To go round the houses

How do I research a topic? Jenny Lind: Part 1 Research

How I go about researching my articles online, which sources I use, how I assess their quality. And what else I attach importance to when writing.

Some, if not many, of my articles here on the blog are motivated by a good friend. If you're reading this along: Thank you for your motivation, and I quote, "I'd love to read that!". I am very very grateful for that. Please tell me in the future as well.

In one of the last conversations we talked about me writing a post about all my sources. Later this made me think about documenting my research. I didn't realise how much work it would take, how much extra work it would create. I also have to build a new blog template for it.

This has now become much more, in the first part I would like to go into my sources.

So this will be a multi-part article. But I'm really looking forward to it, because that's what I enjoy so much with this website.

To go round the houses - Branch of a Mandelbrot set. A broken dimension. Apparent chaos, mathematical order. Source: Wikimedia
Branch of a Mandelbrot set. A broken dimension. Apparent chaos, mathematical order. Source: Wikimedia
Part 1 - Research

Fresh and nourishing sources

In the first part, a few words about possible research sources and my approach. I'll give you a few tips on really interesting research sources, always around the character of my current interest: Jenny Lind.

The second part will be more about my storytelling. What are my intentions in telling a story, how and with what means do I realise them? I can predict that this will not be an excursion into German studies.

In the third part, I research Jenny Lind's life before her big trip to America. I will accompany this third part with a detailed research protocol, which, as far as I can already see, will be excessive. For, loosely based on Peter Wimsey's coat-of-arms motto, I am letting myself be guided by my whim.

In a part that is currently only projected, I would like to devote my attention to Jenny Lind's travel route in the USA, and perhaps I will even come up with a nice visualisation. I would like to accompany the journey of the Swedish nightingale with quotations from newspaper articles of that time. It will be very interesting, I can promise you that much, because I have already read a few in advance.

Different starting points

Search and find

From sticks to sticks

In German, the idiom "Von Hölzchen auf Stöckchen" (original title of this article in german) stands for digressing from the actual topic. There are two possible explanations for this Westphalian idiom. On the one hand, one can compare the way a topic is discussed/described with a tree. You get from the thick trunk to more and more branches and in the end everything is branched out to such an extent that you no longer know what it was originally about. However, the expression could also be derived from the two Westphalian terms Hux and Höx, which in Westphalian mean dark corners into which one otherwise does not penetrate. 

Quelle: Antenne Unna

If I know nothing about a person, where do I start? Then of course/mostly I start with Wikipedia. Naturally? Yes, because this is where the knowledge tree spreads out the fastest and widest. Alternatively, only the appendix of a good scientific book would be comparable in terms of depth of creation. A Google search would also be possible, but I personally find that the search result is weighted too heavily, i.e. I get a lot of hits that Google finds important, but that don't help me as much in the opening.

The contrast to this is the weighting by the Wikipedia authors, which should also be questioned. But it is only the starting point. I often return to both Google and Wikipedia when I get stuck with my sources.


In and of itself, Wikipedia is rightly a very popular source of information. You can find a lot of well-linked information. Nevertheless, there is a lot of criticism of Wikipedia, and a considerable number of the critical questions directed at the operators are justified. Women are underrepresented in both editing and presentation. It is too easy to foist tendentious representations or even fakes on the system. Many issues are not elaborated because they seem uninteresting to the mostly male writers. It is often claimed, and sometimes rightly so, that the information cannot be relied upon by scientific standards. I would never call Wikipedia a scientific source. Nevertheless, it is still a great starting point for research. Because a lot of the information is broadly prepared. But what I find particularly valuable about Wikipedia is

  • The references, because here you can find more in-depth information and possibly more scientific sources. These often lead to further information
  • the links to other languages, because who in Germany knows the monk, doctor, writer and Renaissance scholar François Rabelais, while in France he is known to every schoolchild. So the French sources under the French article are also better and more varied. This is also how I proceeded with Jenny Lind.

Ich start here:


Google finds a lot. There are lots of articles about Jenny Lind. There is a lot of comparable information, the texts are similar. Google's relevance weighting ensures a sorting that rarely says anything about quality.

When I was researching Jenny Lind, I noticed - yes, it may be banal for some - that language significantly increases the quality of the hits in the search results. Nevertheless, with both English and Swedish search terms I did not succeed in finding out where exactly and in which house Jenny Lind was born. Note: It was only later that I found out the reason for this: Jenny Lind's birthplace was probably destroyed during the extensive demolition work around St. Klara's Church.

I like to use Google for quick information, for example: Where was the parish of Klara, who was the parish priest at the time of 1820? Who was Carl Michael Bellmann? Which ships existed at the time of Jenny Lind? How did people travel in 19th century Europe? Google is always good for a quick look into possible answers. But I also often notice that I ask questions that no one has answered yet. That's not really possible, so I think Google doesn't know many of the answers.


Newspaper archives are a great and rich source of research. The articles probably still give the best insight into the real events of the time we are looking for. Language and linguistic style are contemporary and convey a more direct sense of life and reality than books written about the period today. They allow one to find a large amount of detail, but it has to be weighted. There are a large number of online newspaper archives, and often one finds material exactly where one would not expect to find it. For example, Swedish-language newspapers in the online archive of the University of California. Unfortunately, the scan quality of pre-1950 newspapers in particular is very variable and the full text of the journal scans is not always searchable. In my opinion, and who would be surprised, Germany is lagging far behind. Not only are newspaper archives being closed, but unfortunately the historical papers are often only scanned as pure image files, so that no full-text search is available. I don't understand what sense this makes.

Other countries, first and foremost the USA and especially France, are much more advanced in this respect.

I also find it problematic when institutions work with public funds but I still don't get free access. Unfortunately - for licensing reasons, of course - access to archives via universities or university libraries is limited to registered students and lecturers. At least here in Wuppertal, however, it is possible within the university library if you are on site. After Corona then probably again.

There are some lists of online newspaper archives:

The best ones

My most used newspaper archives

I would like to highlight the archives mentioned below because I use some of them regularly and have already benefited greatly from them in my research.

Philemon, Fragmente

Everything on earth can be found, if only you don't let yourself get bogged down in searching.

Source: Wikiquote

Library of Congress

Probably the best is the American Congressional Archive, because on the one hand the newspapers are scanned in full text and a real full text search is possible, but also because the archive visually highlights the finding places and hits in the result.

The British Newspaper Archive

The British Newspaper Archive website provides access to searchable digitised archives of British and Irish newspapers from 1840 onwards, due to an 1869 law to deposit a copy of every printed newspaper. Unfortunately, this digitisation project in partnership with a private company is a good example of how not to treat your cultural assets. While access is free within the British Library, for everyone else this cultural treasure is hidden behind high costs. I will, as I continue my further research, afford a monthly subscription and download everything I need as material in the near future.

California Digital Newspaper Collection

The California Digital Newspaper Collection contains over 1,500,000 pages of significant historic California newspapers published from 1846 to the present, including the first California newspaper, the Californian, and the first California daily newspaper, the Daily Alta California. It also includes issues of several current California newspapers, part of a project to preserve and make available contemporary newspapers.
Among them are newspapers in Swedish that were published in California, such as Vestkusten, which was published from 1887-2007.


Gallica is the digitisation project of the French National Library and one of the largest in the world. In Gallica (as of April 2016), approximately 2,400,000 digitised documents are freely accessible: more than 657,000 individual books and 3500 periodicals (over 1.6 million issues), approximately 917,000 images, 76,700 maps, 75,300 manuscripts, 34,600 sound files, 41,000 scores, 354,000 objects, etc. Source:


According to its own statement, JSTOR is "(...) a digital library for the intellectually curious. We help everyone discover, share and connect valuable ideas."
Anyone who registers can access 100 documents free of charge. If you then save them locally, you will have a lot of work to do, depending on the source.

zeit.punktNRW - digitalisierte historische Zeitungen

The newspaper portal zeit.punktNRW provides historical newspapers of general content from the area of today's North Rhine-Westphalia online and free of charge for use.

Das deutsche Textarchiv

The German Text Archive (DTA) is a scholarly digital text archive funded by the German Research Foundation. The Deutsches Textarchiv has set itself the task of digitising a cross-disciplinary selection of German-language texts from the period around 1600 to 1900 based on first editions.

Google Books

If you are lucky

Then there is Google Books. If the scanned books are no longer subject to copyright, one can be downright lucky and unearth real treasures. I have already found a lot of interesting information here, but as is so often the case, copyright law prevents the complete publication of scanned books.


The Books, stupid!

Books are an excellent source of information. Not that I have forgotten them. Especially the appendices are worth their weight in gold. This is where the real treasure is buried, because from here the doors open into a multitude of new research directions. I only learned to appreciate it again the year before last, to take time once a month to do research in the local university library. But that's not possible at the moment. And I realise that I value online access to full-text books just as much as browsing the shelves on site. Nevertheless, there is something that real libraries can do much much better than any search hit: there are whole shelves full of books on similar topics to the left and right of my book, which I can browse further.

Online, on the other hand, I notice how copyright and licensing laws keep throwing a spanner in the research works. In the article search of the local university library here in Wuppertal, Germany, I can find many articles on Jenny Lind, but I can hardly look at any of them, because I'm either only allowed to see them as a student, which I'm not, or after registration. From some hits I am not even allowed to see the title because of licensing conditions. Not even the title. The licensing law is so anachronistic and hostile to science that I am often at a loss for words.

Addendum: I found a lot of articles in the university library, but they were not available to me as a user. However, some of them are linked directly to JSTOR or can be Googled there or elsewhere.

Would you like to get an overview of the state of my research on Jenny Lind so far? I have already written an article about Lindmania in the USA.

Only one thing remains:

How to get a grip on the whole pile of information?

I don't think I know exactly how I do it. In the meantime, I have 220 tabs open on the iPad, in my inbox I have all the emails waiting to be sent from the sofa to the office to be processed. I collect bookmarks, I write snippets of text, I copy links. Often I have 2 windows open for writing, one for the text, the other for the footnotes.

I take screenshots of passages with quotations. I save excerpts from newspapers with a reference to the source, as a PDF or as a screenshot. But it's not really a planned procedure. I definitely need to subject this to a more rigorous methodology.

The next part is about how I write my stories and what narrative technique I use, that too with a few examples.

tl, dr;

I list a few of my many research sources. I give reasons for my selection and justify my motivation for writing this article.

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