Worldbuilding: A Problem of History

Okay, first off, I want to tell anybody who wants to read up on scientific research but may not already know this neat trick: if you go to the main JSTOR site and sign up as an independent researcher, you can get access to 100 free articles to read a month. It still costs you money if you want to download an article to print, but you can at least read them. And bookmark them to re-read later, if – like me – sometimes you just have time to run a search, not to read right that minute. And you can search the heck out of the whole site, with small previews available that are generally enough to figure out if the article is worth reading for what you want. On top of that a few of the articles are “Open access”, meaning you can download and print them without any fees.

(If writers don’t qualify as independent researchers, I don’t know who would.)

So. Why this is relevant. I find one of the things that can get me moving, writing, is I have to be learning something. The bunnies can’t just rest on stuff I already know. If I can’t keep digging up new facts and folklore, I stall. I’ve ordered a few books to strategically fill in a knowledge gap or two (one on Appalachian herb history, should be good for Oni), but I’m also digging through JSTOR to get what I can free.

Here’s a thought someone tossed me recently on isekai: if a character wants to bring in knowledge from the modern world, consider writing what they think they ought to know/do off your own top-of-the-head knowledge. Then go research the heck out of it to figure out what would actually happen.

In the Joseon fantasy AU idea, I want my poor isekai’d guy to be a historian. About two nights ago (when I was trying to sleep, go figure) he gave me this bit.

“Some people watched zombie movies for a fright. Me, I read up on the Little Ice Age. There’s enough horror in there to put Hollywood shriek-fests out of business for good.”

…Which is actually a lot of info in a small package. This implies Little Ice Age history is one of his hobbies. (Along with composite bow archery – hey, it seemed like a good reason he might have picked Korea for his planned overseas adventure.) And that in turn means he may not have an expert’s knowledge on the subject, but he’s poked at all kinds of oddball info on it and so stands a good chance of knowing stray facts about… well, all of it. (And is thus rightly terrified when he learns the date in this world, because facing zombie hordes? Sure, fine. Facing most of a century of wars, plagues, famines, and despair? Oh boy.)

It also, of course, raises the question of, what’s his actual area of specialization? Because I have to be able to research that well enough to fake it. Even if he’s been teaching high school history before he took early retirement, he would have had a specific area of history he covered to get his degree.

At the moment, looking at the history books I’ve got on hand, I could probably pull off a historian who studied Early Modern Japan, or maybe one who specializes in the Appalachians or the history of plants being moved across the world. I’m going to have to think about it.

What are you all planning to research next?

58 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: A Problem of History

  1. Animal husbandry (cattle and poultry) as well as transportation of large quantities of live animals.

    Because the lying a-holes posing as gods use a sacrifice as the purported means by which they charge the power cores needed for interstellar travel, and not all the worlds in their network are capable of supporting large herd growth, so they need to move animals from planet A to planet B to maintain their masquerade.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Reading Pascal’s Pensees. Philosophy. Sue me. 😛 But thinking about thinking gets the research part of my brain activated and helps with the, y’know, improve as a person part of life too. Plus it gives me interesting stuff to drop into my stories, especially when I’ve got a scholarly-invlined character.

      Also recently did a deep dive about the structure of DC-level military.


      No freaking wonder we have problems.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. That… Wasn’t supposed to be a reply to you, Nielin. Sorry. *Shakes fist at WordPress* Although, what level of technological development are you researching for husbandry? I’m poking a story setting that’s more medieval fantasy and several characters are involved in farming and animal management, but as its only in draft phase I’m still fuzzy on a lot of details.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. I love Blaise Pascal’s work. He was in an interesting period where the first inklings of what would become Post-Modernism began rearing it’s head and his observations about where it would be headed eventually are spot-on.

        Liked by 3 people

      3. Tech level will be both late 1700’s early 1800’s to present day. Need to know how they used to do it before railroads, etc., and how it changed after.

        Because as funny as it was to see the cargo hold of the Serenity filled with cows, I already know there’s no way you would get a couple dozen cattle to be calm in such a cramped space for what had to be at least a full day’s travel and was likely closer to several if not a full week.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. My highschool had two paired classes:
    Archery for Gym
    Bow-making for Art

    We made laminate bows, which meant gluing thin wood slats with and fiberglass into layers to create the bow rather than carving one stick of wood.

    We also made our own arrows.

    It was simple enough for teenagers to manage and a lot more interesting than just picking up a plastic bow and plinking away at a target.

    It made us pay attention to how the grip felt… because we could change it.
    Or how the shelf worked, or how long the arrows had to be.

    I ended up making longer and longer arrows as I got better at archery because I was pulling the string further back and I would pull too far and the arrow would pin my hand to the bow.
    That sounds worse than it was, you just have to make sure not to let go of the string.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. You had an awesome high school.

      Me, I had to get longer arrows simply because my arms are so freaking long I go way past the 28″ draw standard. (Which means I’m pulling somewhere around 7-10 lbs more than a bow’s marked weight, always fun…)

      Also, Vathara, as a compound archer, thank you for giving that wonderful weapon the love it deserves. 🙂 Too many movies have just used it for *aesthetic*.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Aesthetic nothing. It’s a legit, lethal weapon, and historically Korean archers had a very neat trick.

        “Used by the Koreans, this weapon was considered a national secret during the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598).”

        It’s used in the movie “War of the Arrows”, which I think I’m going to have to watch, despite it being gory and brutal – apparently the archery in there is top-notch.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Composite bows. Another invention brought to you by the steppe peoples, whose motto is “I have lots of time on my hands while I’m watching the herds, so at night I invent things small enough to fit in the yurt or go on the wagon.”

        Liked by 6 people

      3. Interesting. Looking at the link about the Pyeonjeon, and it’s comment about the Tongah, you might take a look at this channel on youtube:
        Among other things, Joerg Sprave has spent the last several years experimenting with similar devices, attempting to come up with better versions, and finding out what works or what doesn’t by trial and error.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I recently bought a stack of Dover textbooks, mostly as a supplement to help cover one of my lower priorities in research.

    Then I stuck them in the closet, to focus on the day job.

    Well, I have been recovering from sick, and coming out of a lack of desire to read. So I pulled out a small stack, and am cycling through reading the early portions.

    Haven’t the spoons to absorb much, or get deep into a single one.

    But, for more serious purposes, deciding my next big area of research is my next big area of research. 😀

    Liked by 4 people

      1. So, I’ve been playing with interstellar isekai with both supers and dungeons, when I’ve recently been trying to build worlds.

        One of the takeaways from that ‘sick time’ reading is that maybe I need to assume that in the other world nuclear rockets are a easily available resource. Or materia/etc. cognate equivalent. Because I want it to be possible to buy old beater rockets that launch from, and land on, their tails, the way that God and Heinlein intended.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. I know a lot of dyeing techniques— but that’s for wool yarn and oddly silk yarn. I don’t know how to shear a sheep, I only have the vaguest understanding of carding wool, I know how to use a drop spindle but absolutely suck at it.

    I know that you need a different process to prep cotton for dyeing, but I don’t know what that is.

    I know exactly nothing of making my own distilled white vinegar— which is necessary for making the dye take in the first place— nor anything about making the dye themselves. How much of what you know depends on knowing a different process too? Because knowing how to slap something together doesn’t really work if you need to know how to fabricate the parts needed and the locals don’t know how either.

    I have a friend who knows all about soap making, and does make her own soap— because she’s allergic to some chemicals used in commercial soap.

    Honestly, if I ever got my poor self isekai’d I’d open a bakery or work in one. Do I have that many recipes memorized? No, but I solidly know the basics, and depending on where I got yanked to, it wouldn’t get me burned at the stake for witchcraft.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Making vinegar is the same as making wine, except you let it go. Making a still is the tricky bit, because you need tubing and heat. But then you can also have distilled alcohol, distilled herbal medicines, distilled perfumes, etc. It’s a good technology. But you’ll want it somewhere away from other things, because it gets stinky and in case it gets explodey.

      Otherwise you’re stuck stirring a boiling pot forever and ever, like making simple syrup or sekanjabin. Bah.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. To be fair, when I read the page, it wasn’t about vinegar for eating. It was about specific acidities for specific purposes, like weedkilling or fabric softener. So they were buying more potent bottles to reduce storage space, and to keep from having to buy vinegar every week and in different acidities.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. A distillation setup also enables diethyl ether production, in case you need a good organic solvent or general anesthetic. Although good ventilation and a decently sealed apparatus are essential to avoid accidentally knocking yourself out or blowing yourself up. Or both. (The synthesis itself is extremely easy, though.)

        Liked by 2 people

    2. I’ve been slowly realizing that I have few to no useful skills that don’t depend on electric machines, or tools (which I don’t know how to make from scratch), period.

      Sew? Heck yeah! …with an electric machine. Carpentry, same. Cooking, same.

      Gardening… needs tools. Or a source of plants. Or the skill to recognize useful plants and move them to places convenient for one’s self.

      … but researching any of those things? Forget about it, I’m too busy doing them with the machines and tools I have…

      Which is not to say that I don’t collect books on how to do without, or how to do with more primitive materials. I just haven’t read them.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. True, but that is one reason for buying beer. Beer bread so you don’t have to work with potentially dangerous yeast. Let someone else do that heavy lifting for you! Most societies developed beer very early so it’s not something that I think I’d theoretically need to know.


    1. I’ve made a piece from fragments of old Victorian stained glass and new leading. It was a really good class, and my little stained glass shield is still around here somewhere.

      Actually making the glass is a little more complex. Quality control was something of a problem for medievals, so it was pretty specialized.

      And drawing/painting pictures onto stained glass was also pretty specialized.

      There are a lot of modern webpages bitching about how, even though we can make glass more easily, and the processes are better understood, that we just don’t care enough to make really good new stained glass, or in as elaborate of schemes, and we don’t use it in appropriate places where it would work. It’s a priorities thing, I guess.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. An interesting bit of (modern) stained glass history, is that Lawrence Saint (when working on some of the windows for the National Cathedral in Washington DC) re-developed the recipes and production techniques for several colors/types of stained glass used in medieval cathedrals, after they’d been lost for a while. The wikipedia page on him really understates his contribution there.

      Also, while it’s little more than a footnote there, he’s the father of Nate Saint, a missionary who was killed by the people he went to witness to, but who’s death eventually lead to the majority of that people converting.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m trying to investigate the physics behind spinning wheels and spindles. Not just how to to use them, but how they work, why they work, and the regional differences and what that might have meant for what was going on.

    Also, nalbinding. Which, well. That’s going to experimental archeology there. I have the needles, just have no time to use them between all the other projects pending.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Looked at that angle when I first started, but nothing I found has been the in depth research I need, or with good illustrations. Most have just been basic summaries.
        Got to keep looking. Sooner or later I’ll find the gem I need.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. One basic rule-of-thumb to remember: in general, for ferrous metals fast cooling = harder and slow cooling = softer… for non-ferrous metals (like copper), it’s the opposite. Which causes problems. Even if you’re working with cold copper, just bending (or hammering) it adds heat to it, which goes away slowly while you’re working it, leading to what’s called “work hardenning”, which makes it _brittle_ (this is why you can break copper by repeatedly bending it back and forth). When working copper, you want to occasionally heat it up then quench (dip in water/oil/etc) it to cool it off fast and make it softer and less brittle again. And when you do want to harden it at the end (say, for a blade), you want to stick it in something like hot sand rather than water, so it cools down extra slowly.

      Most of the rest of the stuff about it is just unnecessary details, but this is one big area that breaks SoD since most stories get it wrong.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The actual full details are a lot more complicated, obviously, but as I learned when training as a blacksmith (which contrary to common usages is a worker of iron, not a general worker of all metals. whitesmiths, goldsmiths, tinsmiths, etc, each work other metals) most of actually being a smith was “you get a feel for it”, which can mostly be condensed into Rules of Thumb that while not fully accurate or detailed give “good enough” results to work with. So while I’d recommend the book “Practical Blacksmithing” by Richardson (I’ve got the 1978 Weathervane edition, tho the original was three books first published in 1889, 1890, & 1891 respectively) for a “this has everything for building your way up from the first fire and anvil to a full factory, building all your tools as you go (and in conversational format, as if an old guy explaining to an apprentice)” if you need heavy details of a related field, I’d also suggest that in your research you mostly focus on learning/remembering any Rules of Thumb you come across rather than on getting the picky details exactly correct.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. I’ve been getting spammed by these terrible Youtube ads lately advertising terrible werewolf romance ebooks. I’ve been SO offended that i keep turning over this idea about a girl raised in this alpha/beta/omega nonsense who runs away and gets to actual civilization, where she learns it’s all a cult. Then the rest of the story would be about her trying to take down the cult to save her younger siblings. So I’d like to research ACTUAL werewolf pack structure, cults and how to get people out of them, and probably the anatomy and biology of wolves, so i could write the protagonist in wolf form without sounding like an idiot. Sadly, RL is not very conductive to wrtiting or research atm, and my down time mostly consists of low-processing activities like painting or video games

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Short version: actual wolf pack structure is parents and cubs, with maybe a few other relatives hanging around to help with the cubs because they don’t feel like striking out on their own.

      A couple books you might want to check out include:

      Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds by Bernd Heinrich .

      The Grand Lady of Yellowstone: & Other Yellowstone Wolf Stories by Brad A. Bulin

      The Secret World of Red Wolves: The Fight to Save North America’s Other Wolf by T. DeLene Beeland

      The Lost Wolves of Japan by Brett L. Walker

      These should give you a perspective on how different wolves can be across the world!


  7. So. Why this is relevant. I find one of the things that can get me moving, writing, is I have to be learning something.

    :pokes with stick:

    this… may be why “make a full outline” kills stuff?

    Because I did that, a few times– and now I’m in a “short story” that is turning into a series, and will probably NEVER be publishable, but I “outlined” it with like six lines. And it’s three books long already. (Not GOOD books, but books.)

    Liked by 2 people

  8. What are you all planning to research next?

    No clue.

    What I did last, big wise?

    *natural dyes*

    ….because a huge dude trying to have dignity will want clothes, not a loin cloth.

    And he needed a reason for their helpers to be negging on him.

    So, they’re pissed off that someone actually charged him for the mid-level clothes he’s wearing, and he’s upset because he’s a feral kid who is mostly decent and they’re nitpicking his never trained skills.

    :imagine nine foot tall tailor here:

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Sometimes going to a library, buying ok books, and going on random websites and hoping for the best is enough. Some of the things I like aren’t on jstor and even if it is, I’m not sure if I could process what it means.

    Liked by 1 person

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