History Hoydens

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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

28 March 2012

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yes, it’s my birthday (“for reals”, as my little sister would say), and I’m so thrilled that my Hoydens and hoyden friends are here to share it with me. If there were a way to offer cupcakes through the internet, I would be sharing pink icing with you right now. Since there doesn’t seem to be (or, if there is, it’s a jealously guarded secret in a bunker in New Mexico somewhere), I’ll just have to share words instead and leave you to acquire the cupcakes on your own.

Out of curiosity, I did a little poking around on the historical origins of birthday celebrations. What I discovered was… that no one really knows. Oh, there are all sorts of theories, but it’s like my old Magic 8 ball used to say: “Hazy”. One argument is that birthday celebrations date back to ancient Greece and the candles on the birthday cake are somehow tangled up with worship of the goddess Artemis (who, frankly, from those old myths doesn’t seem the sort who would bring enough cupcakes to share with the class. Just sayin’).

The Romans ate honey cakes for birthdays, presumably for a sweet year, celebrating imperial birthdays as well as personal ones, although there are some who argue that birthday cake as such doesn’t really come into being until medieval Germany, where sweetened bread dough was made into the shape of the baby Jesus, eventually turning from religious celebration into children’s party. In England, rather as with Christmas puddings, coins and thimbles would be hidden in birthday cakes, forming a sort of domestic divination: if you got the coin, it mean money in your future (and possibly a broken tooth, but, hey, that’s the risk one takes).

In some cultures, the real celebration is the name day or the saint’s day rather than the birthday. (Although, as I understand it, cake and presents are still involved, which is really the crucial thing, isn’t it?) While I was doing my research for Ashford Park, my 1920s book, which is set partially in Kenya, I came across other groups who count age from the circumcision date, the universal rite of passage, rather than the individual birth date.

So, basically, it’s all a muddle. Birthday traditions tend to grow and proliferate in bizarre and specific ways. I went to a tiny all girls’ school where it was de rigeur for (a) the birthday girl to cut the first slice of cake, and then (b) to scream when she hit the bottom (I do this automatically, which tends to alarm those who didn’t grow up with that particular tradition), following which she must (c) chew the entire first slice without showing her teeth or else spend the rest of the party under the table.

Wait, you mean you don’t do this?

My little sister, who went to this school, also adamantly holds to these traditions. My brother, who went to a different school, thinks we’re nuts.

Do you have your own personal birthday traditions? What are they?

p.s. I'm having a birthday celebration over on my website today, so stop by for book give-aways and other fun!

26 March 2012

No more, no more Greenland for you, brave boys

This Saturday I went to Mystic, Connecticut, a small recreation of a shipbuilding and whaling town (like Williamsburg, but for mid- to late-19th century shipping).  I could have easily spent another full day there and not seen everything!


A photo opportunity! On the left is my friend Matti (who I dedicated A Lily Among Thorns  to--she met me in Mystic with her fiancé, which was wonderful because I haven't seen them in forever) and on the right is me. All pictures, by the way, are taken by my uncle, David Lerner.


I really, really love tall ships.


In case you can't read this sign, it says: "1876 Witness to History: Meet a Person from the 19th Century!" And then written in chalk is "Saturday March 24, 1876. Miss Marsh is enjoying a day of respite from her work in the Mill."  And then to clarify, there was this sign:


"The Staff in this exhibit are ROLEPLAYERS portraying people living in 1876. Please come in and converse with them about Life and the Sea in the 19th Century."  I was a little disappointed as I was expecting time travelers!


This ginormous anchor was salvaged near Mystic and is believed to belong to a British 74-gun ship (my uncle says that was the standard size for a ship of the line) from the Revolutionary War or the War of 1812.  Pretty cool, no?


I'm not sure why I found it so funny that they shrink-wrapped the boats and ships. My uncle says it's not at all unusual.


Original iron shutters on the bank! It also had an impressive iron door and a granite vault (although that was to prevent the contents being hurt in a fire, not to prevent burglaries).  One thing I forgot to ask for a picture of was the partner desk in the shipping agents' office, but I really liked it.  It was like two of those great sloping desks you see bankers or accountants using in costume dramas, put back to back, so that the partners could work facing each other. It's not, I guess, an unusual design, and it conserves space, but it just looked like such a cozy way to work with a friend.


The ropes had to be stretched full-length to be twisted, so to make rope for a large ship required an incredibly long building. This one, I think, wasn't even the original full length (I think they said the real one was twice as large and four times as long, or something amazing like that).  The spinning wheels to make the twine was upstairs in a loft, and then as you can see, the twine went on this giant spool machine from which you could thread it into this:


(Sadly it came out a little blurry, but you get the idea).  Then this machines on tracks were used to twist first the individual strands of rope, and then to twist the strands of rope together into the complete rope--but it all had to be manually told what to do by people who had to know exactly how fast to roll the machine and to rotate its parts in order to get an evenly twisted rope. Something that really struck me at all the trades was the incredible precision of every single artisan's knowledge, from the cooper who had to cut staves and form them into perfectly water-tight barrels to the ship's architects who used a wooden model of a ship to create actual full-size pieces of ships, tracing patterns for ship-parts onto the floors of giant lofts and the carpenters just carved the parts right there! 



Everybody had to know exactly what they were doing or the whole thing fell apart.

This is a Life-Saving Station. Isn't the design cute? I got the impression it was the standard design. Men lived here whose job was to help out the crew of wrecked or floundering boats. They were set at intervals along the coast and the men walked a beat from their own station to the halfway point, looking out for ships in trouble.  Then they could rest briefly in a small shed-like building called a halfway house. There they had to meet the guy from the next station over and exchange brass shields, to prove they had really walked the whole beat.


I was fascinated by the druggist's because of course my last hero, Solomon, was a chemist.  So much neat glass equipment and mysterious jars everywhere! (All the jars in one cabinet were labeled in Latin, so the various herb-seeds were labeled "Semen" much to the amusement of some 12-year-old boys...) The druggist also equipped ships with standard medicine chests (which I think they were legally required to carry). I liked these convenient leech-jars.

The shipsmith's shop is the "only manufactory of ironwork for the whaling industry known to have survived from the 19th century." The guy working there told us the story of how it was saved: an eccentric millionaire bought it and displayed it on his estate! The man in question was Edward Green, son of Hetty Green (the "Witch of Wall Street," so called because I guess ladies can't be successful Wall Street moguls without resorting to congress with the devil). Both of their Wikipedia pages are well worth reading!

Anyway, the important part is that she was a notorious miser and he was a lavish spender, with famous stamp and coin collections and a fleet of nice cars in addition to his "giant historical stuff" collection. His other big purchase was the Charles W. Morgan, the last whaling ship still extant, also now at Mystic and currently in dry-dock being restored. (It was HUGE! We had to walk up about four flights of stairs to get onto the deck. I think most of the space was reserved for barrels of whale oil though, because my uncle, who's 6'4", was hunched over and getting severely claustrophobic in the crew deck and honestly I wasn't doing much better even though I'm only 5'8".)

The guy in the shipsmith's shop said he spent every penny of his inheritance and ended bankrupt! It's not true though. He was a talented businessman and Wikipedia says his estate was valued at over 44 million dollars and his wife and sister fought a major probate court battle over it. (His wife, by the way, was a former sex worker! He waited until after his mother died to marry her.)  The bankruptcy story is a better narrative though, isn't it?

We concluded the day in the shop, where I demonstrated my restraint and frugality by only buying three new books--and one was a gift! The two for me are Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail by W. Jeffrey Bolster and The Trafalgar Captains: Their Lives and Memorials by Colin White and The 1805 Club. I dithered over that last book but in the end I couldn't resist--it consists of brief biographies of each officer who captained a ship at the Battle of Trafalgar and (what the back cover copy describes as "perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the work") locations, descriptions, and photographs of each of their graves. If I decide to take a Trafalgar Captains' Graves Tour of England, I am prepared!

I managed to resist Trying Leviathan, about a court case in 1818 to decide whether whales were fish or not (if they were, they were subject to New York State fish oil tax) but I'm regretting it a little now...

What large historical thing would you buy if you were an eccentric billionaire?

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23 March 2012

The Romance of the Rails


When I was growing up, family vacations always consisted of visiting the relatives. Well, that was the official story, anyway. In reality, they were just a thin excuse for my father to meet another one of his great passions – steam trains. We’d drive for hours through high mountain passes, above steep precipices, along tumbling rivers, over narrow logging roads – just to catch a glimpse of one of those beauties, sailing along, her whistle caroling out across the wilderness.

My father always stopped to watch and listen. Oh, he’d talk to the engineer and the fireman, too, about their magnificent example of a bygone era. But he didn’t need to inspect their innards or get his hands on the wheel. He wanted to ride them, wherever they went for as long as possible.

He grew up during the Depression in a boarding house his mother ran for college students. The only man in the family, he faced a lot of hard work, while he listened to the trains passing through the great railroad yards only a few miles away. Never the most articulate of men, his face would light up decades later when he talked about his first long train trip, the one that took him away from that college town and the boarding house.

Other men are probably better at talking to little girls. But some things don’t need words. The first time I stood beside him and heard a steam engine’s whistle, the same thrill of pure joy ran through us both. I looked up at him and smiled. He grinned back at me and took my hand.

I’d written three western historicals before The Northern Devil and traveling by train was included, as a matter of course. I’d always treated it as matter of factly as we’d discuss driving our cars. But I wanted to do something else, something more intense, more passionate. The feeling got stronger with every book, as if my father’s ghost was pushing me harder and harder. He didn’t want the facts put down on paper – but the sheer delight.

Lucas and Rachel’s story is a marriage of convenience, where marriage pushes them together and intensifies their conflict. I wanted their surroundings to be just as tight and passionate as their relationship but how?

The idea hit me: a stream train in winter. Hot and steamy, capable of burning your skin off if you’re unwary enough to touch it. And how incredibly beautiful a private car’s interior could be, too! But frigid and dangerous, a barren waste of a landscape, like Lucas’s arrogant exterior and the wreck of his family life.

I wrote The Northern Devil’s train scenes for my father. I know his ghost was beside me all the way.

Reader, what books have reminded you of a loved one?

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14 March 2012

Spy Stories


I felt quite behind on movie watching at the Academy Awards, but I have managed to go to the movies a couple of times since my daughter Mélanie was born (Mélanie cooperated by sleeping in my lap). One of the movies we saw was Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I loved it, despite having vivid memories of the miniseries with Alec Guinness. In fact, watching the movie I was amazed at how well I remembered the story. Names of characters, plot twists, and even fragments of dialogue came back to me.

I was fourteen when I saw the original Tinker, Tailor (which led me to the book), and I was fascinated. In fact, watching the movie I realized that this story began my fascination with spies whether it's Le Carré's murky world of moral ambiguity, James Bond adventures, or Lauren's flower spies (just finished and loved The Garden Intrigue). Spies play roles (in The Garden Intrigue Lauren's spies are actually putting on a masque). Only spies roles don't end when the curtain comes down. And those roles inevitably involve telling lies - to the enemy, sometimes to their own people. Watching Tinker, Tailor, I also realized how often the political betrayal in spy stories is juxtaposed to romantic betrayal. The new Tinker, Tailor movie emphasizes this beautifull. As George Smiley searches for the mole in MI6, recurring flashbacks to a Christmas party reveal more personal betrayals. Len Deighton's Bernard Samson books also juxtapose betrayal of one's country with betrayal of one's spouse. The Bernard Samon books were one of my inspirations for my Malcolm & Suzanne/Charles & Mélanie books. But watching Tinker, Tailor I realized the inspiration went back to my fourteen-year-old self, drinking in a story that fascinated me even though parts of it seemed too adult to quite understand.

Do you like spy stories? What do you think the allure is? What are some of your favorites?

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12 March 2012

Origins of Clan Tartans (Setts)

This is an excerpt from the handout for my History of the Kilt workshop. I was discussing the issue on Twitter the other day (with the wonderful Maili) and thought I'd go ahead do a post on the topic since so many people are under the incorrect impression that that clan tartans are an ancient, historic fact.

1618 The first recognizable effort to enforce uniformity throughout an entire clan milita
1707 Act of Union; Tartan becomes symbol of Scottish nationalism
1740s First formal Scottish regiments, need for identifying tartan
1746 (post Jacobite rebellion) Highland dress banned
1782 ban rescinded, soon the kilt adopted by even the lowland/border Scots (went into effect in 1783)
1822 George IV wears Highland dress on a Royal visit to Scotland


H. F. McClintock and J. Telfer Dunbar state specifically: “Before 1746 [when Highland dress was outlawed] we have not yet come upon a single authentic reference to clan tartans or any system whereby persons of particular name wore a particular pattern . . . It is also significant that amongst the vast number of pre-1746 folk stories and songs of the Highlands we find no reference to clan tartans.”

The first record we have of many patterns is from the pattern book of William Wilsons and Sons of Bannockburn, who began business sometime around 1765. Wilsons was using standard patterns and colors by the late 1780s, but they were not “clan tartans” was we think of them, but patterns identified by number. By the end of the eighteenth century Wilsons began to identify their tartans by names, as well as by number. These were fanciful names given to the patterns by Wilsons, the setts were in no way connected to the clan whose name it now shared. Wilsons did not limit themselves to the names of clans, setts are just as likely to have been named after cities, events (such as Waterloo), and people (such as Wellington or Rob Roy).

Another source of the great clan sett myth was the Highland Society of London (begun in 1778), which was founded in the attempt to revive and restore Highland culture. Unfortunately, nearly forty years had passed and much of the Highland culture and tradition had been forgotten. With the new romanticism attached to the Highlands, the tartan was now adopted by all Scotts, Lowland and Highland, and many of these “new adopters” had the mistaken notion that the names of the tartans they were now seeing in pattern books had an actual ancient link to the clan in question.

On of the milestones in this new mythos was an attempt in 1815 by Col. Alasdair MacDonell to “preserve” what he thought was an original clan tartan system before it was lost. He urged all of the clan chiefs to submit a sample of their authentic tartan to the Highland Society of London. While this request confused the chiefs in question, many of them assumed that this knowledge was something they had lost during the years of suppression and prohibition, and they set about attempting to ascertain what their clan tartan was (with the result that many of them ended up claiming it was the one they found bearing their name in a pattern book).

A perfect example of this is the MacPherson tartan. It began life as “No. 43” in Wilsons pattern book. At some point a large amount was sold to a man in the West Indies named MacPherson, and his name was added to their records. So when the chief of Clan MacPherson asked for a sample of “the MacPherson tartan” it was No. 43 that Wilsons sent. The chief submitted No. 43 to the Highland Society, and this is still the standard tartan used by the MacPherson clan today!

The idea that there was such a thing as “an official clan tartan” really came into its own after King George IV’s visit to Edinburgh in 1822. The Highland chiefs were asked to appear in their “proper clan tartan,” and despite the fact that many had no idea what that was, they made the attempt. After this the idea that each clan did indeed have its own historic sett was firmly entrenched in the public’s mind.

For an in-depth study of this issue I recommend you go to the on-line version of the Scottish Tartan Museum at albanach.org.

Dunbar, John Telfer. History of Highland Dress. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1962.
Dunbar, John Telfer. The Costume of Scotland. London: B. T. Batsford Ltd., 1981.
McClintock, H. F. Old Irish and Highland Dress, and that of the Isle of Man, 2nd and enlarged ed. Dundalk: Dundalgan Press (W. Tempest) Ltd, 1950.

By the way, The National Galleries of Scotland has an exhibit up called Blazing with Crimson: Tartan Portraits (through 2013), which looks wonderful.




07 March 2012

Historical Historical Fiction

Rose's post about Jane Eyre-- which everyone should read if you haven't already!-- got me thinking about historical "feel" as conveyed through fiction. Reading period novels provides an excellent sense of the "feel" of a particular time period, even if that feel isn't always exactly what we thought it would be.

But what about historical novels written by non-contemporary authors? I'm talking about the Sir Walter Scotts, the Alexandre Dumas, the Georgette Heyers. When reading contemporary authors-- our contemporaries, that is-- we tend to automatically factor in a modern bias. We allow for the discrepancy between the modern author and the time period the author is attempting to convey. We automatically take this into account when reading Philippa Gregory or Anya Seton or even Kathleen Winsor. But what about authors who aren't our contemporaries writing about time periods that weren't contemporary to them?

Thackeray's Vanity Fair, for example, was a historical novel when he wrote it (written in the 1840's about the earlier part of the century)-- but we don't really think of it as such. I don't know about you, but I grew up on The Three Musketeers and Ivanhoe. My image of the seventeenth century was shaped by Dumas, my vision of the Middle Ages by Sir Walter Scott. But Sir Walter Scott was a man of the Scottish Enlightenment, writing a romanticized version of a period far from contemporary to him, while Alexandre Dumas was a product of the third Republic and the second Empire, dictating tales of a swashbuckling past to his horde of sub-scribes. Their conceptions of the past are, I would argue, as suspect as, well, yours or mine-- but do we regard them as critically?

I heard this view expressed most forcefully in regard to the late, great Georgette Heyer, who is credited with single handedly developing the Regency romance genre. Heyer's research skills were legendary and her world is taken as gospel by legions of Regency fans today. But how Regency was Heyer's Regency world? While preparing for the class we taught on the rise and development of the Regency romance genre at Yale a couple of years ago, Cara Elliott and I dug into some of the literary criticism on Heyer, which pointed out-- rightly-- that her Regencies often sound suspiciously like her "contemporary" (1930s and 40s) mystery novels. If there's sometimes a Wodehouse feel to Heyer's Regency World, it's there for a reason; Wodehouse and Heyer were writing contemporaneously, reflecting the same influences. Her research is impressive, but her characters' mores and outlooks are as rooted in the early twentieth century as the early nineteenth.

I'm not sure it is possible to achieve an unmediated view of the past. But I do think it is important, when forming our views of what "is" medieval or what "is" Regency to be aware of the bases on which we're building these beliefs.

Where do your ideas of historical "feel" come from?

05 March 2012

The golden age of modern literature

The Oscar decision that most disappointed me last week was that Jane Eyre didn't win for Best Costume Design.

Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska from Jane Eyre 2011. Both laugh as they tussle for something in Jane's hand.

I thought the costumes were beautiful, and complemented the vibe of the story and the personality of each character perfectly.

The interesting thing is that I noticed for the first time a few years ago (on about my fifteenth re-read, but my first since college) that Jane Eyre is actually set during the (long) Regency. I was wondering, because of some details in how clothing and hair is described in the book, but this weird passage clinched it:

"[H]e laid on the table a new publication—a poem: one of those genuine productions so often vouchsafed to the fortunate public of those days—the golden age of modern literature.  Alas! the readers of our era are less favoured.  But courage!  I will not pause either to accuse or repine.  I know poetry is not dead, nor genius lost; nor has Mammon gained power over either, to bind or slay: they will both assert their existence, their presence, their liberty and strength again one day.  Powerful angels, safe in heaven! they smile when sordid souls triumph, and feeble ones weep over their destruction.  Poetry destroyed?  Genius banished?  No!  Mediocrity, no: do not let envy prompt you to the thought.  No; they not only live, but reign and redeem: and without their divine influence spread everywhere, you would be in hell—the hell of your own meanness.
While I was eagerly glancing at the bright pages of 'Marmion' (for 'Marmion' it was), St. John stooped to examine my drawing."
Marmion was published in 1808. (I don't know whether this tirade applies to all poetry after the Romantics, or just the poetry published between 1808 and "ten years later" when Jane is supposedly writing. Charlotte Brontë: genius and a bit of a weirdo, am I right?)
"But it's cool that they always make the clothes Victorian in movie adaptations," I thought, "because it's such a Victorian book. Putting Jane and Rochester in Regency clothes would be as weird as that Pride and Prejudice where everyone has leg-of-mutton sleeves."
Elizabeth and Darcy and Jane and Bingley from the black-and-white Pride and Prejudice with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. All wear very Victorian clothes.


But trying to pick apart why I feel that way is a little harder. What exactly is so quintessentially Victorian about Jane Eyre? Is it the deep POV? One could argue Jane Austen did deep POV in her books, especially Emma and Persuasion. Is it the dark seriousness? Thackeray is as light and funny as JA. Gothic horror is even a Regency genre! Is it just the style of the prose? In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf said,
"The sentence that was current at the beginning of the nineteenth century ran something like this perhaps: 'The grandeur of their works was an argument with them, not to stop short, but to proceed. They could have no higher excitement or satisfaction than in the exercise of their art and endless generations of truth and beauty. Success prompts to exertion; and habit facilitates success.' That is a man's sentence; behind it one can see Johnson, Gibbon and the rest. It was a sentence that was unsuited for a woman's use. Charlotte Brontë, with all her splendid gift for prose, stumbled and fell with that clumsy weapon in her hands. George Eliot committed atrocities with it that beggar description. Jane Austen looked at it and laughed at it and devised a perfectly natural, shapely sentence proper for her own use and never departed from it."

Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles in the 1943 Jane Eyre

But it's not a very rigorous argument, apart from whatever opinions on the idea of a "woman's sentence" one might have. I don't think Jane Austen invented a new sentence, although there's no doubt she's a great writer who did some new and brilliant things with dialogue. Victorian prose was generally more ornate and formal than what was stylish in the Regency, and googling the quote Woolf used turns up "The New Monthly Magazine" of 1823, when that shift was already happening.


The one thing I can come up with that I feel pretty sure about is that the way Brontë uses the Regency is very Victorian.  While doing some research on Byron and his fans last year, I read an essay about silver fork novels, a style of popular novel that, according to Wikipedia, "dominated the English literature market from the mid-1820s to the mid-1840s" (Jane Eyre was published in 1847). Many silver fork novels, as far as I can tell, were a precursor to our Regency romances.  They depicted the lives of the British aristocracy in detail, hence their name, and according to the essay I read ("Silver-Fork Byron and the Image of Regency England" by Andrew Elfenbein in Byromania), many of them took place in the Regency period and were love stories where a rake reformed and married the virtuous heroine at the end.

But to Victorian readers, that had a much different significance than I think it does to us. The Regency represented a period of decadence and immoderation in English history, and the Regency aristocracy especially so: the "middle-class" values of chastity and thrift became so much more important at all levels of society during the Victorian era.  The Regency rake's reform also symbolized the Regency Era's reform, and his shift to responsible landowner represented England's shift into the morally upright Victorian Era.

Jane and Rochester from the 1996 version

Jane Eyre certainly fits that paradigm: Rochester's aristocratic moral degeneracy is transformed by Jane's rigid sexual morality (and the class differences between them don't hurt either!).

What do you think? What makes Jane Eyre feel so Victorian? Are we just stereotyping the period's literatures based on their most famous female writers?

Could you see Jane in high-waisted dresses and poke bonnets?

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02 March 2012

Research: To Ebook or Not to Ebook, That is The Question:

Okay, I admit it: I have thirty two bookcases. There are times when I’d like to have fewer, like when I’m dusting. On the other hand, a big, fat reference book with tons of illustrations is heaven on earth for a historical author.

What’s an author to do? E-readers and e-reading applications – like Kindle, Nook, and iBooks – aren’t known for their ability to showcase illustrations or complex tables, comparing multiple factors. They simply wrap text around the screen, no matter how large the letters or the screen are. Over and over again, until the book reaches the end of its tale.

This means that I read fiction as ebooks but almost no research books in that format. Other people feel the same way: for example, this week’s top ten bestsellers in print were non-fiction while fiction ruled the digital bestsellers.

But I’d love to do research in a digital book and do so whenever I get the chance. For example, biographies are often delightful.

A friend gave me Adrian Goldsworthy’s Antony and Cleopatra. It’s a scholarly examination of their lives, which focuses more on them as political allies than lovers. The prose is so smooth that it reads faster than many novels and one can skip over the maps.

And then there are the classic research tomes – books like Brian Lavery’s Nelson’s Navy: The Ships, Men, and Organisation, 1793-1815. It saved me more than once when I wrote “Caught by the Tides,” my Regency novella in Beyond the Dark. That story hinges on the naval nuts-and-bolts Napoleon needed to pull off his invasion of England in 1803.

Lavery’s Nelson’s Navy has 350 pages on everything anybody ever wanted to know about anybody’s navy during that era. It’s packed with tons of illustrations, both period and modern recreations, all carefully annotated with their source. Plus, it comes with a full bibliography, footnotes, and index. The only possible complaint is that some of the illustrations could be in color. Oh, and that it might weigh less than four pounds. (Yes, the phrase “door stop” has been used for it.)

But it’s wonderful. I just wish it were an ebook. Then I could zoom it on some of the illustrations – like the photo of the naval cook stove, with the two integrated kettles on top and the oven in the side. (Just how did people use all those handles coming off in all those directions?) Plus, I could carry it with me to read anywhere I went – and never dust it again. (Oh, happy day!)

If I was truly lucky, somebody would turn it into an application for iPads or other tablets. Then it could include videos or animation for some of the drawings, like how a warship’s sails worked. But that’s expensive with a capital E and unlikely to happen for every reference book.

At least Brian Lavery provided a condensed introduction to naval warfare during the Napoleonic era in Life in Nelson’s Navy. At ninety pages long and with no illustrations, it’s available in both paper – and digital.

Thank heaven options are starting to appear.

Reader, do you like your research books in print or ebooks? What would you like your ereader to do better for your research?

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