Lately, I've been experimenting with vintage images in my graphic designs. In my hunt for images, one of the sites I've visited the most is the Library of Congress page. Going through all the newspaper and magazine ads there, it's easy to get immersed in the culture of another time. In the world of a century or more ago, bicycles and typewriters were new and exciting. The ladies' fashions looked very uncomfortable. Pianos seemed to be hot sellers. Political opinions looked to be just as varied and heated as they are today.
What better way to learn about a society than to study it directly? From looking at the articles and the ads of that time, I've discovered that the people of the late 1800's and early 1900's loved a scandal just as much as the people of today. They loved entertainment (circuses, early movies, music). They sought cures for their ailments. And you could buy a new purse for 25 cents.
WRITING PROMPT: The Library of Congress images are a great place to start if you're looking for historical or steampunk story ideas. Browse through the newspapers, periodicals, photo collects, etc, in search of character tidbits, historical nuances to really round out your setting, or even find the inspiration for your plot in the headlines.
Here are a couple to get you started:
1. There are a lot of want ads on this page from 1898. Have your character respond to one. What happens?
2. This headline from 1907 would certainly make an exciting premise for a steampunk or retro suspense novel: Latest Discoveries Indicate that [Mars] is Peopled by a Race Superior to Mankind!
Search the collection yourself and time travel into the past.