Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Time capsules offer unexpected insights into how people view their own time, place, and culture, as well as their duties to future generations. University of Iowa Associate Professor of History Nick Yablon's recent book, 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.

Yablon's area of expertise is 19th- and early 20th-century U.S. cultural history, with research interests in urban history, memory and monument studies, the built environment, material culture, visual culture (especially photography), technology, business history/fiction, disaster studies, and the changing experiences of space and time in modernity.