The Right Research

Authors need to find the facts about a subject before including it in a story. That seems like a straightforward proposition until you start trying to find the information. What sort of research is being conducted, and how will the facts you discover be of any help to you? This post will cover the internet, since that is the first place anyone looks these days. Your better choice, books, will follow in the next post.

The internet is right there at your fingertips. You don’t even have to get off your ass. You type in “New York City theater 19th century,” for instance. What such a search is likely to find breaks into several categories. The most common one is history attached to a travel guide. You read one all-too-short article on the difference between the theaters on Broadway and the Bowery. You click to the next entry, and you find pretty much the same stuff. Hey, the start of class warfare: Broadway vs. the Bowery. 

Beyond that, you may find sites that really are about New York theaters in the 20th century, but they do have one mention of the 19th century, in 1898. So that’s a waste of time. Luckily, you may become skilled in skimming the contents of the teasers on the search page.

Before moving on to the most fruitful category, I will point out that pictures on any site can be valuable to you. Just looking at a drawing inside the Bowery Theatre gives you a sense not only of the entertainment offered but the audience adoring or hating it. If you compile a file of drawings and sepia photographs alone (in this example), you will have material you can study at a later date.

Your best guess for info that will actually help you imagine your fictional world comes from the scholarly realm. A site like JSTOR is an incredible resource for articles that have appeared across a wide spectrum of academic journals. These professors are all digging in deep, so you may find such interesting material as: when did respectable women start attending the theater? Looking up the relevant topics isn’t easy, because their AI is a vast vacuum cleaner too, but at least when you do make choices, you get something out of your reading.

Better yet, those articles have footnotes and bibliographies. You might discover the memoir of an actor who appeared often with 19th-century star Edwin Forrest. That gives you an on-the-ground view of someone who lived through those times. Florid language aside, you may discover all sorts of interesting nuggets. While it’s very possible that a site like Google Books will allow you to read such an ancient tome online, you may find yourself hopping in the car and driving to the library. (To be continued.)

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”― Marcus Tullius Cicero

Copyright @ 2021 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.