Alden Library Exhibit Explores Origins of Steampunk

“Steampunk is…a joyous fantasy of the past, allowing us to revel in a nostalgia for what never was. It is a literary playground for adventure, spectacle, drama, escapism and exploration. But most of all it is fun!” ― George Mann, science fiction author

An Ohio University Libraries exhibit will explore the history of steampunk, a science fiction genre that is characterized by the inclusion of technology and designs inspired by steam-powered machinery from the 19th century industrial era.

Steampunk incorporates technology such as steam-powered machinery into works of science fiction. The “Steampunk – Exploring the Roots of an Aesthetic” exhibit features scientific illustrations of engines and trains. (John Michael Simpson/ Ohio University Libraries)

The exhibit, titled “Steampunk: Exploring the Roots of an Aesthetic,” will be on display in the Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections on the fifth floor of Alden Library from Aug. 22 through Dec. 15, 2016.

The semester-long exhibit will include an array of items from the Rare Book Collection, which are housed in the Libraries’ Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections, and will bring attention to the history and innovative aspects of the genre.

According to Miriam Intrator, special collections librarian and curator of the exhibit, items in the exhibit will include: futuristic novels by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells; science fiction periodicals from the 1950s; clothing advertisements from Victorian periodicals and 19th century installment publications; books from the Morgan Collection in the history of chemistry with scientific illustrations featuring steam engines, trains, and other metal and iron work.

Intrator said these displayed materials will “illustrate some of the literary, cultural, scientific, and social elements that have helped inspire and propel the steampunk movement.”

The "Steampunk - Exploring the Roots of an Aesthetic" exhibit located in the Mahn Center on the fifth floor of Alden Library, August 23, 2016. (John Michael Simpson/ Ohio University Libraries)
The “Steampunk – Exploring the Roots of an Aesthetic” exhibit explores 19th century science fiction, such as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.” (John Michael Simpson/ Ohio University Libraries)

I hope that visitors to the exhibit will gain a deeper understanding into the ways in which steampunk is rooted in important literary texts, and in particular historical moments and innovations, and that we can continue to learn from and be further inspired by the creativity of these texts and illustrations today,” said Intrator.

This exhibit will coincide with steampunk-themed events that are taking place around Athens during the month of September for the Athens Steampunk Spectacle.

This year will mark the fourth annual year for the event, which has been made possible through a collaborative effort between the Athens Public Library, The Athens County Historical Society and MuseumARTS/West and Airship Athena.

“We are excited to be participating in this broader community event, and welcome the opportunity to showcase some of our rare book materials that will hopefully appeal to anyone interested in the fashion, art and design, literary, and technological origins of steampunk,” said Intrator.

Please stop by the Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections, on the fifth floor of Alden Library to view the exhibit and learn more about the fascinating origin of steampunk.