How to Research (Part 2)

Let’s talk about the least favorite subject of mine: organization. First, I must admit that I am not the most organized person int the world. My bedroom routinely mimic the after effects of WWIII meets a tornado mixed in with an Earthquake on a good day. Yet I like to keep my books, records (yes, VINYL people), CDs, comic books, and art supplies organized (apparently because that it important to me). I try and keep the sewing and crochet/knitting stuff organized too. But I am trying to be better in all things organized. No one is perfect.

One thing I am notorious for, and very skilled at, is organizing my computer files. I have a mega file on my portable HD called Costume History with I believe a hundred files inside of it with names like 1600-1700, 1800-1900, etc. Then each file, when you open it, is broken down into subsections like Court Dress, Shoes, portraits, etc. It’s why I was always told I excelled at Costume research at both graduate schools I attended. I started this mega database during my undergrad days and was just saving images from places like JSTOR. Now, that’s all and good, but I have no idea where I got the images from because all I have are the images and no way of verifying that they are authentic. So, it’s a reason why I abandoned the project some time during my second graduate school and turned to Pinterest (I believe if you search for Sabaah Jauhar-Rizvi in Pinterest, you will find me).

An example of Pinterest Boards

So, basically I’ve sort of replicated my portable HD in Pinterest, but in a different way. I cannot have a massive board called Costume History with sub folders upon subfolders. Instead, I have boards like Costume History: 2000s, with a subheading that is for the years 2000-2009, and folders inside have labels such as Trends, Gucci, Miu Miu, etc. Now, I don’t have everything under the sun, but enough to have a basic selection in case I ever design a show based in that time period or someone who follows me needs reference pictures from that time period. Most likely, a theatre friend needs help researching and I send them a link to their heart’s content (it’s what I do and I enjoy doing it because I like knowing that I helped someone).

I found this on Pinterest!

While Pinterest is great, and it is especially to help organize things like potential images for character references, tips for writing, prompts, research images, etc, it’s also a den of misinformation. This brings us to vetting information. or verifying if the information you are taking in is truthful and accurate. The great thing about the Internet is everything is accessible. The terrible thing about the Internet is there’s a ton of misinformation out there that it can be scary to navigate. You really can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Wikipedia, for example, is a decent resource BUT keep in mind they have volunteers correcting the pages.  I myself have tried to go and correct pages, with book and scholarly journal citations, only to have them rejected as not being true (even though they were true), which was extremely frustrating. Also, how they modify pages is very confusing is you are not a computer programmer (it’s not user friendly to those of us who are not technologically inclined is what I am saying).

So, what is a writer, or anyone trying to do any kind of research to do? Thankfully there are these great places called Museums that have exhibits available on-line. While not the same as going there in person, having access to images and artifacts that are kept in the archives available on-line is a terrific things. Take, for example, Brazil’s National Museum. It tragically burned down in 2018 and so much was destroyed and lost. Thankfully, Google did a virtual tour and those artifacts are now preserved digitally as well as people submitting videos and photographs to Brazil in order to preserve what was once a beautiful museum. So there is hope that one day there will be a digital version of the original National Museum for all to visit.

One of the exhibits at Brazil’s National Museum that was destroyed. Courtesy of thisiscolossal.com

Luckily, Museums don’t often get destroyed (though we are all still reeling from the loss of Notre Dame). Museum websites and heritage websites are some of the best resources for finding all sorts of information. Portraits, extant clothing (clothing from that time period), furniture, jewelry, even samples of preserved food sometimes makes an appearance in a museum. Heritage sites will showcase how reactors (or historians) explain how people lived, sometimes setting tables or bedrooms up in period correct ways, which is really nice to see as the earliest photograph wasn’t taken until 1826 or 1827 (the date is up for debate). I also like heritage sites because they will show the places people don’t necessarily ever talk about in history books, such as the outhouses, the ice house, where laundry was done. The places you’d think people would want to know about, but are rarely ever seen in any historical film, which is why we never think people had toliets back in Ancient Rome.

Public Toilets in Ancient Rome.Yes, they did exist. Hollywood lies. HBO lies. Courtesy of Science Magazine

So, an example of a site you can’t trust is one that is telling you that everything that is well documented is a lie. One that is stating that every known image, known portrait, known account is a lie and only they know the truth. In layman’s terms, this is known as fake history. In scholarly terms, we call it revisionist history.

Original picture of King George III of Great Britain, he was not an Albino (European) he was a Moor (so-called black). Here is the mailing address authentication of this depiction. Write to "Science Museum of London Exhibition Rd London SW7 2DD, United Kingdom.

So, let’s test your critical thinking skills here. Take this image I’ve posted above. It’s from the website momoafrica.com and has been shared on other websites including Pinterest. People are posting this as FACT. Now, IF you know basis English history, you will nkow that King George III (also known as tghe Mad King) lived from 1738-1820. And remember earlier when I stated when the fist known photograph was taken? Hard to take a photograph of a dead guy 6 or 7 years after he’s buried. Then there is the question of clothing. The clothes shown are clearly 1850s-1870s, making this thirty to forty years after the death of the King. And finally, the picture is of an African American. King George was of German, Austrian , and Welsh decent. The man was White and I do mean White in the most courteous of terms.

Detail view of King George when he was crowned. Courtesy of the Royal Family’s website.

Now, I have gotten into an argument with the website stating that the picture is fake and they are guilty of revisionist history. They replied that I am part of the conspiracy and every person who has been in charge throughout history has been black (or of color) and it’s been whitewashed to keep black people down. Now, let’s un-package this nonsense. If everyone throughout history has been of color, then why would they have allowed Slavery? Allowed the British to colonize places like Asia, India, Africa, Australia? Why would they have allowed the Trail of Tears to occur? See how quickly and easily it is to see how what they are stating as fact isn’t?

Offered as proof of King George’s “blackness” by momoafrica.com

I was then sent the above image as “proof” of King George’s “blackness” by the same website with this above image. First, this is an engraving. This doesn’t indicate he was black or of color at all. The process of engraving is using lines or dots to indicate shadow and dimension. The same process if used on paper currency. By this logic, we can then conclude that George Washington was Green because he’s green on American Currency.

Another engraving done by another artist at the same time as the one I was sent. Same pose, different interpretation. Based off the same portrait. Courtesy of the Royal Family’s website.

So, while I am saying use Pinterest to help organize your thoughts, organize research images, be aware that there are some sketchy and weird information floating out there. If it sounds really weird and too good to be true, it probably is. If you want to double check before pinning, Google it. If it comes up with hits that seem to come from verified sources like museums and scholarly journals telling you that this is true, then go ahead and pin it. If it comes back as hitting a bunch of conspiracy theory sites, then avoid like the plague. Trust me, this will only help you in the long run.

Places I have actually found to be really good resources are auction houses. I know, it seems like a weird resource to use, but think about it for a minute. The people who work there are experts, they research the items for authenticity and verify that they are what they say they are. Next to a Museum website, this is a really good and underused resource in the community. I love using Bonham’s, Christies, Augusta, and other verifiable, high end auction houses for research purposes. Any of them you can follow on Pinterest (which is nice) and you get to see a wide variety of items that you may never see in a museum. I’ve come across scissors from the 1600s that are meant to cut leather. I had no idea those existed. Of course, logically, they MUST have existed, but seeing an image of them was pretty neat. And they are really good about giving a nice detailed history of the item including what it is made of, dimensions, and where it was possibly made. It’s like having a cheat sheet but without you having to do all the hard work.

University and college websites are also a great resource. Sometimes lectures on certain subjects are made available to the public on the websites and are posted on Pinterst, sometimes you find them via Google. It’s really good to keep an eye out for these because not only is it valuable for giving you a goldmine of information from an academic who’s a specialist in the field, they generally list where they are getting this information (as in a bibliography) at the end or on the course website, which can lead you down further paths of research!

This comes to the last bit of research. Blogs can be great. I follow some blogs written by historians and some written by Theatre people. But there are some blogs that just copy and paste from other blogs. I’ve come across Regency blogs that copy and paste blog posts from other blogs topics you know that person probably researched and put together years ago and that’s dishonest. But that’s the nature of having a blog. Those sites generally don’t copy and paste where the information came from (as in museum sites or books), which is how you know it’s probably not a good site. Now, in the beginning of this blog, I was still learning the ropes, so if you come across one with not many entries, they may just be leanring the ropes as well (it’s a learning curve), and I generally now state where I get my images (unless it’s clipart, then I just don’t because it’s clipart).

So now you have all these great on-line resources, it’s best to organize (ha! you thought I forgot about that) them. Bookmarking them in general folders is going to be a time saver and also give you a smaller window when you first pull up the bookmark window. I just stick to the basics. One is just Museums, the other Auction Websites, then I have one that’s Social (where I have my Facebook, Blog, Twitter, Pinterest, and Email websites saved). I have one that is for my Library, but I also keep my Goodreads account there (it makes sense in my mind). I also have the Thesaurus and Dictionary website saved under Library because you can’t always be lugging them around if you are typing in a Panera or Starbucks.  I also have folders for each of the my novels with a subfolder that specifically says characters. And for that, there two folders, one says tearsheets and the other is for cheatsheets (word documents with basic information I can pull up when typing without having to have a notebook on me-I will write about all of that soon!). the point is to have as much as possible in your notebooks to help you write, but also have some of that available on-line and on your PC or laptop so you don’t have to have this massive pile on your desk when typing. I use my notebooks when writing (I wrote most of my novel out by hand then typed it, which I think was helpful because I could edit and add at that point, so I consider it my first edit and I’ve done 7 more since then and yes, that’s normal). Just keep in mind this is a process. And it’s long and tedious. Even though I’ve done 20 years of research for my time period, that was very generic and basic. For each novel, because I am focusing on a specific time frame, I do have to go through my research and sometimes have to search for specific things for each one. So while one is done and being queried, I am now in that early stage of another. Most of all, have some fun looking around and finding what sites are out there.

Pinterest

 

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