Material Culture For Writers

This is a compilation of some resources on material culture for writers of fantasy and historical fiction.

My Own Contributions

In 2015 I taught a workshop at Savvy Authors on creating a convincing medieval setting. If I offer it again, I’ll let you know! In the meantime, here’s a post I wrote for Savvy Authors to introduce the course: The Crack in the Wall: Exploring Life in a Medieval Castle.

I have several boards on Pinterest where I collect images of different objects and scenes from daily life in the Western World:
Follow Alice’s board Domestic Details: Getting Dressed on Pinterest.

Domestic Details: Cleanliness

Domestic Details: Lighting

Domestic Details: Sleeping Arrangements    

Domestic Details: Reading and Writing    

Domestic Details: Storage    

Domestic Details: Telling Time    

These resources are organized thematically rather than by era, because I thought this would be helpful for a variety of writing-specific research situations.

Fabulous Online Resources From Other Writers

What Writers Need to Know About Archery by Kaitlin Hillerich at Ink and Quills

10 Things Writers Don’t Know About the Woods by Dan Koboldt

The Fantasy Writer’s Guide to Horses by Kaitlin Hillerich at Ink and Quills

Horse Misconceptions in Fantasy Writing by Karlie Hart on Dan Koboldt’s blog

How to Describe Horses in Fiction by Amy McKenna on Dan Koboldt’s blog (first of a series of three posts on horses)

Scents of the Middle Ages by Jadwiga Zajaczkowa

Books

(cover images link to the books on Amazon–via affiliate links, natch!)

Chivalry & Medieval Warfare

Barber, Richard, and Juliet Barker. Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pageants in the Middle Ages. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989.

  • covers the tournament from its origins to the Renaissance, including chapters on different regions, the dangers of tournaments, and tournament armour; it looks like a coffee-table book from the outside, but it isn’t really

Chickering, Howard, and Thomas H. Seiler. The Study of Chivalry: Resources and Approaches. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1988.

  • a fat book with articles on a wide range of topics, especially aimed at teaching; see in particular: Bachrach, Bernard, “Caballus et Caballarius in Medieval Warfare,” pp. 173–211, an article about horses that is also available here


Contamine, Philippe. War in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984.

  • an older but thorough survey of the subject


Keen, Maurice. Chivalry. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984.

  • the definitive work on chivalry, though you may want to consult newer sources to for updates


Keen, Maurice, editor. Medieval Warfare: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

  • contributions from numerous scholars, with chapters on Carolingian warfare, Vikings, war in the Middle East, fortifications, arms and armour, mercenaries, naval warfare, etc.; lots of illustrations


Milner, N.P. (tr.). Vegetius: Epitome of Military Science. Liverpool, 1993.


Nicholson, Helen. Medieval Warfare. Houndmills: Palgrave, 2004.

  • a short and relatively recent survey with chapters on theory, military personnel, buildings, equipment, and war on land and at sea; no illustrations

Nicolle, David. Medieval Warfare Source Book. 2 volumes. London: Arms and Armour, 199.

  • organized by period and region (covers Asia as well as Europe), profusely illustrated with photographs, diagrams, etc.; lots of concrete information


Prestwich, Michael. Knight: The Medieval Warrior’s (Unofficial) Manual. London: Thames and Hudson, 2010.

  • cute, but contains lots of useful information; could be a fun place to start

Medieval Women & Children

Amt, Emilie, ed. Women’s Lives in Medieval Europe: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge, 1993.

  • This is a collection of primary sources.

Bogin, Meg. The Women Troubadours. New York: Norton, 1976.

  • Bogin’s scholarship on the trobairitz is considered outdated today, but this is still a decent introduction to this interesting body of poetry.

Bynum, Caroline Walker. Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

  • Were you thinking of writing a series of food-themed cozy mysteries featuring a fourteenth-century nun? You’re welcome! (If not, this one might be more specific that you need. )

Crawford, Sally. Childhood in Anglo-Saxon England. Thrupp, Gloucestershire: Sutton, 1999.

  • This would be useful if you were writing something set in Anglo- Saxon England, even if it doesn’t deal specifically with children.

Dinshaw, Carolyn, and David Wallace, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Women’s Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

  • Although specifically about women’s writing, this has chapters on general topics about medieval women’s lives.

Goldberg, P.J.P. and Felicity Riddy, eds. Youth in the Middle Ages.

Hanawalt, Barbara A. Growing Up in Medieval London.

Levi, Giovanni and Jean-Claude Schmitt, eds. A History of Young People in the West: Volume 1, Ancient and Medieval Rites of Passage.

MacLehose, William F. “A Tender Age”: Cultural Anxieties Over the Child in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries.

Marie de France. The Lais of Marie de France. Translated by Robert Hanning and Joan Ferrante. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1978.

  • A great medieval writer of “short stories” whom I think everyone should read! I like this translation. There’s a Penguin Classics one which is fine too.

Mitchell, J. Allan. Becoming Human: The Matter of the Medieval Child.

Orme, Nicholas. Medieval Children. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

  • This is a great book, and beautifully illustrated.

Shahar, Shulamith. The Fourth Estate: A History of Women in the Middle Ages. London: Routledge, 1983.