Friday, June 16, 2017

The Dead Speak From the Mists of History - Primary Sources!

A self-trimming lamp!
I'm getting tucked into Hero's Army, the sequel to The Wrong Sword. Among other things, HA deals with the Third Crusade. Here are some of the things I've researched:
  • The Banu Masu brothers and their Book of Tricks (a.k.a. Kitab al-Hiyal, a.k.a. The Book of Ingenious Devices)
  • The Greek mathematician, engineer, and polymath Heron of Alexandria
  • Komnenid Byzantium
  • Conrad of Montferrat, a.k.a. Conrad of Tyre, a.k.a. Conrad, King of Jerusalem
  • The Hashashin sect of the Nizari Ismaili Shi'i
  • Mamluks
  • The khanjar blade vs. the sica
  • Richard I of England, a.k.a. Richard the Lionhearted, a.k.a. Prince Yes or No
  • An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, a.k.a. Saladin
  • The Ayyubid purge of the Fatimid book collections of Al-Azhar
  • Moshe ben-Maimon, a.k.a. Maimonides

That's a sica

That's a khanjar

I will probably do none of them justice, because you know...I'm a sloppy wiseass. That being said, I did uncover some interesting primary sources. What is a "primary source," you ask, as opposed to say, a secondary or even tertiary source?

A primary source is a document (or other informational artifact) from the time period you're studying - like, for instance, a letter from Queen Eleanor of England to Pope Alexander III. A secondary source is an analysis or distillation or retelling of primary sources, like a history textbook. As an author, I love primary sources. You are guaranteed to pick up details about how people thought, lived, and spoke that most historians neglect. Weird turns of phrase, odd biases, the tiny details that convey, if not fact, then verisimilitude.

A page of the Domesday Book: Hic Annotantur Tenentes Terras in Devenescire...
Turns out there are some neat primary sources on the Interwebz. Here are some of my current faves:
  1. The Internet History Sourcebooks Project: Letters and documents from dozens of different places and time periods. Translated, but otherwise unfiltered. My personal favorite? Liutprand of Cremona's Report of His Mission to Constantinople
  2. The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela
  3. The Book of Games of Alphonso X: Exactly what it sounds like. Descriptions of games they played in Alphonso's time
  4. Le Viandier by Taillevent: A cookbook from 15th Century France.
  5. What Befell Sultan YĆ»suf  by Baha ad-Din ibn Shaddad: A chronicle of Saladin written by one of his close companions, and based on personal experience
  6. Maimonides' Letter to Yemen
  7. The Domesday Book - If for nothing else, a terrific source of Anglo-Saxon names. Guthwalda, anyone?

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