SHGAPE

Remembrance of Things Present: The Invention of the Time Capsule

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.

Written by Nick Yablon
Associate Professor of History, University of Iowa

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