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Sources for historicals: where, who, what?

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This topic contains 22 replies, has 11 voices, and was last updated by  ninjilly 1 week, 6 days ago.

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 23 total)
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  • #1641122

    ninjilly
    8290xp
    Cult of Games Member

    So after the Farce of Clontarf for House of Juvies last weekend, I’ve been thinking a lot about researching for historicals and how tricky I have found it. I nearly said “it can be” but we all know the information is out there. I have a bunch of WW2-modern non-fiction books to reference for the period but I’ve never really looked into other eras after university. Where do people find most of their (reliable) sources? Internet searches only get you so far and all our libraries are still closed here. Do people just buy books and if so what are your trusted go-to publishers?

    #1641151

    avernos
    Keymaster
    26317xp

    I always start with Osprey’s Men-At-Arms series, the colour plates are great and they give a decent primer to the area in question.

    I have heard that some people have issues with them, but then it just goes to prove what I think about people is right.

    Wiki is also very good, not for details but the bibliography at the bottom generally has solid books in there.

    In the end it comes down to time and cost. If you plan on only working on one period ever then you can go nuts with specialist books from specialist publishers, as you aim for a cheaper book or a lower entry point the detail will drop, they’re not bad but just not as detailed as others.

    I have the Napoleonic sourcebook, for example, it’s a great hardback book by Philip J Haythornthwaite. It is however all text and the illustrations are no help for painters. So having learned about facings and colours from Osprey I know the terms and areas that years later I can crack open the big book if someone asks what colour facings Prussian Jagers had.

    I think in general it comes down to what you are looking for, more or less detail. Add to that older conflicts where there are a lot fewer primary sources or that historians are often revisiting older ideas, this can even mean that some older books can have different information from more recent publications.

    the Dutch publishing company https://www.karwansaraypublishers.com/ publish Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy magazine, along side two periodical historical magazines. On top of those they also have a small, but growing catalogue of books I have picked up several on Roman history and the Greeks which are excellent and I can certainly give my backing to anything from there.

    #1641158

    evilstu
    15153xp
    Cult of Games Member

    As above, I start with Osprey for a quick overview of the topic in question (not to say being quick means it’s light on detail – they cram a lot into the 48-64 pages…) then jump across to Book Depository for anything that I want to delve further down the rabbit-hole on. Internet can be helpful if you are just after a quick answer, and depending on the period you are after. Plus various historical wargaming forums are also a good source of info – what ever question you had another half-dozen hobbyists are bound to have asked it before.

    Best of luck!

     

     

    #1641160

    avernos
    Keymaster
    26317xp

    Oh as an aside, the internet can work, but always look for at least two sources. A friend on tinternet had been told that the facings on Austrian Jagers could be red as well as green and sure enough, you can find a page on the web that shows just that, however, it’s a mislabelling and translation from french, so don’t always accept the first result you find on the web

    #1641165

    ninjilly
    8290xp
    Cult of Games Member

    Great so far – it was this kind of more general “here are some publishers to trust” type pointers I was thinking of. I don’t have a set period in mind for right now, it was more of a thought around next time a challenge comes up having some good places to begin. Never thought of the wiki citations @avernos – that’s a great shout. Definitely guilty of reading wiki first when anything comes up (or as @warzan was saying, youtube for a documentary or two!)

    I do miss the access to university libraries. I know that our council libraries used to offer a “passport” to the uni libraries but I don’t know how feasible that will be going forward (or truthfully how much it was used before – I work in the libraries and I’ve only written out one for someone since I started)

    #1641168

    ninjilly
    8290xp
    Cult of Games Member

    This is also influenced by Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy recent nation issues, so far they have done Afghanistan and Norway. I realised how much great history isn’t a part of general discourse… or perhaps just how bloody ignorant I am

    #1641207

    scribbs
    6592xp
    Cult of Games Member

    I also tend to use the Osprey books as a starting point, and look at the references cited within for further books on a particular topic if I want to dig deeper. Ditto with looking in rulebooks – sometimes they have a list of texts that were used in the back. I also read a fair few historical wargaming blogs where people often also review books, or mention them as sources for their paint schemes/scenario set ups etc.

    In terms of painting guides, the Baccus 6mm site is worth a look, as they have some good guides to get you pointed in the right direction for a few eras. Depending on the era, there is often a lot of ambiguity over what the ‘right’ uniform was (for example it can sometimes be very hard to get a definitive consensus on particular Napoleonic uniforms). I tend to find a reference picture that has it at least ‘mostly’ correct, and work from that rather than getting too bogged down in picking through conflicting sources.

     

    #1641208

    khusrau
    Participant
    722xp

    It’s a bit of a non-question. It very much depends what period and how deep you want to go. Trusted publishers, well, Osprey are a starting point but some of their titles are outdated or simply poor quality. Helion are not bad, Pen &Sword on the whole ok, though some of it comes across as vanity publications.  Karawansay are generally good.

    If you really want decent information then my recommendation would be to join one of the recognised societies covering the periods you are interested in. I generally avoid summarised uniform encyclopedias as they are often based on dodgy secondary sources.

    #1641211

    avernos
    Keymaster
    26317xp

    ” a bit of a non-question” is the type of response that puts people off starting historic gaming, if the question is where do you guys get your information then it’s clearly a question, it is a grammatically correct sentence formed in the interrogative.

    #1641240

    khusrau
    Participant
    722xp

    Ok. I gave answers. If you want better answers then I need more information.  ‘Historicals’ covers 5000 years of human history, and the whole globe. The answers for Hittite Empire are going to be different from American Civil War or the French & Indian War.

    There simply isn’t a one size fits all single source for a lot of this stuff.  If I knew whether we were talking Vikings, WW2 Norwegians or Napoleon’s Old Guard it would be easier to be helpful.

    Seriously, you’re coming across as a bit precious to someone who is genuinely trying to help.

    #1641242

    khusrau
    Participant
    722xp

    Oh  and there are a lot of good historical sources that are now out of copyright and can be found for free online. Again, period dependent though.

    #1641291

    fogh
    4476xp
    Cult of Games Member

    I completely agree that Osprey is the place to start, perhaps after a few cursory Googles to get a feel for the period and terminology.  Their Men-at-Arms series is a great start and their illustrations are brilliant for helping to understand uniforms etc.   The Elite / Warrior series are also great, and typically add a bit of depth.  There is also a Campaign series by Osprey that is great, focusing on a particular battle.  They also do very useful potted histories.  All of these books will most likely include suggestions on further reading, so they are an ideal spring board.

    Toy soldier wranglers up and down the globe have started this way for 40+ years, and I still do today. It’s great 🙂  [N.B. I have heard vague whisperings that things in Osprey “may not be entirely right”.  I’ve yet to find any of these fabled gaffes that would make any difference to a wargamer.  If you find one, then come back and tell us all about it, but make sure you’re wearing your beard!]

    It’s also worth checking out Helion books, as already mentioned, who do not have the range of Osprey (yet),  but tend to go in to a bit more depth when you get lucky.  Also try ringing up or emailing places like Caliver Books (https://www.caliverbooks.com/).  The people there know their onions, and gravy, and can usually make suggestions.  They often have second hand books as well.  Worth noting that, as Wargamers are such butterflies, there is a huge second hand market in Ospreys :-).

    Once you’ve got a book or two in mind then libraries are of course fab, and well worth a visit – they normally have their catalogues online now.  The British Library (in that there London) is also free – what a resource. God save our libraries!

    After a book or two you will be able to make more informed internet searches.  There are many really useful resources online e.g. https://www.academia.edu/39511016/Battle_of_Rocroi?email_work_card=reading-history  National museums often have parts of their collections online e.g. want to know what Gustav Adolph’s horse was like? Try https://livrustkammaren.se/sv/streiff# (Use Chrome as this translates if you’re looking abroad.)  Art galleries (online) are also worth checking out for period dress.

    Good luck – and be sure to come and share any finds you make 👍.

    #1641319

    I generally go to two publishers Osprey along with Pen & Sword. Osprey books are a good starting point on a subject but I find they’re not in depth enough sometimes. So I will look at books published by Pen & Sword on the subject, if they don’t have anything I’ll head over to Helion & Company Limited.

     

    #1641347

    crazyredcoat
    Participant
    8771xp

    Used to do uniform research for a historical site I worked at years ago. The focus was Napoleonic Era, but we did some Colonial stuff as well. Osprey is always useful. Well researched and with good art. Usually a good price, too, when you’re looking for them and your local historic site will usually have one or two in the gift shop. They can be a bit of a rabbit hole when you go looking for something specific as you may end up trying to work out just which book you need, but they are so synonymous these days that you can quite often find copies on things like Google Books to get a feel before you buy. Local libraries may also have them lying around in places.

    I would say for most wargaming scales the details in Osprey will be enough to get the ‘correct’ look, but if you find an era and want to go deeper then I’d advise you look up books by author rather than publisher (outside of Osprey) as you tend to find that an author who contributed to an Osprey book has a couple of their own books that would be more in-depth. For example, I have a book written by a chap called Rene Chartrand all about the British Army uniforms of the War of 1812 which is a bit of a niche subject but is great for the details you can get from it. That’s not to say that there are not specialist publishers out there, mind you, I just can’t recall any off the top of my head. The great benefit of Osprey, though, is definitely the artwork in it. More ‘serious’ works tend to rely on contemporary images which may not represent reality too well, whereas Osprey quite nicely brings things to life. I also think they do books of the artwork that covers VAST distance of time, and you can often get copies of certain books from companies that sell the minis (I know Warlord has a few on their site).

    Internet research is also doable, though as Gerry said make sure to find AT LEAST 2 sources that agree. Particularly if dealing with non-english source material, or translated material. If you can speak the language yourself, it is likely easier to find the original source and work from there (or make friends with someone who can do it for you). While it’s also a little trickier right now, museum artifacts are also great sources of information, though you usually have to factor in wear and tear along with fading of colours. At the end of the day, the amount of research you put in determines how accurate you can be, but if you’re looking for uniforms and scale minis there is always that level of detail you can’t reach in a paint job. I don’t know of anyone who can paint the coloured threads on Napoleonic British taping that also denotes regiment; it’s just too small.

    #1641435

    khusrau
    Participant
    722xp

    If you want Ospreys that are dubious, Rome’s enemies 3, Parthians and Sassanids has a number of issues, but it is a very early Osprey. There’s been a lot of research since. The later Sasanian Elite Cavalry is also problematic, with multi-arrow crossbows and a great deal of claims that I haven’t been able to substantiate.

    That’s two in an area I have some knowledge of. I can’t speak directly to others, but I understand that for example some of the colours for French musicians coats & headgear in the Napoleonic period are contested.

    The reality is that most people won’t know if you get something wrong. And you can always tell the button counters to go away. It’s really up to you just how in depth you want to go. Remember of course that much of the historical stuff is ‘best guess’, we really don’t know exactly how Macedonian Hypaspists looked. But you have to paint them some colour. Just beware of spurious accuracy. If someone asserts something, ask them how they know.

    (Some great examples are the ‘globe hat’ that was once ubiquitous for Sasanians, all based on a misinterpretation of a single rock carving, the ‘chained’ levy, where it was a misinterpretation of the Latin term cuneus,  the Later Roman ‘leather breastplates’ etc.)

    100 years ago, our Vikings would have horns on their helmets, but modern scholarship keeps reassessing the evidence. There’s often no way to be definitive.

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