Friday, October 7, 2016

Dear Diana Gabaldon

I've been listening to the Outlander book series while driving back and forth between North Carolina and Virginia for work. The content has been a pleasant way to pass the time and the historical inaccuracies or material culture flaws have been able to be brushed off. Until now.

I'm into book six of the series, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, and I started to have suspicions about what could come when Brianna was trying to figure out how to make pipes for a water system. Of course, when I first heard this I thought, "well, the Moravians in Pennsylvania had figured out how to do that in the 1750s" (the book series at this point being in the 1770s). And then, since the characters are living in North Carolina, they mentioned the Moravian potters in Salem, and I thought, "oh, no, I know where this is going."

When Brianna started digging a pit for her "groundhog kiln" I thought I was going to go crazy while driving down the highway! I understand the need to empower Brianna and give her the ability to use her engineering degree and her knowledge of things she knew and learned in the future, but building a kiln (and I assume making pottery) without any background or training is going a bit too far for me. She had a glassblower make the piece for her mother's surgery, why didn't she build a glass furnace and blow the piece herself? I'm not even to the point of whether or how she makes the pipes, but am worried she is just going to hop on a wheel and make them, which just flummoxes me.

Not to mention that she supposedly went to the Moravians and talked to them about their pottery and their "groundhog kiln". I have issue with this on several levels.

Let's start with the kiln. The Moravians didn't use a groundhog kiln as we think about one today. The kiln site excavated both in Bethabara and Salem showed a rectangular base, and was more than likely a tall, rectangular up or downdraft like one of the German kilns, only smaller. I personally think the one currently in use for demonstration at Salem is too short of a stack and should be much taller. They could have also been using what is sometimes called a "beehive" kiln, which a lot of early American earthenware potters employed. I don't have the reports or books on the kiln excavations from Salem and Bethabara at hand to double check the floor, but I am SURE it was NOT a "groundhog". The concept of the groundhog kiln as far as I understand stems mostly from the kilns used at Edgefield in the early 1800s. The term "groundhog kiln" wasn't even in use.The earliest reference I could find on Google books for the term "groundhog kiln" was 1944, and I suspect that it doesn't go much earlier than the late 19th-century.

Now let's go back to Brianna supposedly going to Salem and talking to the potters about their kiln. There isn't a chance one of those potters would have talked to her! The industrial quarters of the Moravian communities were off limits to many visitors, particularly women. Both the Pennsylvania and North Carolina Moravians used a system of having a "Fremden Diener" meet visitors to the town and guide them through the area based on their sex. In Bethlehem, as I understand, women went to see what the women's choirs were doing, and the men went to see the industrial things. I don't imagine this differed much in North Carolina. Much less that the Moravians were a closed community, meaning they did not allow visitors to freely wander through the town- some never made it past the tavern or inn, and may have only had the chance to attend a service at the church or listen to the music. The idea that Brianna went and learned trade secrets, much less enough to BUILD A KILN is flabbergasting. I didn't just go about building a kiln without years of research and the help and assistance of many potters and kiln builders.

We'll see if I make it through book six. I might lose my mind when Brianna magically fires up a successful kiln at first go. Sorry, Diana Gabaldon, you lost my ability to have any focus with these inaccuracies!


Barbara Rogers said...

I sure wouldn't be able to build any kiln after just talking with another potter! But I think perhaps I got through the Galbadon series with a grain of salt...after all it is fiction. And didn't they just time-travel? Right.

Liberty Stoneware said...

I know it's just fiction, and I guess it unnerves me because I am a potter and such a history nerd, especially pottery history. Ah, well. I'll probably still make it through the rest of the series even if the rest of book six makes me cringe!