What should I do with the historical research I'm writing?
December 13, 2019 8:51 AM   Subscribe

Last September, I wrote a couple of comments on MeFi about the life of a mysterious black woman who had been painted by Toulouse-Lautrec in 1881. I kept on digging and the result will be a novella-sized amount of text. What should I do with it?

What started as a fun bit of internet sleuthing turned into an actual project. There's a lot of material on the internet (I have close to 600 citations, mostly contemporary sources) and I'm now writing a dry but as comprehensive as possible record of her life and times, which will take the form of a document with a 40-50,000 word count. It's not thorough enough to be a scholarly historical work since I don't have access to private primary sources such as letters. Still, it covers a lot of ground and it's thematically rich: this is the story of a Haitian-born black woman (aristocrat, courtesan, probably queer) in late 19th-early 20th France. It's a big nice bundle of historical intersectionality (more than I can handle actually...). I hope to finish the text early 2020.

What should I do with the final product? It's too short for a book, too long for an article, not scholarly enough for a peer-reviewed paper but still too scholarly for light reading (her life is interesting, but not that interesting). I'd like it to be easily accessible (and free) on the internet, with pictures and citations. Any ideas?
posted by elgilito to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Throw it up on a WordPress blog, or one of those free hosting sites?

Also this is the kind of thing Romancelandia would just love, so perhaps get in touch with Sarah at Smart Bitches Trashy books to see if she has any ideas?
posted by Tamanna at 8:56 AM on December 13, 2019

Wikipedia rather desperately needs more coverage of women and people of colour. 40K-50K words on an otherwise mysterious woman might be a bit of overkill, but an edit down to a 5-10K words would probably work well as a really complete article on the kind of person who might otherwise not be covered.

She also sounds like the sort of person where a fictionalized biography would potentially be very, very interesting and that might be your approach to making it light reading and also book length.

I also agree with Tamanna that it's the sort of thing that Romancelandia readers and authors would be interested in as historical research. Interesting women, particularly interesting women with interesting sex lives, are a focus area for a certain branch of historical romances these days, and the existence of a Haitian-born, black, queer, aristocratic courtesan provides a lot of "it totally could be true, see: citation" cover for writers who want to write diverse characters in their books but constantly get told that if someone wasn't a pure-of-blood daughter of the aristocracy, their life was a) unrelieved suffering or b) ahistorical.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:04 AM on December 13, 2019 [7 favorites]

As another follow-up to Tamanna's point re: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. They have an ongoing feature called Kickass Women in History that covers diverse and interesting women. Carrie S seems to write all of them. They are generally shorter than what you describe, but maybe they'd consider a guest-post (they do guest reviews and other guest posts on the site), and something longer?
posted by jacquilynne at 9:24 AM on December 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you want to create an article for WP (and I think that's a great idea), I'd advise you to get the help of someone who knows the ropes there to go through some sandboxed revisions to avoid speedy deletion when you go live with it (it will be noticed, and this is unfortunately one of the reasons why women and women of color are underrepresented there -- assholes snipe at new articles, perhaps on grounds of notability, even though your many references easily clear that hurdle for you).

I'd offer to help and will as a last resort, but it would be better if you got someone with a little domain expertise too. Perhaps a MetaTalk post or someone more qualified may volunteer here. (Apologies if you are already savvy to the ways of WP!)
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:52 AM on December 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think 40K words is actually an ideal length for a self-published ebook (which could be distributed for free).

I don't know if this is a possibility for you, but some research fellowships are available for independent scholars. You could publish a preliminary version of this project, then apply for funding to do archival research.
posted by toastedcheese at 12:29 PM on December 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

(Sorry - my weirdo brain somehow substituted "Louisiana / New Orleans" for "France / Haiti" - but I'd bet there are French / Caribbean institutions that provide similar grants to the one linked.)
posted by toastedcheese at 12:32 PM on December 13, 2019

You could always write three chapters, and a non-fiction book proposal, and shop it to agents. With an advance, you might be able to find more details and resources to bring this up to 75k words to make it publishable. It sounds fascinating! Good luck!
posted by headspace at 2:49 PM on December 13, 2019

If you have the words for a novella, why not write a novella? You have a character, a time and place, she must have some conflict in there somewhere ... so write a story. Write her story.
posted by lhauser at 8:14 PM on December 13, 2019

Seconding self-publication via Amazon, Kobo and other online platforms. One of the big benefits of an ebook is that it can be as short or as long as it needs to be.
posted by MinPin at 1:39 PM on December 14, 2019

You want to find a place where the next researcher can find it. You would need to get in some sort of order but it really doesn't need to be more than "Notes on X" or "Bibliography on X" . You could offer a copy to the library of the subject's alma mater, or the historical society of an appropriate municipality. My wife left a copy of biographical material with the cemetery where the subject was buried.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:28 AM on December 15, 2019

I'm not sure what to do with it, but your focus of study reminds me forcefully of Lucy Negro, Redux by Caroline Randall Williams. Williams muses (with some historical evidence) that the Dark Lady of Shakespeare's sonnets was in fact a woman of African heritage named Luce (or Lucy.)

The poems were translated into a remarkable ballet and score by Rhiannon Giddens.
posted by workerant at 7:42 PM on December 17, 2019

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