Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Jude. Jude Wonders, “What is steampunk?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Jude!
Do you have a vivid imagination? If so, take a mental trip back in time to Victorian-era England. The Victorian era (1837-1901) might bring to mind characters like Sherlock Holmes and ornate fashions in a time of growing industrialization based upon steam-powered engines.
Now imagine that those fashions and technologies remained in vogue into the present day. Electricity never replaced steam power. Plastic was never invented. People still dress in fancy outfits that include bowler hats, waistcoats, and brass pocket watches.
What would happen in that world? Such an imaginative alternative history is the heart of a movement we know today as steampunk. Steampunk got its start in the 1970s as a sub-genre of science-fiction literature.
Steampunk authors took their inspiration from 19th-century Victorian writers, such as Jules Verne (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), H.G. Wells (The Time Machine), Bram Stoker (Dracula), and Mary Shelley (Frankenstein).
Also inspired by melodramatic romance and adventure "dime novels" from the 19th century, steampunk authors envision an alternative history in which Victorian-era technology and fashion exist and thrive in the modern world.
For example, a steampunk story might contain characters that have romantic and fashion sensibilities straight out of Victorian England. Yet they live in the modern world and use computers and cars driven by cogs, gears, and steam-powered engines.
It has expanded and grown into a subculture that includes many other types of self-expression, including art, design, fashion, movies, television shows, video games, music, and performance art.
In fact, steampunk fans would argue that it has expanded beyond a literary genre and a design aesthetic to encompass a philosophy or worldview. The steampunk philosophy would combine Victorian-era optimism about the future with a modern sense of creativity and self-reliance.
Today, it's fairly easy to identify steampunk creations. In addition to old fashions and technologies, especially steam power, steampunk designs will often feature old-fashioned mechanical parts and materials, including gears, rivets, cogs, chains, brass, copper, wood, glass, and leather.