Welcome back! This is my first time participating in the Steampunk Hands Around the World project. It's an annual blogathon that celebrates all kinds of things in the steampunk culture. I got the picture from Airship Ambassador's website. This year's theme is focusing on making life better. For some of you reading this post, it may seem perplexing. How can something like steampunk make life better? Keep in mind that steampunk is retro futuristic. It combines futuristic elements with an earlier setting like the Victorian era. You can also flip retro futurism upside down and combine antiquated elements with a futuristic setting. I think people take some elements of retro futurism in real life situations without knowing it. Basically, we take influences from the past to build a better future. We can also learn from mistakes that were made in the past. It's been done in history many times and hopefully we'll continue the trend.
Steampunk literature often takes place during the 19th century. It might be in Victorian England, the Wild West, the American Civil War, or elsewhere. Sometimes, steampunk works take place during the early 20th century, aka the Edwardian era. Think about everything we learned from the 19th century. Currently, we use electricity in many different ways. It powers the lights in our houses, traffic signals, equipment in factories, appliances, and the list could go on indefinitely. We can thank Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, and Benjamin Franklin for bringing electricity into our households. Benjamin Franklin ran early research and experiments on electricity. Some time later, Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb. Nikola Tesla found many creative ways to use electricity. Throughout the years, modern society also developed new ways to use electricity. For example, we have electric cars. We're not ready to discontinue gasoline yet, but it will probably happen someday when electric vehicles become more sophisticated.
The Victorian era had many advancements in the industrial world. It was a time of great progress, but industrialization was also dangerous back in those days. Steam power was prominent in the 19th century. It caused explosions and polluted the environment. Coal is very dirty and steam power blows a lot of gritty smoke in the air. This situation was hazardous for workers. Many factory workers died from the long term complications of smoke inhalation. It was also common for coal miners to die in accidents or cave ins. Thankfully, we switched to diesel fuel and other alternative sources. We're definitely polluting the environment with gasoline emissions, but it's better than burning coal. Gasoline is also less volatile compared to coal and that's part of the reason why we have fewer industrial accidents. We also made a lot of improvements with industrial equipment. Modern equipment in factories and construction is much safer for workers. Back in the 19th century, some workers became maimed or killed by their equipment. Time passed and we learned that safety was important in the workplace. Our concept of unionization is also much different than the 19th century. Today, workers are protected by labor law. Workplaces offer retirement, health benefits, vacation time, workers compensation, lunch breaks, sick leave, life insurance, and more. Our wages are also supposed to match the cost of living. That part might be debatable, but it's still a huge improvement from the 19th century. Back then, many workers didn't make enough money to support their families. That's part of the reason child labor was prominent in the 19th century. Child labor is illegal in many nations now and it was a lesson we learned from earlier time periods.
We also learned quite a few lessons from women's suffrage and equal rights. Women weren't allowed to vote in western cultures until the 1920s. A lot of married women weren't allowed to have careers. Also, married women weren't allowed to own property in the 19th century. During the Victorian era, a proper lady was an obedient wife who took care of her children. A wife was certainly not her husband's equal. Divorce was shameful and usually left women without anything because their property belonged to the husband. Nowadays, women have the option to divorce and obtain their fair share of the property. Women have the right to vote, maintain successful careers, receive the same education as men, and live independently. We also value other forms of equality in the modern era. Gay marriage is legal in many areas and we also value ethnic equality. We have the freedom of religion and it's illegal to discriminate someone with a disability at the workplace. Thank goodness for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It eliminated discrimination across the board in the United States.
Romanticism and Victorianism were two important occurrences during the 19th century. They contrasted a lot of features with each other. Romanticism was an artistic and philosophical movement that preceded Victorianism, but they also overlapped for a period of time. Some people would say Victorianism was a reaction against Romanticism. Others might believe Victorianism took a lot of influences from Romanticism. I think some of both is true. The Romantics placed a higher value on feelings instead of logic. They believed in nostalgia, individualism, heroism, compassion, honor, and imagination. Romantics often had a deep love for nature and it might have been a reaction against industrialization. Does love matter in Romanticism? Actually, it's very important in some cases. The concept of true love became a mainstream ideal from the Romantic movement. Victorianism focused on scientific and technological progress. That's part of the reason why industrial advancements were so important at the time. The Victorians also valued modesty, respect, hard work, social responsibility, and strong family ideals. Truthfully, I believe the modern era should focus more on these elements. I think it would unify our society and help individuals build strong character. People might also feel more motivated for success if they followed many of these ideals.
H0w does steampunk connect with this discussion? Steampunk adapts nearly everything I mentioned above. Electricity is frequently used for various steampunk inventions, gadgets, and gizmos. Sometimes it goes even further into transportation, weaponry, and artificial intelligence. Naturally, steampunk is very adventurous with steam power and it emphasizes industrial metropolises. Like the real 19th century, steam power can be dangerous in steampunk works. It can be used for warfare, the monopolization of resources, and inhumane experiments. Fortunately, most steampunk fiction also uses steam power in a positive way. Deadly or not, steam power is truly awe inspiring in steampunk literature. Have you noticed that many steampunk protagonists are often strong, independent, and rebellious women who are fighting for a cause? It's directly tied into 19th century history. I also noticed humans and supernatural creatures are often pitted against each other in steampunk works. In a way, it could possibly represent inequality and social conflicts. Some steampunk works are a reaction against the conformity and conservatism of the Victorian era or even our modern period. I also read some steampunk fiction that romanticizes Victorianism. Steampunk has many distinct stylistic elements, but it also varies a lot from one story to another.
The Victorians were really interesting people. I think we learned from their progress and mistakes. Perhaps, retro futurism is more realistic than it seems. There are many more lessons we could take from the 19th century. What lessons do you think we learned to make life better? Leave a comment and let me know. I'm going to leave a list of references and useful links. Stay tuned for another blog post and enjoy the rest of your weekend.
Victorian Era- Wikipedia
Nikola Tesla- Wikipedia
Thomas Edison- Wikipedia
Benjamin Franklin- Wikipedia
The Victorian Web
Romanticism- Terms and Themes
Women's Suffrage- Victorian Era
Women in the Victorian- Wikipedia
Airship Ambassador's Website
Industrial Revolution- Wikipedia