Gail Carriger is a remarkable example of an anthropologist whose training informed a creative career shift. A former archaeologist (who still occasionally gets called to the field), Carriger’s expertise in ceramic analysis and technological transitions means that she can determine how a piece of pottery was designed and produced, simply by looking at a small fragment of it. From that tiny piece of material culture, she can read how populations were coming together and sharing technological styles, and how knowledge moved across the ancient landscape.
On the cusp of completing her dissertation in archaeology, Carriger’s life took an interesting turn as she was awarded a book contract for her steampunk fantasy novel, Soulless. Now she is a much awarded, best-selling author whose books mix “comedies of manners” with paranormal romance. But this shift into literature is still greatly informed by her training in, and critiques of, anthropology and archaeology. The world of steampunk Victorian England allows her to explore the role material culture plays in everyday life, as well as how and why technologies arise or fade thanks to their unintended consequences. Her careful research into elements of the past, such as the cuisine of each particular time and place, brings to life the material experience of worlds that live in the historical and fantastical past. In addition, Carriger’s multiple series explore the remarkable diversity of past cultures, which, ironically, are often depicted in nonfiction as far more homogenous than they actually were.
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For more information on Gail Carriger:
Ms. Carriger’s professional website, with information on and links to her books: www.gailcarriger.com
More information on the material discussed in this episode:
Information about the Steampunk cultural movement: What is Steampunk?
Ms. Carriger’s travel podcast (along with author Piper J. Drake): 20 Minute Delay
Soulless (Ms. Carriger’s first book and the first of the five-book series Parasol Protectorate): Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate)
“My Sister’s Song” Ms. Carriger’s first professional publication, a short historical fictional story about the covert repelling of Roman invasion: My Sister’s Song
Information about organizations or institutions referenced in our conversation:
Santa Cruz University Archaeology: https://anthro.ucsc.edu/
Nottingham University Archaeology: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/archaeology/
Mugello Valley Archaeological Project and Poggio Colla Field School: http://www.poggiocolla.org/