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A Writer's Guide to History series

Discussion in 'World Building' started by MUP, Apr 4, 2013.

  1. MUP

    MUP Acolyte

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    Firstly, thank you to Black Dragon for permission to post this query.

    Hello. I'm a Commissioning Editor at Manchester University Press and I'm hoping you can help me with some research I'm doing for a possible new series for us. As fantasy writers, would you find a series of guides to certain historical periods (Victorians, Middle Ages, Tudors, etc) useful for world building? They would be written by historians who specialise in their fields and would contain information on everyday life, which would include anything from what people ate, drank and wore to how they wooed, posted letters, swore or committed crimes.

    If so, what eras would you be interested in reading about? Are there any particular regions that interest you? What would you want to know about them and the people that inhabited them?

    Thank you for your help and time — it is very much appreciated.

    Rachel
     
  2. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    Yes, that would certainly interest me.

    I'd be interested in any period and place you can get that information about; I consume that kind of history like anything. I'd be particularly interested in the ancient Mediterranean - Minoans, Mycenaeans, archaic, classical and Hellenistic Greeks, Etruscans, Romans etc etc etc.

    Hell, I wouldn't mind researching that stuff. One of my university projects (a presentation on site at Thorikos in Attica during a field trip to Greece) allowed me to look in detail at the design of the ancient Greek courtyard house and how people lived in it, but also the ideals behind it and the way it influenced the way people thought about themselves and others and society in general, and how in Athens these ideals were part of the foundation that enabled the creation of democracy - people understood the idea of equality amongst citizens because every man was the lord of his own household, whatever size the house and household were.

    Ahem.

    If you need one on classical Greece and don't have someone to cover that already, I respectfully submit my candidacy. My qualifications: MA Classical Mediterranean (2012; Merit), BA Ancient History and Archaeology (2010; 2:1), University of Leicester.
     
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  3. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    Thank you for the post and the interest.
    For me; I would like more information on Central / South Asian and Chinese cultures, customs and everyday life from the 1500CE and earlier.
    I can normally find enough of what I want about European cultures and where they went exploring post 1500CE [at least to get me started].
    Hope this helps.
    Good luck!
     
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  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Ohh wow would that be a help.

    I'm going to echo CupofJoe, I'm also writing about East-Asian cultures at the moment, and articles on the region would be a huge help. I believe there's a few others focused on the region, too. I'd be really happy to read about the way people talked to one another and what they cared about, especially the lower classes.

    There's already an abundance of information about Western and Northern Europe, but I think that's where many fantasy writers are focused. A series wouldn't be complete it if didn't touch upon them.
     
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  5. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

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    In answer to your question, a series of guides to certain historical periods written by competent Historians would be very interesting, useful and really great for many Fantasy writers.

    I think that the Plantagenet Monarchs need more attention, especially the period from Edward I to Edward III. That is a fascinating part of History that has been rather ignored, and explaining more about that era would help writers to depict more accurately what the everyday life was like in Medieval England.

    The guides could explain in detail what the medieval warfare was really like, from the financial costs to the logistics of armies in battle, also describing how swords and armor were crafted.
     
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  6. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    If there was a series of guides, representing different cultures and eras, I would be likely to purchase the entire set (assuming quality of the material of course).

    Writers the delve into other time periods are always in need of good, consolidated reference materials. For my current WIP, I would be interested in the dawn of the gunpowder age. However, I think you'll find that there will be interest in just about every era and culture along the possible span within this community.

    Great idea though!
     
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  7. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    I would be greatly interested in such a resource. However, I believe, and I think other Scribes will agree, that such a guide NEEDS to include more than just medieval Europe. Many, many, many fantasy authors have drawn from that well, some with great success, but the ubiquity of Medieval Europe lookalike settings is one of the reasons the genre is falsely accused of being stale and (ironically) uncreative. In order to help new authors include more diverse settings and to aid those who have already chosen to do so, the guide needs to encompass as great a variety of cultures and timelines as is reasonably possible. Egypt, Nubia, Babylon, Persia, India, China, the Pacific Islands, Pre-Columbian empires like the Inca, the Mayans, the Aztecs- the whole world is full of rich and interesting cultures, not just Europe. If you have to cut the Tudors or the Vikings to make room for Edo Japan or Shaka Zulu, that's just fine.
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2013
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  8. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    This is something I believe would be very popular with fantasy writers. I'll echo what others have said about expanding out of Europe. I think any of the places Mindfire mentioned above would be extremely helpful as we often get many posts concerning researching areas outside of medieval Europe. I'm also very interested in Europe as well though, but I think many people have been clamoring for something that covers other areas of the world.
     
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  9. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    I agree with the above members in that I would find it extremely useful to have a better source of knowledge in regards to the day-to-day workings of the medieval times. I think perhaps a guide about the cultures that lived on the fringes of Europe is somewhat lacking in historical fact, Saracens, Moors, Bulgars and the like; as well as the Middle East, The Ottoman Empire for example.

    I think it could give fresh insight as to how the different cultures interacted for trade, politics and military.
     
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  10. MUP

    MUP Acolyte

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    Thank you to everyone who has replied so far. This is all extremely useful stuff and obviously I am very pleased to see so much interest being expressed. I'm also very grateful for the suggestions of particular regions and eras outside of those I mentioned in my original post. This is exactly the kind of feedback I was hoping for.

    In addition, I realise the books may take the fun out of researching - but they would signpost to other, wider and also more specific resources, which hopefully writers would find useful for expanding their research.
     
  11. TheokinsJ

    TheokinsJ Troubadour

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    I would find it to be very useful for world building and writing, seeing as most cultures in fantasy are based off those from history. I've always found the early 800-900AD fascinating due to the vikings and the anglo-saxons and many other cultures. Looking further into the future, another very interesting period of time would have been during the Italian Renaissance. As other members have stated, a lot of people know about the history of Europe, but less well-known history, from other parts of the world such as South-East Asia and the middle east (Turks, ottomans ect) would also be really interesting to read about.
     
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  12. MUP

    MUP Acolyte

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    Thanks, CupofJoe - the idea of publishing guides to the cultures/everyday life in Asia is very exciting to us. I realise you've put from 1500 and earlier, but are there specific eras in each region that you'd be interested in? Thanks again.
     
  13. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Books are the fun part of researching. 90% of the research time spent on Wikipedia and Google is a total waste - incomplete answers, dozens of articles in. The few times I've found a good book on the right subject it's been almost 100% useful. The problem is that unless you're writing historical fiction there aren't a lot of books which look at the kind information fantasy writers really need.

    What we need is a weird mix of the technical and the anecdotal. Travel, for instance, is a good example. How would they travel, how long would it take, and what did they need to bring? I've spent hours looking up that information with iffy results. But also, what are some fun things they might notice or discuss on the way? And how would people feel about heading away from their homes? I imagine that someone who stays within a mile or two of home their entire life talks much differently about leaving than someone today who's seen the world on television. But how different?

    Another good idea might be a run through of life in some of the different professions people were engaged in. There's only so many farmers, hunters and blacksmiths you can talk about before things become predictable. But how would life be different for a tailor or someone in a merchant caravan? I walked through the shop of a glassblower once, who sculpted a blue glass bird in front of a small crowd, and the place just felt like a fantasy setting to me. I imagine that, say, a chandler's shop would, too.

    That's all on top of the basics. Horses, hunting and feudalism, for instance, are all things that writers think they understand but don't. A look at the home, and a detailed map of maybe just three city blocks would do wonders for people writing urban fantasy.

    Clothes and food are easy enough to find information about, and clothing in particular can usually be too difficult to detail for readers. For me, I would want just something like a textbook, single-page chart for each clothes and food, and most of the text to be on what people said and did in their day to day lives.
     
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  14. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    Devor, you're spot on about the mixture of facts and anecdotes. That's exactly the sort of thing I think would be most interesting and useful. To take your travelling example, I'd hope to see pictures and diagrams of the kinds of vehicles used (carts, wagons, ships etc), or what the road would look like, side by side with excerpts from first hand accounts of journeys where they are available, information about how people viewed travel, who travelled, etc.

    For example, a section on travel in ancient Rome might show a map of major raods and a cross section of a road, as well as pictures of carts, river barges and sea-going ships. It might have an account from someone like Pliny the Younger, and information on what kinds of people would do a lot of travelling and for what reasons. I believe there are laws about travelling in the Roman Empire; non-citizens found it somewhat more difficult than citizens did, so that information would be included too. I'd hope also to see information on the dangers of travel - bandits and pirates and the like - as well as information for how long one might expect a journey to take based on the method of travel (on foot, on horseback) and the type of terrain (roman road vs native track, mountainous countryside vs desert, etc).
     
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  15. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    The biggest draw might be a sense of certain writer-oriented basics. Just looking around the threads here makes clear how often people ask certain kinds of questions: how far can someone travel with this, what did people build with that, and anything at all about weapons and fighting styles. (Talk to Anders Ämting. A lot.) Anything that lists good rules of thumb for these, including the main dimensions that make them vary, would make a superb center for any detail about different periods and their ways. Yum!
     
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  16. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    Okay...
    I'd like to know more about the cultures as they change from 0CE onwards. I can find out some information about the empires that rose and fell and even their military but not much about the day to day life...
    The area I am currently interested in is the cultures around the South China Sea [now covered by southern China, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines etc...]. They seemed to have developed socially and technologically very differently to Europe.
    But anything from Afghanistan through to Korea would of interest...
    Hope this helps.
     
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  17. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    Indeed. Facts and figures are good. How big is a normal trading ship? How much cargo can it carry? How many people would be required to sail it? How fast could it travel in certain types of winds? Combine this kind of information with first hand accounts, archaeological evidence and so on and you've got exactly the kind of book we'd be looking for.
     
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  18. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I'd definitely be interested. Personally, I'd like something that goes from general to specific. Sometimes all I need is a general overview of a culture and sometimes I want something very very specific, so it would be awesome if there was a way to get the former without having to wade through tons of the latter.
     
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  19. J. S. Elliot

    J. S. Elliot Inkling

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    This entire series would be a goldmine among writing communities.

    What I'd like to see, at least in part, is how the peerage/nobility system works from culture to culture. Obviously not all of them, but the Germanic peerage confuses me endlessly. How can every other bloke hold the title of "prince" or "princess"? Another thing I'd be interested in seeing, like others, are the military tactics and weaponry employed in the times; among others. (Entertainment among the classes, beyond the generic scope; trade systems, etc.)
     
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  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    For any of these, day-to-day life information would be great. How did the average person live, what were their surroundings like, how did they get by, what were the family units like, what were the expectations of duties in ordinary society, etc.
     
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