Academic research on historical topics is often hidden behind a paywall on sites like JStor. Download charges can be hefty, so a good place to start with these is a university library. Most welcome members of the public as reference users, and allow you access to their full collection (including the paywalled articles) while on site. If you need a recent academic article, a polite email to the author will often get it for you without the download charge.Share
Once you’ve established what’s already known about your subject and setting, think about sources that haven’t already been tapped. Historical books and manuscripts can be a marvellous source of inspiration for writers, whether of non-fiction or fiction. And large-scale digitisation projects are now making more of that material more easily available.
Archive.org and Google Books offer free digital versions of out-of-copyright books, so you can leaf through the virtual pages of a rare sixteenth-century volume without so much as leaving your desk. The Vatican Library is now in the process of digitising its manuscript collections, while the Medici Archive Project is putting the records of the Florentine ruling family online (with English summaries). Long-running digital history projects like the Old Bailey Online are widely used as sources for research. (Read more.)