Persian, German, or whatever.
If you’re lucky, you will be able to find lots of information online – including primary sources. A couple of good ones are the Internet Sourcebook at Fordham University (every time period you can imagine) and StoryCorps (oral history interviews numbering in the thousands). Universities (.edu) will provide you with high quality information, as well as government agencies (.gov). Institutes and organizations can also be a good source (.org) though you may want to figure out their bias, if they have one, by reading their “About” page.
So that’s a quick and dirty look at how to do quality historical research without getting too overwhelmed by the subject and avoiding, you know, actually writing your work in progress. Like I may or may not be doing by authoring this blog post.
A little more than three years ago, I posted about how I planned to spend my quiet time on the Camino de Santiago–in prayer. Walking is a meditation in itself, I’ve found. The steady gait of feet and earth, the land quiet all around, the sky above wide and open. It’s the perfect time for reflection, and when that’s not productive, repetition of prayers. Repetition can be soothing–just strike up a steady drumbeat if you doubt that. There’s something in our blood that responds to rhythm.
Some of the prayers I thought would be appropriate on my last Camino didn’t resonate with me, but others were like the lyrics of a beautiful song. My husband and I will be walking from Tui, Spain, 117 kilometers northward to Santiago de Compostela. We’ve allotted seven days for the trip, which is hopefully just the right amount of time.
Below are the prayers I’ve chosen for this pilgrimage. Do you have a mantra or favorite prayer? Please share it in the comments if you do.
God be with thee in every pass, Jesus be with thee on every hill
Spirit be with thee on every stream, headland and ridge and lawn;
Each sea and land, each moor and meadow,
Each lying down, each rising up,
In the trough of the waves, on the crest of the billows,
Each step of the journey thou goest. Carmina Gadelica
Be thou a bright flame before me,
Be thou a guiding star above me,
Be thou a smooth path below me,
Be thou a kindly shepherd behind me,
Today, tonight and forever. St Columba
Psalm 23 King James Version
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
St. Patrick’s Breastplate
I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me.
God’s might to uphold me. God’s wisdom to guide me. God’s eye to see before me.
God’s ear to hear me. God’s word to speak for me. God’s hand to guard me.
God’s way to lie before me. God’s shield to protect me.
God’s host to secure me against the snares of devils —
against temptations and vices, against inclinations of nature,
against everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd …
Christ, be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me.
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit.
Christ where I arise, Christ in the heart of very man who thinks of me.
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me.
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
whose voice is contentment, whose presence is balm,
be there at our sleeping and give us we pray,
your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day.
In six short weeks I will be returning to Spain, a country I have visited the most in my European travels (just three times, but hopefully more in future years). What better time could there be for reflection and daydreaming?
Think of it … Spain. The very name brings to mind exotic ancient lands and the far-away echo of guitar music. And more, following on the warm, orange-scented breezes.
Whirling flamenco dancers. Sunsets over the ocean. Tapas in picturesque cafes. Baby-jumping in the plaza.
Yes, it is so. Jumping over babies is apparently a thing in a certain part of Spain. Which brings it squarely into Hiccups in History territory. This series of blog posts celebrates weirdness throughout history. Because my spirit animal is some sort of weird turkey/horse/panther hybrid. Or something.
By Celestebombin (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Anyhow. This bizarre–dare I say infantile–event takes place in mid-June each year, just after the Feast of Corpus Christi (the blood of Christ). In the north, near Burgos, lies the village of Castrillo de Murcia. The festival of El Colacho dates back to the early 17th century, when good and evil come alive in what may have its roots in the fusion of Christianity and earlier pagan traditions.
Men dressed in red, with yellow masks, dash through the streets impersonating the devil. They insult villagers and whip them with horsehair. All is fun and games terror and hysteria until the sounds of drums herald the arrival of black-clad good guys–atabalero–who drive out the evil.
By Jtspotau (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
But first babies born the previous year are laid out on mattresses in the street. As the “devils” leap over them they are thought to absorb the infants’ sins, an act which protects them from future misfortune. The villagers hurl invectives at the devils, thus securing for themselves a reprieve from bad luck.
By Jtspotau (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
After a quick spritzer with rose water, the babies are rescued from the mattresses and all is right with the world again. The Catholic Church frowns on the festival, but it continues nevertheless, drawing a growing number of curiosity seekers.
Alas, I will not be around for any baby-jumping festivals when I next travel to Spain. But unusual places appear on the Camino de Santiago as well. During my 2015 trip I came across a village that honors sacred chickens.
Happy New Year! What a blessing to watch the calendar flip to a new page yet again. May your 2018 be filled with peace, protection, prosperity, and all good things …
Two and a half years ago I walked the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route across northern Spain ending at the city of Santiago de Compostela. There the cathedral is said to contain the bones of James the Apostle of Jesus Christ, who is thought to have come to Spain to live out the last of his life.
The traditional beginning of a pilgrimage in the Middle Ages was to leave from one’s front door and walk toward Santiago de Compostela. This led to a network of paths all across Europe. One of those is the French Way, which starts in northeast Spain and continues across the country for about 550 miles. In recent decades, this pilgrimage route has regained popularity. Today, around 200,000 people walk it each year.
In 2015, I was one. Though time constraints and unexpected injury constrained me to completing only 350 of those miles, I did more than enough to receive the certificate of completion–the compostela. I’m proud of my achievement. Peregrinos–pilgrims–like to say that when you walk the Camino once you will be compelled to return. Indeed, it is so. In March my husband Dave and I will walk from Portugal to Santiago, a distance of 117 kilometers.
March is not that far away and we are both getting nervous about the trip. We’ll be increasing our activity considerably from now until then. And we’ll see that Dave is properly equipped, since I already have my gear. But there’s more to do–house arrangements and work deadlines and spiritual preparation.
Below are the top ten pictures of my 2015 Camino. They serve as inspiration when our nerves get the better of us. Perhaps they might inspire you as well?
10. For grain storage. Much nicer looking than a silo.
9. View of one of the countless beautiful villages you pass on the Way.
8. Idyllic scenes abound.
7. As do magnificent ones like the cathedral at Burgos.
6. Always with the great views.
5. And reminders of how far you need to go.
4. Fields and hills and simple village churches.
3. But glory is inside some of these churches, though plain from the outside.
2. Along the way you find acknowledgement of your journey, like this medieval pilgrim, with wide-brimmed hat to stave off the sun, walking stick to assist, and water flask for thirsty times (almost every village has a free fountain filled with sweet, clean water).
And my favorite photo – storm clouds threatening but light all around them and color before them – beautiful fields of mustard.
Matthew 17:20 – He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
When I was a freshman in high school, we moved from a comfortable home in the heart of Phoenix to the boonies, the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. My dad worked in Indian Health Service, and he got a job at the hospital there. We lived in the “compound,” a group of homes constructed for the government employees.
There, stray dogs were endemic, and horses also ran wild, their coats knotted and their tails tangled. One horse left us a gift the day we moved in: a gigantic dump of manure two feet from the front door.
My time on the reservation was the first time I was a true minority, and it was an eye-opening experience. Here I was among people who not only looked different than I did, but spoke differently, and had a different culture. I rode the bus into Globe, about 20 miles, because there was no high school on the rez. All the way into town we sat silently on the bus, not talking. The driver played music as we wound along the remote road, mesas to the left of us and arroyos to the right. A bus full of white kids was a raucous affair – everyone chattering and laughing and moving back and forth to different seats. Not so Indian buses. On the weekends, strains of traditional Apache music filtered from the radio, across the parched earth. I had two good friends – twins who were Indians from Mexico. The other kids called us “Oreo” because when we would walk the two darker girls were on either side of me, the white one.
Soon enough we moved into town and I was once again in the majority. I was reminded of my experience when researching for various freelance writing jobs that dealt with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. One of the surprising pieces of information I learned was that African Americans could not just jump in their cars and travel across the country in the early to mid 20th century (and probably beyond, too, depending on where they went). They had to be careful to stay in placed that welcomed them. Places they would be safe, and accepted. They had to make use of guides like this one, The Negro Travelers’ Green Book:
Take a look at the page for Alabama, Arizona, and Arkansas. It’s sobering to see that some listings are for personal homes, because hotels or motels in the area couldn’t be trusted. The same was true for other travelers’ services.
About Comics in Camarillo, California has recently begun reprinting old copies of the guides, which were published from 1936 through the 1960s when at last legal segregation was outlawed. These guides provide a sobering, and educational, look at the history of everyday life, and what it meant to live in a country where skin color was – and still is – so crucial to one’s experience.
Behold, gentle reader! Here you witness the start of an intermittent series of blog posts designed to feature those subjects that are dear to my writerly heart. Namely, the quirks of history, which is called, descriptively enough, Hiccups in History.
The very first of such posts is a reblog by TwistedSifter. It’s just too good to pass up. More hiccups to come soon!
Photograph via Library of Congress In this old law enforcement photo from 1924, we see a police officer trying on a ‘cow shoe’ used by moonshiners to disguise their footprints. In the United States alcohol was banned from 1920-1933 in an era known as Prohibition. Moonshine (a type of strong, homemade whiskey) was often…
At last, the day has come! What, you say? The Second Coming is upon us? Nay! My romantic historical wackadoodle novelette is here! Surely that’s of equal import … ? Err. Let’s just forget I wrote that.
Anyhow, this novelette is 10,000 words of icebergs and explosions, potions and provocations. Don’t wait to get it! Seriously. The end might be nigh.
Whiter Pastures Xina Marie Uhl
Genres: Adult, Historical, Romance, Humor
A romantic novelette in the Icebound series, an ongoing collection of polar delights.
Behold dogsleds and penguins. Howling winds and cold, pitiless wastes. This is Antarctica, where the intrepid inhabitants of the frozen ends of the earth battle the terrain, and each other, to find love—in a past much like that of the early 1900s.
Reluctant spinster Florance Barton fled to the British Antarctic base to escape a scandalous love affair, among other things. Amidst the handful of other women there, Florance is the perfect chambermaid, meek, mild, and forgettable. No one has a clue that she’s also a novice spy.
When handsome young Handy McHanagan arrives at the base, he sets everyone agog. He’s charming, artistic, and … an accomplished gardener. His arrival may just be a mistake on the part of naval command. Or is it something more sinister?
Killer seals and subzero ice storms and aren’t the only danger in Antarctica: a enemy spy is on the loose. Florance has been ordered to choose between queen and country and her heart. Because penguin is off the menu now–and murder is its replacement.