Sunday, January 15, 2012

Time Travel Made Easy

The stack of books I brought home from the library is the inspiration for this week's blog. We've all heard the saying, "He (or she) was born one hundred years too late", referencing someone whose tastes turn to days past. I could be that person. As an imaginative child, my "cape with hood" was an old brown silk scarf pinned under my chin, and I played at "pioneer girl" by eating cornbread with a dollop of mayonnaise--absent the bucket of jam! (I still like it, btw.)

Always fascinated with "the way it was", my shelves groaned with books on various eras until I gave most of them away, realizing that a trip to the public library was far handier than packing and unpacking a half ton of thick tomes. Last week I visited the "976" section and came home with the following:
  • Main Street Arkansas: The Hearts of Arkansas Cities and Towns-As Portrayed in Postcards and Photographs--a virtual trip back in time to the main streets of Arkansas towns, some no longer in existence (Ray Hanley and Steven Hanley, Butler Center Books, 2009) Writing about a turn-of-the (20th) century small town? Watch the wagon traffic pass a barber shop, meat market, news office, and the city hall--and consider the same scene photographed 30 years later, then 40 years later. 
  • "Wish You Were Here " --Arkansas Postcard Past 1900-1925 (Steven Hanley and Ray Hanley, University of Arkansas Press, 1997)--How about an interesting view of a raised crosswalk on the unpaved street of a town square in 1910? Need to describe an early hospital or school? How about a wooden-hulled riverboat accident scene?
  • Life in Arkansas: The First Hundred Years (State DAR Society, 1985)--a painless way to view the evolution of a state, from parades to ferryboat travel, making sorghum to thrashing rice, stagecoaches to ox wagons, high school basketball to teachers' associations...the whole spectrum of an evolving society in haunting black and white photographs that will suck you into their vortex of "who and why".
Illustrated books from any part of the country are a valuable resource when you write historically. Getting lost in the pictures as you study them brings to mind ideas that might just be the clincher for that book contract. For more in-detail information, try things like:
  • Vinegar Pie and Chicken Bread: A Woman's Diary of Life in the Rural South 1890-91 (edited by Margaret Jones Bosterli, University of Arkansas Press, 1982)--weather and washing, sewing and sickness, recipes and relationships--it's all there. 
  • The Seed of Sally Good'n: A Back Family of Arkansas 1833-1953 (Dr. Ruth Polk Patterson, granddaughter of a man born to a slave mother and her white owner, University Press of Kentucky, 1985). Photographs put faces on the individuals who struggled and succeeded in the post-war South. What was daily life like for them? What were relations between black and white in this tenuous world? 
Visit the 976 section of your public library soon. You'll be surprised what you'll turn up and how it will translate into charismatic characters living their lives in authentic settings.

1 comment:

Judy said...

And research can be enjoyable instead of grueling! Thanks for stopping by!