History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

18 November 2011

Research on the Run

As the days grow shorter and colder, I find myself looking for ways to investigate in comfort. You know, look up historical facts while wearing my pajamas and sipping hot cocoa, rather than after driving downtown and hunting down a parking spot. Or visit an eighteenth century frigate at sea, as in my photo.

Thankfully, modern technology is more than happy to ride to my aid. A laptop equipped with wireless can quickly connect me to the Internet and the wonderful variety of websites to be found there.

Tablets, such as the iPad and its Android cousins, offer even more comfortable ways to do research. When something weighs less than a pound and a half, it’s easy to slip it into a purse then pull it out later for some quick dives into history.

My household is graced with four iThings – uh, that’s members of the Apple family that can be used for research. The apps that suck me in the fastest are (in alphabetical order):

Bing: This app has the snazziest interface ever for a search app. I swear I look stuff up, just to play with it. Luscious. Free.

Bodleian: Yes, the Bodleian Library at Oxford University is digitizing their treasures in high-def. There’s truly astonishing stuff here, like ancient Roman scrolls and an unfinished manuscript from Jane Austen. There’s also a rich interactive experience, including a timeline, games, explanations from the curators, and the opportunity to suggest the next treasures to be digitized. Free.

British Library
: Every 19th century book in its collection is here. Bliss, total bliss – and they keep adding more from other collections! Free.

Dictionary.Com: Free, fun, and quirky. And did I mention free?

Google Search: Hey, it’s Google, what else do I need to say? It’s nowhere near as much fun as Bing, but you need to have it, right? Free.

Oxford English Dictionary: Yes, that’s right, you too can have the entire Oxford English Dictionary on your iPad – fully searchable and in a readable font! I’m in heaven. Dictionaries for other languages are also available. $54.99

The Civil War Today: The History Channels brings you a day-by-day account of the American Civil War, complete with maps, photos, newspapers, and diaries. Plus, there’s a game and amazing factoids to surprise you, just when you thought you knew what to expect. Amazing. $5.99

Virtual History Roma: Gorgeous graphics in three dimensions and tons of facts bring to life Imperial Rome. You can zoom in and rotate objects to find hidden delights. I wish more cities and ages could be explored this way. Free.

What’s your favorite app? Do you have a website you can’t live without?

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Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Great tips, Diane! I don't have i-stuff, still being a PC girl, (though I do have an iPhone and have been debating with myself whether to spring for the OED app, when I can only use it on my phone and not on my computer, and when I only have a limited data plan.

But I can't live with the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [www.oxforddnb.com], which used to cost $29.95 month, but is now free! This site boasts impeccable bios (many of which are written by historians who have published the attendant acclaimed biographies) of nearly every British person you ever need to know about -- except for living members of the royal family.

5:43 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I've not explored the world of reseach aps. Hadn't even occured to me! I'll have to check them out.

7:37 AM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Leslie - thanks for the pointer to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. I must bookmark that one.

You might enjoy the Smithsonian app. It's only for iPhones right now, but it does include all their exhibits.

Isobel - more and more European museums are digitizing their collections. The iPad is wonderful for zooming in, given high-def graphics. I'd love to hear your comments.

7:43 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Oops - I just saw my typo, as I reviewed the comments. Obviously, I meant to say that I couldn't live without the oxforddnb!

8:59 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post and tips, Diane! I too haven't really explored research apps, though I do do a lot of research online. I found several sites I relied on heavily for military uniform details for my Waterloo book I've found some great primary source documents on line, like letters between the Comte de Flahaut and Hortense Bonaparte (which I read in French and, without realizing it, took notes in a combination of French and English probably unreadable to anyone but me).

2:12 PM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Tracy - Isn't it amazing how many primary documents are now available on-line? Texas has put tons of material online, which made writing my Texas vampires series so much easier. And like you - my notes probably aren't decipherable by anyone else. LOL

6:56 PM  
Blogger miz_geek said...

Google books has a ton of 19th (and even older) books online. The 20th century stuff may have copyright issues, but for older works, it's a goldmine.

For people who live near a research university, there are some subscription services, such as Early English Books Online, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, and the Burney Newspaper Collection. They're all from Gale/Cengage, and they're free to universities in the UK, but not in other countries.

7:35 AM  

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