An Ever-Changing Definition

Every month, we ask ourselves, “What is Steampunk?”, and we think about it again.

Here’s a practical answer you can use:

Steampunk is a creative focus, based re-imagining the 19th century, which you can use for any form of inventiveness.

It could be music, art, dress, writing, games – and those are just beginning points.

Steampunk uses a near past, a past close enough that we can find its clothing in thrift stores, but far enough that it’s clearly a different world. That’s a pretty unique place. Dieselpunk is wonderful, but different; it’s hard for the 1940s not to be overwhelmed by the Third Reach. Come closer in time, and we’re still actually dealing with the hippie movement, with the remnants of the greed and challenges of the Disco Area; and while the 80s were marvelously weird, they’re well within the living memory of hundreds of millions of people. It’s hard to feel like you have free creative reign with a time which is, in a sense, directly visible in our own world.

Go back to the 18th century or before, and you’re going too far to have Steampunk’s critical proximity. Without mass production, industrialization, organized science, and, hell, decent dentistry, you have a wholly altered world. While I don’t like putting “science” and “magic” into two categories which are automatically opposed to each other (but thoughts on the scientific study of magic, while absolutely relevant to the 19th century, are for another day) – I’d like to put forth a theory:

In 1786, J.H. Müller proposed a difference engine, but could not get it funded. Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine was proposed in 1822, and received its first funding in 1823.

A Steampunk clockwork heart concept with a heart shape made of cogs and gears

Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s the moment Steampunk started – a world which had the concept of modern computers and was ready to make them, but was more than a century away from the electrical knowledge needed to begin the Information Age. You had a world which was beginning to have very deep knowledge, but wherein it was still widely believed to be possible that knowledge was finite, and the world was ultimately something which could be understood. You just had to explore hard enough, search bravely enough, create innovatively enough – and you might figure it out.

Further Thoughts

Like we said before, we think about the question of “What is Steampunk?” very frequently and have written a fair amount on the subject.  Might we recommend some further reading?

Don’t Make Your Steampunk World Too Small

In steampunk, as with any world of fantasy, when someone asks me for a definition, I tend to get the broadest definition possible. Why would I want to do that? Because inclusivity is part of the power of worlds of the imagination.  Yes, obviously, we need to have a...

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Holly Brewer

Holly Brewer

There’s nothing more steampunk than the plants that grow through cracks in concrete. Nothing can contain us and none can tame us. We make. We grow. We listen. HUMANWINE’s Mother has new songs for us.

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The Advantage Of Steampunk Fashion

The Advantage Of Steampunk Fashion

I'm going to make a confession: I don't know that much about fashion, even Steampunk fashion.  And I've been a part of Steampunk fashion shows for nearly ten years now. It feels rather wonderful, to tell you the truth. I don't mean that I'm proud of  ignorance, or...

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Mark P. Donnelly

Mark P. Donnelly

Professor Mark P. Donnelly (S.S.S./ E.A.A./ B.F.H.S./ S.W.A.S.H.) has been studying armed combat in various incarnations since the age of thirteen.  After years of research and training in the disparate disciplines of western martial arts, sport fencing, stage combat, tournament fighting and eastern martial disciplines, he moved from the US to England in 1996 to undertake a PhD in Medieval Archaeology through York and Oxford Universities. Professor Donnelly is joining us for several events this year, more information coming soon!

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Steampunk Recipe: Bacon-Tomato Cups

Steampunk Recipe: Bacon-Tomato Cups

“I’m sure life would be quite worth living without bacon; but I have no intention of finding out.” -Steampunk Oscar Wilde Here's another recipe from The Steampunk Cookbook! Bacon is rather like Steampunk: People keep saying that people will get tired of it, or that it...

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What world do we want for Steampunk kids?

I know some people who talk about having done Steampunk for literally several decades. I can't trace it back that far myself; while I fell in love with K.W. Jeter's "Infernal Devices" when it came out in 1987, I had no idea that his "Mad Victorian Fantasy" (as the...

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How To Tell If Someone Has Poisoned Your Tea

How To Tell If Someone Has Poisoned Your Tea

"There's nothing like a murder to enliven a party, except, perhaps, for two murders." -Professor Moriarty If I had a shilling for every time a Steampunk asked me, "Jeff, how do I figure out whether or not there's poison in my tea?", I'd have....three shillings and a...

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Important Steampunk Drinking Information

"I exercise self-control and never touch any beverage stronger than gin before breakfast." - W.C. Fields It's time for a drink!  Or at least, it's time to get a lovely deal on your drinks. Specifically - from now until Monday, use code "steamdrunk" to take $5 off ANY...

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The Five Worst Steampunk Holiday Gifts

The Five Worst Steampunk Holiday Gifts

Would you like a carefully-chosen Steampunk gift which shows that someone has given a lot of thought to what will make you happy?  That's unfortunate, because instead, we've come to give you... The Five Worst Steampunk Gifts  #5.  A device which converts any...

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When You Took Over Steampunk

When You Took Over Steampunk

"With ideas it is like with dizzy heights you climb: At first they cause you discomfort and you are anxious to get down, distrustful of your own powers; but soon the remoteness of the turmoil of life and the inspiring influence of the altitude calm your blood; your...

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Steam-Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Pepper

Here's another recipe from The Steampunk Cookbook! (Sure, the “Steam” in this dish is from boiling water, but in my mind, there’s some sort of enormous machine, larger than a house, which does nothing but whirr alarmingly, crunch gears, and pickle grapes.  Actually,...

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Sky Captain Knightings 2018

  A special Steampunk World’s Fair offer: Be knighted as a Sky-Captain! “And you, West, not every situation calls for your patented approach of “shoot first, shoot later, shoot some more and then when everybody’s dead try to ask a question or two.” -from the film...

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How To Be A Steampunk

How To Be A Steampunk

I will, as I often do let you in on the secret: while I know lots of people who worried they "wouldn't get Steampunk right" or "wouldn't be Steampunk enough", the truth is, if you appreciate or do Steampunk things, you are a Steampunk. Ta-da! That's it - that's really...

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Is Steampunk a literary genre?

Is Steampunk a literary genre?

When you ask "What is Steampunk?", there are still a number of people who give the answer that it's a literary genre.  (A disproportionate number of those people are Steampunk authors; indeed, the classic, deeply flawed statement "Steampunk is Victorian Science...

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The Steampunk Cookbook

The Steampunk Cookbook

There’s nothing that brings a culture together like its food. While you can find Victorian recipes throughout the web, we’ve gone one step further and applied Steampunk’s endless imagination and passion to an entire book of delicious, practical, spectacular recipes. There are recipes for every cook from the absolute novice to the experienced chef.

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From The Steampunk Cookbook: Steak On A Stake

From The Steampunk Cookbook: Steak On A Stake

Steak on a Stake “Would you kindly hand me a large hunk of meat which has been, for no apparently logical reason, impaled upon a mid-sized stick?” -Robot Queen Victoria   We Steampunks would never, ever steal ideas from Renaissance Faires…just like Renaissance Faires...

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Steampunk costuming versus Steampunk clothing

Steampunk costuming versus Steampunk clothing

Is Steampunk clothing a costume?  YES! My question for you is: What ISN'T a costume? Because when I wore a suit to work, I thought of it as a costume. That's not because I thought wearing a suit made me into some sort of fake person or movie-style corporate drone; I...

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Steampunk Popcorn (from The Steampunk Cookbook)

Steampunk Popcorn (from The Steampunk Cookbook)

Parmesan-Herb Popcorn: A lovely semi-traditional Steampunk food (from our upcoming Steampunk Cookbook!) Like Popcorn?  Like making your culinary life more interesting in unexpectedly delightful ways?  Then allow us to present you with some Steampunk Popcorn! You may...

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Why isn’t Steampunk dead?

Why isn’t Steampunk dead?

"Disco is NOT dead! Disco is LIFE!" -Eddie Izzard, "Mystery Men" I think Disco is conclusively dead; like pet rocks, troll dolls, and bell bottoms, it's not that they've  vanished completely from the globe; you're just not likely to run into them often, and if you do,...

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