One of the biggest challenges of research is coming up the right keywords to find information on your topic. There’s the most obvious keyword, but sometimes that doesn’t yield much information, or maybe not what you’re looking for. I still remember the horror story of doing a paper for a theater class, and I barely squeaked out enough material for the short paper. I thought I’d looked everywhere at the time and resigned myself to it being a too narrow subject I was stuck with, but years later as I do my Hawaii research, I think my lack of keywords may have contributed to finding barely enough information. I just looked at the basic subject and didn’t try alternatives variations.
Hawaii’s the basis of my setting for my book. Not just what everything looks like, but a lot of the elements of the culture. Some of the cultural aspects are probably not going to be available — during the early 1800s, one of the monarchs dismantled the religion and then the missionaries came, so it changed Hawaii very drastically. The major source of scholarly information I’ve been able to find was published in the 1930s.
I started first with the basics: I ran a search in the library’s online catalog. I didn’t do the internet, because I wanted to make sure the information I was getting was accurate. Hawaii as a keyword yielded about four pages of results — mainly tour books — before it became novels. I tried Hawaiian and Hawaiian culture. Found a couple of non-fiction books, two of which were very good. One was someone living in Hawaii in the 1960s, and the other was an archetecture book with full color pictures. I probably should have started with the enclopedia for a broad idea, but the tour books were shiny and got my attention. The tour books had plenty of great places tourists would want to visit, and some delved a little into the culture. Not enough.
Time for the encyclopedia. World Book was very good, and then I used something that’s not available online — I browsed the other books in the same row. Whoa, what was that? Encyclopedia of Religion. Yup, there was something in Hawaii on it, mixed in with Polynesia. Back to the row again. Encyclopedia of World Culture. Another section on Hawaii. And yet a third refernece. One of the references reminded me of Man, Myth, and Magic. Not a lot there. I also checked an architecture one, without any luck, despite the fact that a book above mentioned a specific name of a popular architect.
One of the culture books got me thinking about art, so now I started looking for art. Art encyclopedia. A good write-up that gave me more insight into Hawaiian culture. Hot on the trail, I headed for the art section for three books on Polynesia art. Monster books, very heavy. Ran across a cool book on the history of the Hawaiian shirt (no research there. I just had to look at it). Hawaii also has volcanoes, so I looked at volcanoes, though they focused more on how volcanoes worked.
None of the above two paragraphs were in the online catalog under Hawaii. I had to work at thinking about where else the information could be hiding, then flip through the book to assess what it did have. I think I’ve got enough material now, so off to story.