Historical Trivia

I have always been fascinated by historical trivia, which is one reason I enjoy reading historical fiction so much. And Diana Gabaldon's books, of course, are a treasure trove for people who like to read about the minutiae of daily life in the 18th century, from the details of food and clothing and folk medicines in those days, to the proper way to make lead balls for a musket (by pouring molten lead into a bullet mold, as Jamie does in ABOSAA). <g>

But the things that really catch my eye are the more unusual details, things that seem utterly bizarre by 21st-century standards. Some of my favorite examples from the books in this category:

  • the "hanged-men's grease" (DRAGONFLY IN AMBER)
  • curing syphilis by deliberately infecting the patient with malaria, to induce a high fever (LORD JOHN AND THE PRIVATE MATTER)
  • the "sin-eater" (ABOSAA)
  • encounters with crocodiles and voodoo sacrifice in the Caribbean (VOYAGER)
  • the whole concept of the "fiery cross" and how it relates to the KKK (FIERY CROSS)

As I say, I love this sort of thing; I always have. And I found a couple of sites recently that some of you may find interesting:

The Virtual Dime Museum - Focuses mainly on the Victorian era. Updated frequently.

The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices - You only have to watch infomercials on TV to realize that "quackery" is not something limited to prior centuries. <g> Some of the items displayed on this site are pretty funny. If you enjoy (and are occasionally appalled by) the descriptions of 18th-century medicine in the OUTLANDER books, I think you'll appreciate this.

The 1897 Sears Roebuck Catalog - I have a copy of this book (reprinted in the 1960's) and I love to look through it, especially for the descriptions of patent medicines (advertising cures for just about anything you can imagine) and the pictures of clothing for all ages.

What about the rest of you? What's your favorite bit of historical trivia from the OUTLANDER books? Do you have a site you would recommend for people who like to read about this sort of thing?

As always, I'm interested to hear what you think.


Jari Backman said...

Great topic, Karen.

There are so many, but when you try to remember, it isn't so easy. I also like vey much the Fiery Cross.

Then there are these at least:
* the chiming pocket watches of Lord John and Hal (LJ and the Brotherhood of the Blade)

* the streets and buildings of Paris (Dragonfly in Amber). You can load a map of Paris from 1716 in the Google Earth (look in the Layers=> Gallery=>Rumsey's Historical Maps). This picture shows also some of the main places that I have tried to put there.

* Claire's Medicine Box she got from Jamie as 24th Anniversary present

Karen Henry said...


I love the map! Thanks so much for the link. I can see I'm going to have to explore your site in more detail. <g>

And you are absolutely right about that medicine box. You should have seen my reaction when I saw one like it in Colonial Williamsburg (in Virginia) last September. I couldn't stop staring at it.


Phelisha said...

Wow, what a treasure trove of info you've provided! I too have an old Sears Catalog, (1908,I love viewing all the gadgets in it! Didn't know you could view city maps from that long ago. Amazing!

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