Remembrance of Things Present: The Invention of the Time Capsule

time capsule cover

Forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press (June 2019)

Time capsules may seem trivial and useless to historians, but, as Nick Yablon shows in this new book, they offer crucial insights into how people view their own time, place, and culture, and their duties to future generations. Remembrance of Things Present traces the birth of the time capsule to the Gilded Age, when the growing volatility of cities prompted doubts about how, if at all, the period would be remembered. Yablon details how Americans from all walks of life constructed prospective memories of their present by contributing not just written testimony but also sources that professional historians and archivists still considered illegitimate, such as material artifacts, photographs, phonograph records, and films. By offering a direct line to posterity, time capsules also stimulated various hopes for the future. Remembrance of Things Present delves into these treasure chests to unearth those forgotten futures.

Table of contents

Introduction: Memory, History, Posterity
1          Safeguarding the Nation: Photographic Offerings to the Bicentennial, 1876–1889
2          “P.O. Box to the Future”: Temperance, Insurgence, and Memory in San Francisco, 1879
3          Annals of the Present, the Local, and the Everyday: The Centurial Time Vessels as Heterodox History, 1900–1901
4          Seeds of Hope: “Posteritism” and the Political Uses of the Future, 1900–1901
5          “A Living History of the Times”: The Modern Historic Records Association, 1911–1914
6          Mausoleums of Civilization: Techno-Corporate Appropriations of the Time Vessel, 1925–1940
7          Breaking the Seal: The Vicissitudes of Transtemporal Communication
Epilogue: The Time Capsule’s Futures

If you would like to receive an email notice when the book is available, please email me at nick-yablon <at> uiowa.edu.