I’m fortunate to live near Washington DC, an area filled with cultural landmarks and a wealth of knowledge about American history. But as I discovered last week, I can find history from all over the world right here. It helps that I have a friend willing to brave DC traffic and parking. Occasionally, she and I head in for a research trip to the Library of Congress.
If you’ve never been, it’s a must see when you travel to the nation’s capital. I still remember how amazed I was with the architecture on my first visit. I was with a group of romance authors who had gone to the library to preview a documentary on the romance world called Love Between the Covers. We were given a tour of the Great Hall in the Jefferson building. Its majestic splendor rivals the temple of any Greek god and I was in love with the building immediately. And yet, there was more, in a small room tucked away in an inconspicuous location, you are able to peer through a plated glass window and gaze into heaven… well really, it’s the Main Reading Room. I was mesmerized by the marble columns and brass statutes in the rounded room that was filled with books on shelves and had desks for reading and working.
It became a goal to one day return and find my way into the awe-inspiring space. This took several years, but I now know that patrons who are at the library for research purposes are allowed to sign up for an official Library of Congress reader card. This gives you access to everything amazing. The first stop is typically a room with database computers where you start your search for whatever you’re researching. This room gives you access to exclusive electronic resources or tells you where you need to go in one of the three buildings that make up the library. Your card also gives you access to that amazing reading room.
On my fist trip, I typed in my search and discovered there was a special room I needed to visit, the Manuscript Room. Once I found it in the Madison Building, I had to go through special training and sign some papers saying I understand the rules for handling items and gaining admittance. After doing so, I was given a special sticker on my card that offered me access to a historian’s treasure chest. I have now spent two days in this room going through boxes of Civil War memorabilia.
When my friend and I went last week, I was pursuing information on a different topic, a project that I’ll be working on in the near future. I wasn’t expecting the trip to be highly fruitful because my plan was to get information about an incident in Edinburgh, Scotland in the early nineteenth century. I wasn’t sure I would gain the knowledge I was seeking here in America, but I was wrong. I found more than I ever dreamed possible in the online database.
After lunch, I accompanied my friend to the Map Room because she needed something there and I wanted to see it. I asked if they had a map of Edinburgh, Scotland for around the year 1828. I was astonished when the librarian brought out not only a detailed map from 1821, but also one from the year 1647, just a few years after the books in my Highland Pride series.
I have modern-day Edinburgh stamped in my brain from my last visit, but it’s such an amazing find to have a copy of a map from the time period of the Highland Pride novels and to be able to trace the paths that my characters walked. In my latest book, Highland Obligation, Isobel and Grant find their Happily Ever After on a journey to Edinburgh. I’ve loved this city since my first visit in 2001. And now that I have a copy of this map, I can’t wait to go back and envision all the Highland Pride characters in this timeless city.