Historical Research Addendum: Using Wikipedia as a Portal

When I speak about Historical Research one of the things I always mentioned is using Wikipedia…as a portal.

I talk about one way in which Wiki became invaluable to me in researching 1902/1903 Portugal.

I used it extensively as a portal to Portuguese Wikipedia.

Let me give you an example:
Here’s the English Wiki Page for Matosinhos, a town where part of The Golden City is set.

screen

As you can see, there’s hardly anything there. Apparently English speakers don’t care much about this town.

But if you look down the left sidebar, you can see several other languages available.

When I click on Portuguese, I get this version of the page:

screen 2

You can see that there’s a LOT more information on this version of the page. There are also dozens of links on the Portuguese version that I can follow, both to other pages in Portuguese Wikipedia, and to external sites. Each of those might have links to dozens of other sites…and on it goes.

So I used Wiki this way to help me slip into Portuguese research. If I tried to do research via a search engine in Portuguese, I would be overwhelmed. I wouldn’t know where to start or which sites had any validity. With Wiki’s help, though, I have a starting place.

But I don’t speak Portuguese! you complain.

I speak very little, and that I had to learn for writing these books, but there are always machine translators out there that can give you a leg up. You can use the Bing Translator, but Google has one as well. (Keep in mind that these are machine translations, and are only ‘better than nothing’.) In fact, in Chrome (my web browser), there’s a small icon that appears on the right side of the address field (where you type in the web address you want to visit) that I click on and it automatically translates the page to English.

Admittedly, machine translations are iffy, but they’re better than nothing.  Between my poor Portuguese and the machine, I do a decent job.

In addition, if you hop to another Wiki page, you can double check to see whether there’s an English version. That page may have similar information.

To research for Book 3, The Shores of Spain, I’m now having to hop over to Spanish Wiki a lot. Since my Spanish is better than my Portugese, this is easier for me, but I spent a lot of time in the Catalan Wiki as well, and that’s a great place to go.

It’s still proving a very useful research trick, in everything I research.

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Next week: Moving on to other Internet Sources

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RRH Confession #7 
In 1903 Catalonia, there were a gazillion religious holidays (days that businesses were supposed to be closed). Most years had about 120 days that there were supposed to observe (for religious reasons). 52 of those were Sundays, but that left about 70 other days. That meant that you could count on most weeks having two religious observances.
Because my characters were in Barcelona for about a week, I scoured and scoured the internet, trying to find a list of all those dates for 1903, and simply never did. I sank several hours into it, and finally decided that my characters would simply miss any of the bigger celebrations.
(If your historical characters are in a predominantly Catholic city, make sure you at least know the day for the patron saint of that city, because that will be a huge festival…)
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