Resources for Historical Campaigns

A really cool English translation of the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle. You will find this quite readable and of a contemporary voice (i.e., it doesn't read like Chaucer). Though there are some biblical stories mixed-in here, there are also a lot of contemporaneous and quite astute observations of late 15th Century cities, politics, military events etc., clearly and sometimes amusingly described. Definitely an excellent resource for anyone interested in late medieval Central Europe.


it is also downloadable as EPUB, PDF etc.

You do have to be careful in some parts, because there are modern editors notes mixed in and it's not always clear where that ends and the translation begins. I wish they used different background colors or at least different fonts or italicized the notes or something.

The Chronicle, really an atlas, is fascinating and huge, a great resource to hold onto. Good for looking up places or people you run across in history and are curious about. To go with this translated text, the beautiful "maps" (really panoramic drawings) of hundreds of cities from the era in the original Atlas are mostly on Wikimedia Commons, for example, this is the German city of Erfurt

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https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Schedelsche_Weltchronik#/media/File:Schedel_erfurt.jpg

And this is Nuremberg itself, with the Stromer paper mill shown just outside the walls on the bottom right

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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/Nuremberg_chronicles_-_Nuremberga.png

The paper that was used to make the book was made in that mill
 
yes cheval de frise - it's to stop horsemen and / or crowds of infantry but not difficult to walk around them during normal activities, so to speak. You see these in front of the gates of many towns in the period artwork. This is a specific type you'll tend to see in the medieval period, with big gaps you could walk through.

The idea of fighting at the barriers is based on these things.

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Couple more examples from the Diebold Schilling (Swiss, 15th Century) Chronicles - this is a 'Forlorn Hope' unit from Berne attacking a town or castle gate with one of these cheval de frise around it

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And this is infantry from Fribourg i think defending at a cheval de frise from enemy cavalry

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I mean, think of whatever job you do today. Software developer, nurse, graphic designer, uber driver. Whatever. Imagine that when you are having a meeting in your office, on the wall behind you hangs the banner of the pirates who tried to capture you during the course of your work. Only they didn't. Because you killed them.
 
Not so much for a historical campaign (though this certainly could be useful for that) but I have found these newspaper archives pretty helpful for background material in a horror campaign
The thing that amazes me the most is how the Boston Gazette is merely 4 pages in 1774, and they have what amounts to announcing a sale on the first page...:grin:
Also, the tribune suggesting the American Revolution would be a good idea is right next to the announcement about goods imported from England:thumbsup:!
 
If you are ever curious about people's lives in a medieval city, this is a particularly good source. It was an "Alms-House" in Nuremberg, a kind of miniature retirement home. These places would be established by the guilds, by a wealthy merchant, some element of the Church, or by the city itself. This one took care of 12 people at all times, all people too old to work who had no family to take care of them. When one of them died, they took in another. Where it becomes useful to us, whenever one of the tenants died, the Alms House paid an artist to make a portrait of the person doing the job they had in life. These portraits are a bit generic (lots of these people look virtually identical) but you can learn a lot about the various crafts and professions, and there are quite a few interesting little "Easter Eggs" in there.

This link here will let you search by profession, by date, by cause of death, by tools used. When you click on one it gives you a list in chronological order. The most interesting ones are usually the oldest (15th-16th Centuries)


Here are a few of my favorites.

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A cutler, assembling knives, roundel daggers and longswords, and depicted with the Lion of St. Mark behind him on the wall, holding two longswords. This almost certainly means he was a member of the Brotherhood of St. Mark or Marxbrüder, a famous fencing society or 'guild'.

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Brewing in this period was done with Solomon's Seal hanging over the vat to help purify the brew. They also recommended using brass and copper fittings, and putting a silver coin in the beer barrel after it's completed - all believed to be 'superstition' then, but we now know these kill microorganisms ...

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There are a couple showing that a craftsman led a double life as a mercenary. Like this guy, I think a leather worker? With himself out the window as a younger man, going off to fight.

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And this guy, another cutler, shown out the window and door both as a Landsknecht (mercneary) in his youth, and as a pilgrim later in life.

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And you'll find people like Endres Mader here (died 1513) a Nuremberg weaver, who appears to be perhaps African in origin

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You'll find interesting professional details here a book binder (left) and a guy making gingerbread (right)

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Most of the tenants were men, but there are some females such as this busy lady, possibly staff of the Alms house.
 
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From another similar source, the Balthasar Behem Codex aka Codex Picturatus, from Krakow in 1505, was a survey of craft guild regulations with some wonderful, if quirky, illustrations. These two guys just below may be part of the publishing team. Right where Renaissance Polish art and characters from 1960s hippie / psychedelic Western movies join forces...

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Same source. That is a Polish nobleman, a courtier, and an armed servant who may be a Tatar (striped coat with a bow) visiting a crossbowmaker's workshop. Note his wife in the corner doing the books. Burghers (townfolk) of both sexes were typically literate in this era.

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And here we see artisans dressed up and shooting the popinjay (shooting a small wooden bird target mounted high on a pole). The guys in armor to the left slouching and looking bored, are town watch, also probably artisans.

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A very similar scene to the crossbowmaker's shop at a cutler's workshop, with the Polish noble and his servant in the back. Noteworthy that one of the journeymen cutlers appears to be dark complected, maybe a Turk

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Finally here a merchant (left), still dressed for the road with riding boots and two sidearms, presents bales of textiles, probably silk, to a Polish noble (right)
 
I'm betting on Moor, myself:thumbsup:.

Who knows? I can say that in depictions of burgher's craft shops in Central Europe from the 15th-16th Centuries, you do see a fair number of people who look like they are of a different ethnicity. Maybe as much as one in ten in some sources. In places like Krakow, Turkish or Tatar origin might be more likely, but who knows? Certainly there were Moors in what is now Spain, and throughout the Mediterranean.
 
Who knows? I can say that in depictions of burgher's craft shops in Central Europe from the 15th-16th Centuries, you do see a fair number of people who look like they are of a different ethnicity. Maybe as much as one in ten in some sources. In places like Krakow, Turkish or Tatar origin might be more likely, but who knows? Certainly there were Moors in what is now Spain, and throughout the Mediterranean.
Nobody knows for sure. And a painting might have become distorted simply because of negligence, or because of artistic vision.
We're left trying to guess what it was, but which of us has the right guess, should only be clear after they make the time machine already:shade:.
 
Nobody knows for sure. And a painting might have become distorted simply because of negligence, or because of artistic vision.
We're left trying to guess what it was, but which of us has the right guess, should only be clear after they make the time machine already:shade:.

Yes though it's not totally random. We can see quite often that these choices are clearly deliberate. We also see them portrayed in the 'fight books' from the same era.


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Worth noting that these guys are not dressed as 'moors' but are in local German outfits normal for the time and place (16th Century Augsburg, in this case)

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15th Century Frankfurt here

Other contexts too of course

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And there is always literary evidence to go along with images like these.
 
We know for example that the King of Ethiopia sent delegates to a Christian conference in Italy several times, starting with a diplomatic trip to Venice in 1402. Zara Y'aqob sent diplomatic missions to the Kingdom of Aragon starting in the 1420s and there were Ethiopian delegations at the Councils of Constance (ending in 1418) and Florence (ending in 1449).

More on all this here
 
Yes though it's not totally random. We can see quite often that these choices are clearly deliberate. We also see them portrayed in the 'fight books' from the same era.


View attachment 69058

View attachment 69061
Worth noting that these guys are not dressed as 'moors' but are in local German outfits normal for the time and place (16th Century Augsburg, in this case)

View attachment 69062

15th Century Frankfurt here

Other contexts too of course

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And there is always literary evidence to go along with images like these.
I lived by in Augsburg for five years. Also spent time in Coburg which also had a heraldic symbol of a moor/black man who saved the rulers life asI recall.
 
I lived by in Augsburg for five years. Also spent time in Coburg which also had a heraldic symbol of a moor/black man who saved the rulers life asI recall.

That black man on the Coburg coat of arms is Saint Maurice.


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Saint Maurice was a hugely important saint in Central and northern Europe. He was a Roman general of Egyptian origin who refused to kill some Christians in what is now Switzerland, and his Legion was decimated due to his refusal and he was ultimately killed. A sad story like for most martyrs, but as one of only a handful of Christian saints associated with military life, he was extremely popular with the German nobility and in other places such as what is now Latvia and Estonia. Since around the 10th or 11th Century he has almost always been portrayed as a sub-Saharan African, and a knight.

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He is the patron saint of Charlemagne, of the Holy Roman Emperors, of the House of Savoy, of the Swiss Guards, of Sardinia, multiple cities in Europe (San Moritz in Switzerland is named after him) and of several military societies such as the Brotherhood of the Blackheads.

Not surprisingly, during the 1930s and up until 1945 the local authorities forced Coburg to change their medieval coat of arms. After 1945 they changed it back.
 
That's him! Nice quick work.

St. Maurice is definitely one of my favorites. I also lived in Augsburg for a little while. I was in Neu Ulm for 2 years in the 1980s, and did some TDY at the US 34th General Hospital in Augsburg.

I didn't know St. Maurice was on the coat of arms at Coburg, but when you mentioned it that was the first thing which popped into my head, and sure enough.. He is all over the place in Central Europe. When I was reading about him initially, I found out there was one Church of St. Maurice in the US, and it was in a suburb of New Orleans, where I live. How's that for eerie synchronicity?
 
St. Maurice is definitely one of my favorites. I also lived in Augsburg for a little while. I was in Neu Ulm for 2 years in the 1980s, and did some TDY at the US 34th General Hospital in Augsburg.

I didn't know St. Maurice was on the coat of arms at Coburg, but when you mentioned it that was the first thing which popped into my head, and sure enough.. He is all over the place in Central Europe. When I was reading about him initially, I found out there was one Church of St. Maurice in the US, and it was in a suburb of New Orleans, where I live. How's that for eerie synchronicity?
Oh wow, I had no idea that you could find him in the states. Though if I think about it, New Orleans makes perfect sense for a church dedicated to him in the states. I'm annoyed that I'd forgotten the saint's name. Between 1983 until the end of 1992 I spent most of my time in Schweinfurt, Coburg and later Augsburg. :smile: Did a lot of skiing down in the German/Austrian Alps.
 
Oh wow, I had no idea that you could find him in the states. Though if I think about it, New Orleans makes perfect sense for a church dedicated to him in the states. I'm annoyed that I'd forgotten the saint's name. Between 1983 until the end of 1992 I spent most of my time in Schweinfurt, Coburg and later Augsburg. :smile: Did a lot of skiing down in the German/Austrian Alps.

Yeah the Church was built by German immigrants in the 19th Century. The Church is no longer active (since Katrina) but some rich guy bought it. I've been in there it's an impressive building.


I've been to Schweinfurt as well! Small world! That whole area isn't too far from the setting of the historical Campaign I'm working on right now.
 
It seems Maurice is Mo Li in Chinese. Hence, the saint just inspired Liu Mo Li Hua, an NPC I'm going to add to a game...:grin:

(Her surname also fits that, since it means "slay/cut"...and is actually quite popular, I've been told:shade:).
 
Today I came across the Wikipedia on the Tang-era Chinese capital of Chang'an:


With a district-by-district listing of the stuff to be found and events that occurred. For ex.:

"Southeastern Chang'an
Locations and events in the southeast sector of the city included:[15][16][19]

13 walled and gated wards
9 Buddhist monasteries
3 Taoist abbeys
5 Family shrines
2 Inns
1 Graveyard
The Serpentine River Park, which had one of the Buddhist monasteries and one of the family shrines of the southeastern sector of the city within its grounds.
A medicinal garden for the heir apparent was located in a northern walled ward of this southeast sector of the city. A pastry shop stood by the north gate of the same ward, along with the site of an ancient shrine where citizens came every third day of the third moon and ninth day of the ninth month.
A ward to the north of this southeast city sector had half of its area designated as a graveyard.
A purportedly haunted house
A large monastery with ten courtyards and 1897 bays; this monastery was home to the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda (built in 652), which still stands today at a height of 64 m tall. Graduate students of the Advanced Scholars Exam would come here to this monastery in order to inscribe their names. This same city ward also had a large bathhouse, an entertainment plaza, an additional monastery which had its own pond, and a mansion that had its own bathhouse.
A ward with another garden pavilion for graduate students to hold their 'peony parties'.
An inn that was attached to the rapid relay post office.
An apricot grove where graduate students could celebrate their success with feasts."

The article seems to be heavily based on the following book:

Benn, Charles (2002). China's Golden Age: Everyday Life in the Tang Dynasty. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517665-0.

Besides being the capital, Chang'an was the Chinese end of the Silk Road. One of my long-standing RPG ambitions is to do a Han or Tang era Silk Road campaign. Han would probably be flashier swords and sorcery, Tang might be a bit more gritty just because it's better-recorded. Anyway, I digress.
 
Today I came across the Wikipedia on the Tang-era Chinese capital of Chang'an:


With a district-by-district listing of the stuff to be found and events that occurred. For ex.:

"Southeastern Chang'an
Locations and events in the southeast sector of the city included:[15][16][19]

13 walled and gated wards
9 Buddhist monasteries
3 Taoist abbeys
5 Family shrines
2 Inns
1 Graveyard
The Serpentine River Park, which had one of the Buddhist monasteries and one of the family shrines of the southeastern sector of the city within its grounds.
A medicinal garden for the heir apparent was located in a northern walled ward of this southeast sector of the city. A pastry shop stood by the north gate of the same ward, along with the site of an ancient shrine where citizens came every third day of the third moon and ninth day of the ninth month.
A ward to the north of this southeast city sector had half of its area designated as a graveyard.
A purportedly haunted house
A large monastery with ten courtyards and 1897 bays; this monastery was home to the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda (built in 652), which still stands today at a height of 64 m tall. Graduate students of the Advanced Scholars Exam would come here to this monastery in order to inscribe their names. This same city ward also had a large bathhouse, an entertainment plaza, an additional monastery which had its own pond, and a mansion that had its own bathhouse.
A ward with another garden pavilion for graduate students to hold their 'peony parties'.
An inn that was attached to the rapid relay post office.
An apricot grove where graduate students could celebrate their success with feasts."

The article seems to be heavily based on the following book:

Benn, Charles (2002). China's Golden Age: Everyday Life in the Tang Dynasty. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517665-0.

Besides being the capital, Chang'an was the Chinese end of the Silk Road. One of my long-standing RPG ambitions is to do a Han or Tang era Silk Road campaign. Han would probably be flashier swords and sorcery, Tang might be a bit more gritty just because it's better-recorded. Anyway, I digress.

Wonderful! It actually sounds very similar to the 15th Century cities in Silesia I've been researching for Monsterberg III
 
Today I came across the Wikipedia on the Tang-era Chinese capital of Chang'an:


With a district-by-district listing of the stuff to be found and events that occurred. For ex.:

"Southeastern Chang'an
Locations and events in the southeast sector of the city included:[15][16][19]

13 walled and gated wards
9 Buddhist monasteries
3 Taoist abbeys
5 Family shrines
2 Inns
1 Graveyard
The Serpentine River Park, which had one of the Buddhist monasteries and one of the family shrines of the southeastern sector of the city within its grounds.
A medicinal garden for the heir apparent was located in a northern walled ward of this southeast sector of the city. A pastry shop stood by the north gate of the same ward, along with the site of an ancient shrine where citizens came every third day of the third moon and ninth day of the ninth month.
A ward to the north of this southeast city sector had half of its area designated as a graveyard.
A purportedly haunted house
A large monastery with ten courtyards and 1897 bays; this monastery was home to the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda (built in 652), which still stands today at a height of 64 m tall. Graduate students of the Advanced Scholars Exam would come here to this monastery in order to inscribe their names. This same city ward also had a large bathhouse, an entertainment plaza, an additional monastery which had its own pond, and a mansion that had its own bathhouse.
A ward with another garden pavilion for graduate students to hold their 'peony parties'.
An inn that was attached to the rapid relay post office.
An apricot grove where graduate students could celebrate their success with feasts."

The article seems to be heavily based on the following book:

Benn, Charles (2002). China's Golden Age: Everyday Life in the Tang Dynasty. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517665-0.

Besides being the capital, Chang'an was the Chinese end of the Silk Road. One of my long-standing RPG ambitions is to do a Han or Tang era Silk Road campaign. Han would probably be flashier swords and sorcery, Tang might be a bit more gritty just because it's better-recorded. Anyway, I digress.
Damn, that's one seriously in depth wiki entry. Good stuff for sure. You could use it for many different types of campaigns honestly due to the amount of information provided. You could adapt it to Battletech and a palace in House Liao space for an example on the other side of the spectrum to your campaign ideas. Anyhow, thanks for sharing.
 
Here is a kind of similar example from 15th Century Silesia:

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This is a map or panorama of the town, but in the 18th Century. The 15th Century town is a bit less built (some of the space inside the walls will be taken up by gardens) and the outer earthworks and bastions aren't there yet. Other than that it's pretty close. One other point of note is that this 'map' faces south, so north (and the river) is at the bottom. The castle is at the bottom right.

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Coat of arms of Brzeg / Brigg

A medium-sized town with a formidable castle, situated on the Oder river about 40 km southeast of Breslau.

History
Brigg was the site of an important castle in 1235, with a large brick tower ('the tower of lions') added by prince Bolko of Swidnica in 1300. The castle continued to be improved through the 14th Century, with a chapel and then a church with a school added to the compound by 1371. A small castle town with butcher's industry and some weavers gradually developed, followed by regular markets. The town was granted town rights in 1250. In 1297 the town built its own walls. It grew through the 14th Century, and by 1400 it had become a notable community, surrounded by a ditch and a low stone wall.

The local prince was profligate and spent most of the taxes on extravagant travel, and when the Hussites [Czech heretics] came in 1428 the fortifications were inadequate and the town fell. The Hussites came again in 1429 and 1431, resulting in major damage and a serious, though temporary decline for both town and castle, although (unusually) most of the population was spared due to a treaty with the Hussites.

Gradually both castle and town were repaired in the 1430s. The cattle market quickly returned, and became an important local processing center for livestock, with ten slaughterhouses and a butcher's guild providing revenue to the town. There are also two large granaries used for storing grain (mainly rye and barley) during the harvest, which is shipped down the Oder river to the Baltic sea and ports beyond. The town holds weekly fish and cattle markets, and grain markets twice a week in the fall. On the first and last Friday of each month there is an open market, often with goods from the Silk Road. There are craft guilds for the potters, weavers, beer brewers, masons, butchers, cutlers and furriers in the town.

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The castle

Town and Fortifications
By the end of the 1440s, the walls were fully rebuilt with five large gate towers: Opole Gate on the east, Wroclaw Gate on the west with a prominent barbican, Odranian gate on the north (facing the river and a sturdy wooden bridge) Starobrzeska gate on the southeast, and Malujowice gate in the south. A series of local princelings occupied the castle which was built up substantially from 1430-1450, but by 1455 the last owner decamped after losing a feud with Breslau, who currently controls the castle.

Prominent buildings in Brigg include the large parish Church of St. Nicholas, a small Knights Hospitaller friary housing six brother knights, the Saints Peter and Paul Franciscan Church and friary, the Holy Cross Church adjacent to the Dominican friary, and St. Jadwiga's Collegiate church, across the street from the large town school building.

There is a large watermill complex with a bloomery forge, located on the north side of town right outside of the walls along the river,. Three other mills (a sawmill, a paper mill, and a grist mill) are downriver a few hundred yards. The main slaughterhouse is also positioned outside of town on the other side of the river. A large brickworks complex can be found on a little island in the river.

The hospital of the Holy Ghost, which was originally just that, a hospital, evolved into a prosperous inn, which now occupies a second building adjacent to the original, both lying within the town walls. The elegant architecture, clean and comfortable accommodations, nice garden, good food, wine and popular Schweidnitz beer offered at the inn make it a popular stop for nobles and merchants traveling along the Via Regia and / or the Oder river. There is also a large bath-house facility nearby, one block southeast along the wall.

The town is also surrounded by villages and farm settlements, with municipal gardens, barns, and other farm buildings outside the walls, particularly on the north shore of the Oder river. In 1450 Brigg has a substantial population of 4,800 people, with 1,600 citizens. The town's militia has 770 members, mostly marksmen, but also including 110 mounted crossbowmen and 80 handgunners. They are closely allied with Breslau.
 
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And that kind of research, my friends, is why Peter Von Danzig Peter Von Danzig, BedrockBrendan BedrockBrendan* & the Design Mechanism ( Loz Loz I guess) are my favourite publishers lately...:grin:

If Ravenswing Ravenswing ever published his own setting, no doubt he'd be up there as well. Even if (or possibly, especially if) he makes it systemless, to avoid tangling with SJG:shade:.

*I mean, Brendan is publishing wuxia materials, but he's historian by trade, and researches the historical situation heavily - even if he ends up editing it:thumbsup:!
 
And that kind of research, my friends, is why @
Peter Von Danzig
Peter Von Danzig, @
BedrockBrendan
BedrockBrendan* & the Design Mechanism (@
Loz
Loz I guess) are my favourite publishers lately...:grin:

*I mean, Brendan is publishing wuxia materials, but he's historian by trade, and researches the historical situation heavily - even if he ends up editing it:thumbsup:!

thanks Asen. Just wanted to clarify. I am not a historian by trade, but have a degree in history and enjoy history.
 
thanks Asen. Just wanted to clarify. I am not a historian by trade, but have a degree in history and enjoy history.
Yes, I meant your degree. Doesn't this mean you could work as a historian:shock:?

If I mischaracterised you, my apologies:thumbsup:!
 
Yes, I meant your degree. Doesn't this mean you could work as a historian:shock:?


No, you need to get a phD for serious history work (I just have a BA). I did intern at two historical societies while I was a student and got a taste of what it might be like though). You can also teach history for k through 12, but you eventually do have to get a masters to do that I believe (not sure if it is the same requirement in every single state in the US). Honestly the main thing my degree taught me was how little I really know about history (and it gave me a set of tools for research)

If I mischaracterised you, my apologies:thumbsup:!


No worries at all Asen. I wasn't offended or anything. I just wanted to clarify
 
Well, I don't have a PhD, although I have been published a few times. But there are two kinds of research, one really requires language skills, i.e. translating primary source documents. The other one, what I do for the most part, is largely down to aggregation. A lot of PhDs these days (since WW2) focus on very, very narrow subjects. Today with the resources available online you can kind of connect these types of research together to form a bigger picture. I also do know a lot of translators via HEMA so I work closely with them sometimes.
 
Well, I don't have a PhD, although I have been published a few times. But there are two kinds of research, one really requires language skills, i.e. translating primary source documents. The other one, what I do for the most part, is largely down to aggregation. A lot of PhDs these days (since WW2) focus on very, very narrow subjects. Today with the resources available online you can kind of connect these types of research together to form a bigger picture. I also do know a lot of translators via HEMA so I work closely with them sometimes.

One of the big considerations when I was looking at possibly going to get a masters and then presumably a Phd (in addition to financial) was language. My language was Arabic, so there is a big gamble if you do history and want to commit to a masters and PhD program. There were horror stories of people who never learned their languages well enough to translate primary source material (you could go into American history or something if that is the case but I think you still needed to learn languages like French if you wanted to do that and American history wasn't something I was interested in doing). It wasn't the thing that tilted the balance of my decision, but it was a factor to consider that particular risk (I was doing quite well in Arabic but I don't know if I could have gotten good enough to translate historical documents in Arabic. Also I believe Arabic would have just been one among many languages I probably would have needed to know.

With my knowledge of Arabic there was only so much primary source material reading i could do (I did a number of papers off translations but 2 years of Arabic I was still barely able to make it through a newsweek article in Arabic). For my history and research methods course (where you have to write a paper based on primary sources) I ended up changing my subject at the last minute to the Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire. The reason being that the aim of the course was to teach us how to research with primary source documents, so doing something in English felt like it would be more feasible. Also that particular fight has a ton of primary source documentation (Normal Mailer wrote a book about it, George Plimpton wrote a large section of a book about it, Hunter S Thompson wrote stuff about it---though it is weird---, tons of news paper reports, magazine articles, footage of the whole fight, and there was even a documentary made during the fight that became "When we were Kings"). I was one of two or three people learning Arabic and the other student in my Arabic courses was in the same research methods class and decided to write about the Mongolian Siege of Bagdad (and his experience with it seemed quite grueling). In the end, I think I got more out of the course by making that shift (because I had a piles of primary source accounts to use). On the other hand, it was a much more trivial subject.

When I was at the historical societies, I got a chance to catalog and transcribe a lot of primary source documents (from local personal journals and ship manifests). The most interesting project I had there was transcribing a woman's journal who lived in Lynn (I think in like 1900 or so, maybe a little earlier). It was really interesting to see how she spent her daily life and it changed the way I viewed the local geography. I just learned more about how people got around from point A to point B, how much of the area they could spend a day with using ferries for example. I also was surprised by the types of entertainment she saught with her friends (a lot of their time was spent doing things like going to local public lectures). It was just a nice window into daily life in the past. My only job though was to take the hand written journal and transcribe it, so it wasn't like I had to analyze it or anything.
 
When I was at the historical societies, I got a chance to catalog and transcribe a lot of primary source documents (from local personal journals and ship manifests). The most interesting project I had there was transcribing a woman's journal who lived in Lynn (I think in like 1900 or so, maybe a little earlier). It was really interesting to see how she spent her daily life and it changed the way I viewed the local geography. I just learned more about how people got around from point A to point B, how much of the area they could spend a day with using ferries for example. I also was surprised by the types of entertainment she saught with her friends (a lot of their time was spent doing things like going to local public lectures). It was just a nice window into daily life in the past. My only job though was to take the hand written journal and transcribe it, so it wasn't like I had to analyze it or anything.

My particular interest in history tends to relate more to the daily lives of average people than "great men" or "big events."

Several years ago I stumbled across a book made up of excerpts from Victorian diaries by people of various social classes (one chapter each). The most intriguing part was reading about how they entertained themselves. I was struck by how much time many of the urban ones seemed to spend taking walks in parks, going to hear lectures, seeing plays, and doing other things outside the house during the weekday. I guess I assumed that most of that would have been weekend activity, but quite a number of them seemed to go home, eat dinner, and then go wandering about.
 
One of the big considerations when I was looking at possibly going to get a masters and then presumably a Phd (in addition to financial) was language. My language was Arabic, so there is a big gamble if you do history and want to commit to a masters and PhD program. There were horror stories of people who never learned their languages well enough to translate primary source material (you could go into American history or something if that is the case but I think you still needed to learn languages like French if you wanted to do that and American history wasn't something I was interested in doing). It wasn't the thing that tilted the balance of my decision, but it was a factor to consider that particular risk (I was doing quite well in Arabic but I don't know if I could have gotten good enough to translate historical documents in Arabic. Also I believe Arabic would have just been one among many languages I probably would have needed to know.

With my knowledge of Arabic there was only so much primary source material reading i could do (I did a number of papers off translations but 2 years of Arabic I was still barely able to make it through a newsweek article in Arabic). For my history and research methods course (where you have to write a paper based on primary sources) I ended up changing my subject at the last minute to the Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire. The reason being that the aim of the course was to teach us how to research with primary source documents, so doing something in English felt like it would be more feasible. Also that particular fight has a ton of primary source documentation (Normal Mailer wrote a book about it, George Plimpton wrote a large section of a book about it, Hunter S Thompson wrote stuff about it---though it is weird---, tons of news paper reports, magazine articles, footage of the whole fight, and there was even a documentary made during the fight that became "When we were Kings"). I was one of two or three people learning Arabic and the other student in my Arabic courses was in the same research methods class and decided to write about the Mongolian Siege of Bagdad (and his experience with it seemed quite grueling). In the end, I think I got more out of the course by making that shift (because I had a piles of primary source accounts to use). On the other hand, it was a much more trivial subject.

When I was at the historical societies, I got a chance to catalog and transcribe a lot of primary source documents (from local personal journals and ship manifests). The most interesting project I had there was transcribing a woman's journal who lived in Lynn (I think in like 1900 or so, maybe a little earlier). It was really interesting to see how she spent her daily life and it changed the way I viewed the local geography. I just learned more about how people got around from point A to point B, how much of the area they could spend a day with using ferries for example. I also was surprised by the types of entertainment she saught with her friends (a lot of their time was spent doing things like going to local public lectures). It was just a nice window into daily life in the past. My only job though was to take the hand written journal and transcribe it, so it wasn't like I had to analyze it or anything.

I sympathize with you. It's daunting to face the financial burden of getting a PhD. As I'm sure you know very well, there are hordes of adjunct professors making starvation wages.

Translating for historical research is even harder than "just" learning the language. I've got enough Early New High German now that I can read it - if it's either printed or transcribed into a type I can read and if it's dealing with subjects I have the vocabulary for (mainly military, fencing related, maritime business, and some other subjects). If it was say, romantic poetry or about religion I'd be lost.

Once you have the basic language down, you then have to learn slang, dialects, terms of art. Common abbreviations and misspellings or alternate spellings (of which there are always several). Common borrowings from other languages (for medieval written sources quotes from Latin are very common, and for the regions I deal with there will be loan words from many other languages.

Then there is the whole challenge of reading manuscripts. Some were transcribed in the 19th Century but the most interesting ones are often those that nobody has read yet, and those are definitely going to be written in some kind of calligraphy or chancery script, and that is a whole 'nother challenge.

And that is the reason for the "dirty little secret" of history - a whole lot is written about a relatively small amount of translated material. For example, with military history, there are about 20 pages of translated medieval documents that Hans Delbrück published in the 1920s that I've seen over and over and over again (sometimes without attribution) in modern books on medieval warfare. It's not like there aren't reams of other written sources to pull data from, but it's easy to just borrow what is easily accessible. Unfortunately this contributes to some kind of stale analysis.
 
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