I have a Bachelor of Arts in History and Creative Writing. That BA in History taught me a lot about doing research and how to pick good sources. I’ve always had a love of research, from the time I was the kid who couldn’t get her hands on enough books about horses, dinosaurs, and whales, through high school, when my term papers ran a lot longer than they were required to, and all the way to the present.Of course, when I was in school, research wasn’t done on computers! Even when I was in college, Google was a relatively unknown search engine (most of us still used Yahoo!) and there were few really reliable websites in terms of facts. I could definitely write a post on the offline sources to use in researching a fantasy novel (and I probably will at some point) but for now I’m going to focus on technology.
I’ll give Wikipedia a cursory mention, because as much as people whomp on it as a reliable source, the fact is, it’s a great place to get a general overview and orient yourself to a subject. Don’t take Wikipedia at face value, but don’t shun it, either. A lot of articles have links to great sources off Wikipedia, as well, so it’s a good jumping-off point for research on a specific topic.
Your first stop should be Medievalists.net. There simply isn’t a better online source that’s friendly to hobby medievalists and writers. Peter and Sandra, who run the website, met in a university medieval studies program. They send out The Weekly Medievalverse, an email newsletter, and also publish The Medieval Magazine, a weekly digital magazine.
2. De Re Militari
De Re Militari bills itself as “your portal to scholarly information on warfare in the Middle Ages” and it does a great job in that role. If you’re writing a fantasy novel that includes a war (and how many of them don’t, honestly?), you should definitely check out this website. They curate articles, dissertations, book reviews, primary sources, and publish The Journal of Medieval Military History, an annual publication. De Re Militari is almost certainly the most comprehensive website dealing with medieval warfare.
3. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook
The Internet Medieval Sourcebook is maintained by the Center for Medieval Studies at Fordham University. Primary sources hosted there span a wide variety of topics, including Church councils, late antiquity, Byzantium, Islam, literary texts in various languages, medieval thought, medieval spiritual writing, and governmental, administrative, and legal documents. There’s a large section dealing with sex and gender in the medieval world, as well.
Incidentally, Fordham University’s Internet History Sourcebooks Project has a huge number of topics that it covers besides medieval history. Their menu options include Ancient History Sourcebook, Medieval Sourcebook, Modern History Sourcebook, Byzantine Studies Page, African History Sourcebook, East Asian History Sourcebook, Global History Sourcebook, Indian History Sourcebook, Islamic History Sourcebook, Jewish History Sourcebook, Lesbian and Gay History Sourcebook, Science History Sourcebook, and Women’s History Sourcebook. I could lose days exploring their website and the sources linked.
4. Magical World Builder
While Magical World Builder isn’t technically a research site, I’m listing it here because it’s an amazingly comprehensive guide to world-building. There’s another great list of world-building questions written by Patricia C. Wrede. Whichever list you use, you’ll have a document to guide your research in terms of what you should be researching and how to think about what you’re researching.
5. Mostly Medieval
Mostly Medieval is a great website if you want to find details that will give your fantasy authenticity. Even if you’re not writing a fantasy novel set in a pseudo-medieval world, you can find all kinds of great ideas there, and then spin them differently for your own setting and culture. The website has several main sections: Ballads, Beasties, Book of Days, God and War, Heraldry, and Medicine.
6. People of Color in European Art History
This blog is better known as Medieval PoC, and I think it’s an important blog to follow for people who want to write pseudo-medieval fantasy. Okay, yes, I’m a white woman, but that doesn’t mean I want to read books where all the characters are white women. (One of the most amazing books I read last year was Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson.) We need more diversity in fiction, and there’s an historical precedent for people of color doing all sorts of amazing things in medieval society, so why not in fantasy society as well?
7. Women in World History
Just like we need more ethnic diversity in fantasy, I also believe we need to keep writing more fantasy about women. Why not take a look at biographies of dozens of women rulers and leaders, or read about the work women did in the past, or women’s property rights and how women’s rights in general have changed over the years? There are some amazing resources here, and I’ve barely begun to delve into them myself. While Women in World History is geared towards teachers, I promise non-teachers won’t be bored!
8. Medieval Middle East History
The Medieval Middle East History page hosted by Colorado State University Libraries is a great listing of reference books, websites, journals, and indexes. A lot of the full-text resources aren’t easily accessible if you aren’t a CSU student, but a lot of times your public library will have access to some of those same databases.
So there you have it–eight great websites to get you started on your journey towards writing a well-researched fantasy novel! Do you have a favorite source that I left out? If you do, please share in the comments! I’m always looking for more great sources.