A Steampunk Movement?


You don’t have to travel far in speculative circles to find references to steampunk, but when an exhibit shows up at the Museum of the History of Science (University of Oxford), you know the trend has gained more wide-spread recognition. The video clip below gives a fascinating glimpse into the exhibit as well as the origins of and variety within steampunk. As the narrator states, “It’s a very broad based discipline. It involves everything from literature to science fact to science fiction, art, sculpture, digital photography. And of course it’s very popular in film.”  Naturally, however, the museum display focuses on physical devices, some functional, some fantastical.

Many of the craftsmen whose works were displayed dressed up in steampunk regalia, and I found their explanation of their devices intriguing–a good dose of inspiration for creativity.  Some of the inventors are also novelists as the imagination necessary for one lends itself well to another. Though short, this film clip is a fascinating look at the artistic and cultural trends inspired by steampunk literature. This movement inspired by books helps reveal the impact of speculative novels on culture as a whole.

Without further ado, here is the clip:

For more information, including some additional videos go to the museum exhibit page. Sadly, the exhibit was temporary, but they’ve left up quite a bit of information.

Would you classify steampunk as a movement? Do any of these devices particularly catch your interest?


  • Kessie
    October 17, 2011 - 7:30 pm · Reply

    I didn’t really understand the whole steampunk thing until I started following the Girl Genius graphic novel (http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/). It’s hilariously Victorian advanced technology/alternate history, and has lots of pipes and gears. Steampunk artwork and jewelry are gorgeous, too.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      October 19, 2011 - 3:38 pm · Reply

      Oh, that looks interesting–thanks for the link. I haven’t read much steampunk, though I’ve gotten some good suggestions in the past that are now on my list. It’s certainly an intriguing genre.

      Like you, I love the gadgets–the art, jewelry, and unusual devices. Some steampunk clothing is stunning also, though it would be hard to find the appropriate place to wear it. 🙂

  • Mary
    October 18, 2011 - 11:18 am · Reply

    I would definitely consider steampunk a movement. I’m sure part of it is just me noticing more since I’ve really become attuned to the steampunk genre, but it does seem to be cropping up more and more, and gaining popularity.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      October 19, 2011 - 3:42 pm · Reply

      It intrigued me when the narrator referred to it as a movement. I’d never heard steampunk described as a movement before, but I tend to agree with you both. It seems to me that it’s gaining momentum and reaching people who don’t normally identify themselves as readers of speculative fiction, since it has a strong artistic/craftsman element to it as well. Of course, I’m all in favor of that!

  • Andy
    October 19, 2011 - 5:21 pm · Reply

    Very interesting, thank you for sharing this. As a history buff and speculative fiction enthusiast, I like to see the two combined (and that is what I do with my fiction, write historical spec-fic).

    ~Andy Poole
    Ephesians 2:10

    • Sarah Sawyer
      October 21, 2011 - 11:56 am · Reply

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Andy! The fusion of historical and speculative fiction is intriguing, and I’d like to see more books in that category out there. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  • Jennifer Hawkins Hock
    February 17, 2012 - 9:40 pm · Reply

    Early twentieth century inventions such as the dirigible, the helicopter, as well as the slew of Edison’s earlier creations certainly inspired the same wonderment we feel today with society’s modern technological advances. Observing the turn of both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, we see parallels in the sense of adventure inspired by new gadgets and conveniences.
    Steampunk concepts have piqued my interest for some time now – and I wrote a short bit about it in my Toile La La blog September 2, 2010. Some 1909 Cosmopolitan Magazine science fiction about dirigible travel renewed my interest today and I found your great video link while searching for more information about Steampunk origins. Thank you for the video, Sarah – which held exactly the information and imagery I needed.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      February 22, 2012 - 11:41 am · Reply

      Thanks for stopping by and for leaving such a thoughtful comment, Jennifer! There are fascinating parallels in the technological advances of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, though I wonder if they experienced more excitement then about these new inventions–I think we’ve become a bit more jaded perhaps, always expecting something new and better. 🙂

      Steampunk certainly conveys that sense of wonder, that spark of something special and unusual that never fails to intrigue. I’m glad this post provided the information you were searching for!

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