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What do you get when you cross a historian with a technology futurist? I don’t know, but when the two get together for a beer, they discover that the past and the future are really not that different after all.

James Carrott is a self-described cultural historian and author of the book, Vintage Tomorrows. James spoke at the Maker Faire Bay Area main stage this year about what steampunk is and why it has captured the imagination of so many.

James says that reaching back into the 19th century to talk about technology today is something that has been going on since the end of World War II. The steampunk movement took that conversation into the future, projecting ideas and styles from the past into an improbable world that never was, but would-have/will-be awesome.

Neverwas Haul BlissDance 2010 playarazzi 7631 James Carrott Talks the World of Steampunk Culture

Neverwas Haul, a three level mobile wonder.

This has led to the creation of things like the Neverwas Hall, a three story Victorian house built by Obtanium Works, driving through the desert at Burning Man.

Steampunk really started taking off in the mid-2000s. James counted steampunk cultural productions (actual real things like books or films) doubling every year after 2007.

Why is steampunk becoming more and more popular? James thinks it is because the makers met the “imaginers”.

If you attend an event with steampunks, you will experience a bizarre and beautiful world filled with hand crafted clothing, tools, gadgets and weapons. People are also creating steampunk music, dance, books, film, art and other cultural treasures. These creations spring from minds and hands inspired by the past but rooted in the real world.

James admits it is nearly impossible to define steampunk, but thinks quite a bit of it is about absurdity and playfulness. “It is about putting things together that don’t necessarily belong together,” he says, “to make you think, to make you laugh, to create something you can identify with as a human being.”

Whether or not you are familiar with steampunk already, you’ll find James’ presentation entertaining and educational. Check it out!

Andrew Terranova

Andrew Terranova is an electrical engineer, writer and an electronics and robotics hobbyist. He is an active member of the Let’s Make Robots community, and handles public relations for the site.
Andrew has created and curated robotics exhibits for the Children’s Museum of Somerset County, NJ and taught robotics classes for the Kaleidoscope Learning Center in Blairstown, NJ and for a public primary school. Andrew is always looking for ways to engage makers and educators.


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