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?

Welcome to The Steampunk World’s Fair

Welcome to The Steampunk World’s Fair

Jeff Mach's Steampunk World's Fair is the world's largest Steampunk event!  All are welcome! We were just featured on The Syfy Channel's Syfywire: 11 Unconventional Conventions You Have To Geek Out At, by Elizabeth Rayne. Up next: Steampunk Halloween In The Catskills!...

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The Great Steampunk Talent Search

The Great Steampunk Talent Search

WELCOME TO THE GREAT STEAMPUNK TALENT SEARCH: THE AUTHOR EDITION! The Steampunk World’s Fair, the world’s largest Steampunk festival, has helped some of the best-known performers in Steampunk get discovered. Now we’d like to share the Steampunk joy and expand its...

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Did somebody say Steampunk Art Show?!

Did somebody say Steampunk Art Show?!

Why, yes, we did say Steampunk Art Show!  As in we're holding one at the 2018 Steampunk World's Fair and we're hoping you all as excited about it as we are!  Here's the general idea: We'll take over the hotel restaurant on Friday and Saturday and redecorate the way we...

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Bacon Cheddar Cookies: A Total Victory Steampunk Dessert

Bacon Cheddar Cookies: A Total Victory Steampunk Dessert (From The Steampunk Cookbook.) It is paradoxical, yet true, to say, that the more we know, the more we find ridiculous food is actually delicious. -Alternative History Nikola Tesla No, you didn't get hit with a...

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Building (Metaphorical) Steampunk Playgrounds

Building (Metaphorical) Steampunk Playgrounds

"The world always seems brighter when you've just made something that wasn't there before." -Neil Gaiman So I run events for a living. But I don't call myself an event organizer; I call myself a Playground Builder. And here's why: My younger brother is developmentally...

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The New Year’s Steampunk

The New Year's Steampunk will be different from the Steampunk that came before it. And in fact, that is true of every year Steampunk has ever existed, and it is incredible. Think about it. Steampunk has evolved and grown and changed every year. Yet it is still this...

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My Steampunk New Year’s Resolutions

My Steampunk New Year’s Resolutions

As a Steampunk, a dreamer, and a generally weird individual, I hereby make the following resolutions for 2018: I plan to go out there and be as strange as I want, and as normal as I want, and not to worry about which is which.  If other people want to call me weird, I...

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Tea Party Recipe: Devilishly Villainous Egg Sandwiches

Tea Party Recipe: Devilishly Villainous Egg Sandwiches

Devilishly Villainous Egg Sandwiches - from The Steampunk Cookbook The Victorians were great believers in spiritualism—did you know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator/writer of “Sherlock Holmes”, helped perpetuate what is (to the modern mind) one of the most...

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How To Kill Steampunk

How To Kill Steampunk

Steampunk’s been declared dead, or about to die, many times. Most often, it is when some aspect of the mainstream, whatever that is, picks up some pieces of Steampunk. Suddenly totally "unhip" people know the big secret, and you can get some Steampunk stuff in your...

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The Wicked Faire: A Steampunk Origin Story

The Wicked Faire: A Steampunk Origin Story

(Photo from The Wicked Faire 2013 - by Babs Who Takes Pictures)Our flagship event, The Wicked Winter Renassance Faire, was seminal to how we got into Steampunk.  We created an indoor Renaissance Faire which broke all the rules of Renfaires - so when Steampunk came...

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Nerds are damn hot

I think about geeks getting together pretty much all the time. I have to. It's my job; I run events for geeks - and while, in actuality, "geeks getting it on" is shorthand for "geeks being able to make powerful social connections which lead to longterm connections" -...

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Three Defiantly Non-Victorian Steampunk Anthems

Three Defiantly Non-Victorian Steampunk Anthems

I have long maintained that there's a key spirit of Steampunk music which doesn't need to fall within the Victorian era, or be about goggles or gears; I love those things, but the true heart of Steampunk culture is that Do It Yourself, fiery passion, a refusal to be...

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Steampunk festival memories

Steampunk festival memories

It's cold outside, but in a part of my heart is always in May.  I realized that the welcome that I used for the last Steampunk World's Fair would actually work well for pretty much any Steampunk event.  So I thought I'd release it into the public domain.  Please feel...

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A Steampunk Holiday Word From Scrooge

A Steampunk Holiday Word From Scrooge

I think I speak for all grumpy old men of Steampunk when I say: "BAH!  HUMBUG!" I suspect that the next entry here will contain some kind of holiday cheer.  For everyone who's up for that sort of poppycock, you should probably check tomorrow's entry.  But for now, let...

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Super Tricky Steampunk Absinthe Guacamole

Super Tricky Steampunk Absinthe Guacamole

It was pointed out to us that there are few things more Steampunk than guacamole.  Think of it: You take a rich, ripe thing which is a paradox in and of itself (for it’s technically a fruit, but we treat it as a vegetable – how can one thing be both?  And yet it is!) – and you pull off its outer shell, revealing something luscious inside.  You then take that lusciousness and transform it by simultaneously smashing it with heavy implements and adding spice.  Finally, you douse it in absinthe, set it on fire, and serve it.  PLEASE DON’T DO THAT LAST THING, WE’RE JUST KIDDING ABOUT THAT.

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Creating a clockwork heart: Steampunk and heartbreak

Here is a Steampunk way of looking at love and loss: Have you had your heart, not simply broken, but hurt so much you thought it was destroyed? Good! Now you have Power.  Like a lightning bolt through Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory, you can activate something...

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Neglected Steampunk Novels: The Other Log of Phileas Fogg

Neglected Steampunk Novels: The Other Log of Phileas Fogg

I own a LOT of old science fiction books, almost all of them purchased ridiculously cheaply at library book sales, rummage sales, and used bookstores.  I can stroll through my library (by which I mean: my tiny, grimoire-crammed apartment) and peruse the shelves...

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Edible Steampunk Dessert Decorations for Beginners

Edible Steampunk Dessert Decorations for Beginners

Not everyone has the time, inclination, or (eh hem, like me) the talent to make jaw-dropping Steampunk desserts. Or maybe we do! Here’s a quick list of decoration tools and products you can get to turn that every-day cupcake into a clockwork cupcake masterpiece!

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Steampunk For World Domination: An introduction

“I've been making a list of the things they don't teach you at school. They don't teach you how to love somebody. They don't teach you how to be famous. They don't teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don't teach you how to walk away from someone you don't...

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Some Ideas For Creating A Sweet Steampunk Cocktail

Some Ideas For Creating A Sweet Steampunk Cocktail

If you're like me, you spend a great deal of time thinking about the important things in life: Steampunk, and cocktails.  If you're a LOT like me, you spend as much time as possible combining the two. What are some ways to make a truly great Steampunk cocktail?  Here...

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Support Your Local Dreamer

Did you know that there is a million bucks hidden in the house next door?" "But there is no house next door."  "No? Then let's go build one!" -Groucho Marx There is a lie of omission which has fucked up the lives of many a creator and entrepreneur, and it's a very...

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