Some authors & poets like to produce work set in a past historical period & a precise geographical location. This is not always easy to do, & even minor mistakes can ruin a literary work, exposing its creator to ridicule & derision. What are some ways to insure that a story, poem or novel will accurately reflect the time & place environment in which it unfolds?
First of all, avoid popular historical cliches.–Historians tell us, for example, that little boy George Washington didn’t really chop down a cherry tree. Also be leery of movie & theatrical portrayals–Hollywood showed American pioneer explorer Sacajawea having an affair with Meriwether Lewis, when in reality she was a happily married woman, traveling with her husband at the time. Some movies do faithfully follow history, however.– “Son of the Sun,” set during the demise of the Inca empire, correctly portrayed the conflict between Atahulpa & Francisco Pizarro. A writer just has to dig out the facts.
A great example of this is found in “Clan of the Cave Bear,” by Jean Auel. Set in Pleistocene times, the novel & subsequent movie tell the story of the conflict taking place in western Europe between Neanderthal & Cro Magnon peoples around 100,000 years ago. A reader first concludes that the author must be an archaeologist, or at least someone with a degree in that field. However in lectures she delivered after the book became a best seller, Jean Auel repeatedly stated she originally had known very little about archaeology. So how did she get things right? She dug it out piece by piece, reading on the topic until she felt competent to set a novel back in the last Ice Age. Literary research can be hard, albeit necessary work!
In practicality, repeated trips to libraries can be expensive & time-consuming. Even Google or other Internet sources can be suspect, sometimes reflecting various biases.–But there is a way. First, a budding historical writer or poet needs to come up with a favorite time period & historical location for settings. Often, something in an author’s personal life or family history provides a clue. William Faulkner grew up in Mississippi, an environment he loved, so his settings were already in place. Shakespeare apparently enjoyed reading Hollingshead’s Chronicles with its many fascinating accounts taken from English history, so many accurate settings were there ready for his use.
There is a way that the average writer or poet can build a reliable reference library for pennies. University professors are forever getting free text books sent them by book sales persons, hoping that professors may adopt them as course texts. These professors often place unwanted books in hallway bookcases or boxes outside office doors, usually labeled “help yourself.” A trip to a nearby college or university can yield discarded texts that, while not useable for students in their classes, still are valuable to authors in need of reference data. Some especially valuable subject field text books helpful to authors are: English literature, history, political science, classics, modern language, geography, business, anthropology/archaeology, police science, law, medicine. Since many of these texts would have cost over $100 if purchased new, a foraging trip for such reference material is well worth the time & trouble.