Remembrance of Things Present: The Invention of the Time Capsule

University of Chicago Press
Free sample

Time capsules offer unexpected insights into how people view their own time, place, and culture, as well as their duties to future generations. Remembrance of Things Present traces the birth of this device to the Gilded Age, when growing urban volatility prompted doubts about how the period would be remembered—or if it would be remembered at all. Yablon details how diverse Americans – from presidents and mayors to advocates for the rights of women, blacks, and workers – constructed prospective memories of their present. They did so by contributing not just written testimony to time capsules but also sources that historians and archivists considered illegitimate, such as photographs, phonograph records, films, and everyday artifacts.

By offering a direct line to posterity, time capsules stimulated various hopes for the future. Remembrance of Things Present delves into these treasure chests to unearth those forgotten futures.
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About the author

Nick Yablon is associate professor of history and American studies at the University of Iowa and the author of Untimely Ruins: An Archaeology of American Urban Modernity, 1819-1919, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Jun 12, 2019
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Pages
384
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ISBN
9780226574271
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Language
English
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Genres
History / General
History / United States / 19th Century
History / United States / 20th Century
Social Science / Popular Culture
Technology & Engineering / History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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American ruins have become increasingly prominent, whether in discussions of “urban blight” and home foreclosures, in commemorations of 9/11, or in postapocalyptic movies. In this highly original book, Nick Yablon argues that the association between American cities and ruins dates back to a much earlier period in the nation’s history. Recovering numerous scenes of urban desolation—from failed banks, abandoned towns, and dilapidated tenements to the crumbling skyscrapers and bridges envisioned in science fiction and cartoons—Untimely Ruins challenges the myth that ruins were absent or insignificant objects in nineteenth-century America.

The first book to document an American cult of the ruin, Untimely Ruins traces its deviations as well as derivations from European conventions. Unlike classical and Gothic ruins, which decayed gracefully over centuries and inspired philosophical meditations about the fate of civilizations, America’s ruins were often “untimely,” appearing unpredictably and disappearing before they could accrue an aura of age. As modern ruins of steel and iron, they stimulated critical reflections about contemporary cities, and the unfamiliar kinds of experience they enabled. Unearthing evocative sources everywhere from the archives of amateur photographers to the contents of time-capsules, Untimely Ruins exposes crucial debates about the economic, technological, and cultural transformations known as urban modernity. The result is a fascinating cultural history that uncovers fresh perspectives on the American city.

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