When writing a historical novel—which I consider any story taking place in another time period—attention to historical detail is paramount, unless you don’t mind irritating your readers. Readers of historical fiction are a savvy group and will notice things like inventions and events appearing prematurely in a story.
After releasing Coulson’s Wife, my first attempt at historical fiction, the reviews on my historical accuracy were favorable. However, there was one reviewer who, while she claimed to like the book, questioned the historical accuracy of several things mentioned in the story. She didn’t know if hysterectomies, refrigerated milk, or movies existed in the timeframe mentioned in the story (around 1918).
The answer: yes.
According to my research, the first hysterectomy was performed around 75 years before the character in my story had one.
As for refrigerated milk, I suppose her real question, did they have refrigerators back then? According to Wikipedia, the home refrigerator was invented in 1913. Before that time, they used iceboxes.
The final question—movies. I didn’t just mention movies, I mentioned a specific movie—one that was actually released at the time it is mentioned in the story: Tarzan of the Apes. Like Mary Ellen in Coulson’s Wife, it is one of my favorite books. As for that old movie—you can watch it here, on YouTube.
In my opinion, writers in the future are going to have a challenging task adhering to historical accuracy when writing a story taking place during the last decades of the 20th century, considering the rapid technological changes that occurred, and the advent of social media. Lucky for them, they will have Google—or maybe something better—to fact check.