Future-war fiction and global simultaneity

A new post in the future-wars series: techno-scientific acceleration and space-time compression on the eve of WWI

To understand and critically assess the wave(s) of future-war narratives that characterised European illustrated periodicals and book markets before 1914, we need to look at the historical circumstances that provided fertile ground for this production. While writers and artists might have been aware of current events and political circumstances that contributed to the subsequent First World War outburst, we may resist the temptation to make any simplistic teleological connections between works of fiction written at the turn of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century and the terrible events that then ensued.

In fact, authors and illustrators were presented with rich sources of inspiration in the recent past and contemporary history of Europe, with societies that, in the space of just a few years, had been changed forever by an astonishing mass of new inventions. The year 1869 saw the opening of the Suez Canal – connecting Europe to South and East Asia – and also of the first railroad to connect the East and West coasts of the United States, ushering in a phase in the history of technology characterised by rapid acceleration in change and innovation. Between 1873 and 1906, from the typewriter to the phonograph, the telephone, and radio broadcasting, from the steam engine to the automobile, from dirigibles to the airplane, an impressive series of milestone-inventions was made possible, to follow Daniel R. Headrick argument, by intensified and stable connections between scientific research and technology. This impressive amount of technological novelties accompanied broad changes in agricultural production, hygiene practices and medical science, urbanisation process and literacy rates.[1]

A global dimension was experienced in daily life not only by an elite section of the population. New mechanised means of transport and of communication determined an increased dominion over space, while from 1884 onwards, the adoption of a common system in time computing based on the Greenwich meridian affirmed the present and a global simultaneity as a widely shared frame of personal experience. According to Stephen Kern, technology as a source of power over the environment also suggested new ways to control the future.[2]

Innovations such as railroads and the telegraph brought about profound changes in warfare, allowing armies and supply columns to be constantly on the move, and the chain of command to operate over unprecedented distances. Modern marvels also posed specific issues, from the necessary system of poles and wires that rendered the telegraph useless in mobile campaigns, to the limited manoeuvrability of mass armies over a territory despite new means of transport. Technological innovation as applied to warfare dramatically increased the destructive power of weapons: machine guns, magazine-fed rifles, quick-firing and heavy artillery improved the range, accuracy, and firepower of infantries. The extension of the so-called “deadly zone,” “the area in front of the defender’s positions covered by the concentrated fire of his weapons,”[3] increased from 150 meters in the Napoleonic era to 300-400 meters during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871, with casualties among the attackers reaching percentages between 25 and 50), and then tripling to 800-1,500 meters by the mid-1890s.

Long-range rifle fire was decisive in defeats of numerically superior forces such as the British in the opening battles of the Second Boer War (1899-1902), in which knowledge of the territory and strategic choices and tactics nonetheless continued to be crucial, as the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) would also confirm.

Important developments in naval warfare, such as the accuracy of self-propelled torpedoes, steel battleships, and underwater mines, occurred regularly from the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878) onwards. Following British investments in steam-powered battleships equipped with small-calibre guns and in new classes of armoured mine-sweepers, by the mid-1890s many European powers were investing in innovations in naval gunfire, vessel manoeuvrability, self-propelled submarines, and wireless communications. The Russo-Japanese War would be a reminder to all “that large-scale naval battles were still possible.”[4]

As for aerial warfare, the development of lighter-than-air balloonsused for reconnaissance – led to better manoeuvrability, with France at the forefront in aviation technology from the late 1870s onwards, followed by Germany. After Zeppelin’s flight across Lake Constance in 1900 in an aluminium airship filled with hydrogen and the Wright brothers’ flight in 1903, investments in aircraft research and production by Western powers such as Germany and the US increased significantly. Aerial assaults such as those carried out during the Italian invasion of Libya (1911-1912) and the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) established a new role for aerial warfare not only in the gathering of intelligence but also in combat, to attack and destroy buildings, artillery, and troops on the ground.

In Europe, Russia and the US, in fact, its potential military applications were one of the main attractions of air-mindedness – that “popular fascination with airships” that gave rise to a host of “glider clubs and rocket societies, air-shows and air races.”[5] Attacks from the sky were soon to be found in works by key-figures in the history of speculative imagination such as Jules Verne (The Master of the World, 1904) and H. G. Wells (The War in the Air, 1908; The World Set Free, 1914). Air-ground battles and airborne weapons quickly became a staple in future-war narratives throughout the twentieth century.

As John Rieder has argued

“the arms race is one of any number of sites where ideas about progress link the various threads of colonial discourse to one another and to science fiction.” [6]

This technological competition opened up a critical power gap between those cultures and territories which owned certain technologies and those which did not. In doing so, it widened the gap between the industrialised hearts of colonial empires and their peripheries.

Locating war and warfare at centre stage of the European mind during a pivotal phase between the 1870s and the 1890s, Matthew D’Auria has highlighted how during these years the representation of the violence of war influenced conceptualisations of and reflections upon European identities on the part of intellectuals and writers.[7]

Furthermore, technical means of image production and reproduction had a deep impact on how violence and war were represented, disseminated and perceived in European public discourse, especially from the American Civil War onwards, with the regular use of photography to document death and slaughter in popular illustrated magazines beginning around 1900.[8] Illustrations and sketches were common in popular periodicals to document conflicts happening outside the European borders before the advent of photography, contributing to the circulation of news, ideas, and stereotypes across geographical and linguistic borders.[9]

Oriental tortures are documented through photography: Albert Robida, illustration for La guerre infernale by Pierre Giffard (Paris: Èdition Méricant, 1908), published in instalment 29 – Dans l’avenue des supplices, p. 921.


Notes

[1]   Daniel R. Headrick, Technology: A World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 111 and ff; Jürgen Osterhammel and Niels P. Petersson, Geschichte der Globalisierung: Dimensionen, Prozesse, Epochen (München: Verlag C. H. Beck, 2003, Eng. transl. Globalization: A Short History, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), ch. V.

[2]   Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), esp. 90 and ff.; see also Vanessa Ogle, The Global Transformation of Time: 1870-1950 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015); Jürgen Osterhammel, The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century, trans. Patrick Camiller (2009; Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2014), esp. 69 and ff.

[3]   Antulio J. Echevarria II, Imagining Future War: The West’s Technological Revolution and Visions of Wars to Come, 1880-1914 (Westport, CT-London: Praeger Security International, 2007), qt. 28. I am indebted to Echevarrias’s work for the technical notes on warfare in this paragraph.

[4]   Echevarria, Imagining Future War, 34.

[5]   Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr, “Empire,” The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, ed. Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts, and Sherryl Vint (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), 362-372, qt. 365.

[6]   John Rieder, Colonialsm and the Emergence of Science Fiction (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008), 29.

[7]   Matthew D’Auria, “Progress, Decline and Redemption: Understanding War and Imagining Europe, 1870s-1890s,” Making Sense of Violence: Intellectuals, Writers, and Modern Warfare, ed. D’Auria, European Review of History: Revue européenne d’histoire, 25, no. 5 (2018): 686-704, doi: 10.1080/13507486.2018.1471046.

[8]   Mark Hewitson, “Introduction: Visualizing Violence,” Making Sense of Military Violence, ed. Matthew D’Auria and Hewitson, Cultural History 6, no. 1 (2017): 1-20, esp. 10, doi: 10.3366/cult.2017.0132.

[9]         E.g. “La Guerra in Cina. Cronaca illustrata degli avvenimenti in Estremo Oriente” published in Italy by Aliprandi, in 20 installments in 1900 covered the Boxer rebellion using as sources other periodicals from Italy (e. g. “Natura e Arte”), Anglophone countries (“Times,” “New York Herald»”), France (“Le Journal illustré”), Germany (“Kölnische Zeitung”), Russia (“Novoye Vremya”). “La Guerra in Cina” would make for an interesting case study as regards the representation of Oriental cruelty and yellow-peril stereotypes.

This post is adapted from Iannuzzi, G. (2019). “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come: Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the Long History of Imagined Warfare”, Cromohs – Cyber Review of Modern Historiography22, 95-136; par. “Techno-apocalypses”, pp. 113-116. DOI: 10.13128/cromohs-11706. Full text available in open access: https://oajournals.fupress.net/index.php/cromohs/article/view/11706.

See here all posts in the future-wars series

Techno-apocalypses

Imagined conflicts-to-come between the nineteenth century and the eve of WWI

By the beginning of the Twentieth century, the imagery related to future wars already had precedents, having been a topic touched upon in future-set narratives across different textual genres since the Seventeenth century. Early examples had used ominous depictions of future invasions and scenarios of armed conflict to argue in favour of specific political options in texts whose primary aim was to influence the political debates of the day.

Argaud de Barges, La Thiloriere ou Descente en Angleterre: Projet d’une Montgolfiere capable d’enlever 3.000 Hommes et qui ne coutera que 300.000 Francs [etc.], etching and pointillé gravure (Paris: Chez Boulard, 1803), Bibliothèque nationale de France, accessed via Gallica, identifier: ark:/12148/btv1b8509550q.

During the first years of the nineteenth century, however, future-war literary fictions were few in number, while war technologies were of course object of fantastic representations also unrelated to future settings, a notable example being Baron Munchausen’s adventures on battle fields and on cannonballs becoming means of transport across Earthly territories and even to the moon.[1] Future settings were also exploited by prophetic novels imagining remote futures for humanity or one subject as the sole survivor of a catastrophe indebted to Romantic inspiration (e.g. Restif de la Bretonne’s Les Posthumes in 1802, Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville’s Le Dernier homme in 1805, Félix Bodin, Le Roman de l’avenir in 1834).[2] While important milestones were reached in later decades by Louis Geoffroy’s alternative history Napoleon et la conquête du monde 1812-1832: Histoire de la Monarchie universelle (1836),[3] and by the American Civil War imagined by two American authors, Nathaniel B. Tucker (The Partisan Leader, 1836) and Edmund Ruffin (Anticipations of the Future, 1860), future-war narratives did not become a codified sub-genre until the 1870s.[4]

By then, the presence of intertextual references to similar texts, a shared encyclopaedia of recurring motives and topoi, and textual devices implying a recognition of existing readers’ expectations had gradually led to the sub-genre taking shape, helped by the emergence of a mass market for magazines and books, a rich breeding ground for popular publishing formulas.

Particular attention has been paid by recent scholarship to the seminal role of George T. Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking (1871), given the innovative nature of a setting located in a very near future, and the public debate that followed its publication in England, originating sequels, editions, and translations over a number of European countries and the US. Designed to encourage reform and modernisation in the British army, Chesney’s book was written after the Franco-Prussian War, and envisaged a scenario in which Germany had taken France’s place as the invader able to cross the English Channel.[5] According to Mike Ashley, “Chesney’s alarmist story had catapulted the genre of future-war fiction into the public arena.”[6]

The ensuing decades saw waves of imagined conflicts-to-come especially notable in England and Germany, in the short-story form as well as in serialized long narratives and volume-length novels. Depicted conflicts were consumed between European powers, as well as on a global scale (such as Robida’s La guerre au vingtième siècle, and Giffard and Robida’s La guerre infernale). Invasions from the east were relevant to the codification of the Yellow Peril theme (e.g. M. P. Shiel’s The Yellow Danger, 1898), and threats from mad scientists and terrorist organizations were also imagined (e.g. George Griffith’s The Angel of the Revolution, 1893).

In H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1898), the novelty of having extraterrestrials as invaders made explicit the relationship between ideas of progress and the recourse to the future as an imaginative device for conducting hypothetical experiments, informed by conceptualisations of historical time as characterised by a unidirectional flow. As John Rieder has argued, “… Wells asks his English readers to compare the Martian invasion of Earth with the Europeans’ genocidal invasion of the Tasmanians, thus demanding that the colonisers imagine themselves as the colonised, or the about-to-be-colonised. …  the analogy rests on the logic prevalent in contemporary anthropology that the indigenous, primitive other’s present is the colonizer’s own past … The confrontation of humans and Martians is thus a kind of anachronism, an incongruous co-habitation of the same moment by people and artefacts from different times.”[7]

In the years immediately preceding World War I, future wars became part of a proto-science fiction repertoire, in works written, published and read as entertainment.[8] Notable cases include William LeQueux’s bestseller The Invasion of 1910 (1906), and Saki [Hector H. Munro]’s When William Came: A Story of London Under the Hohenzollerns (1913), apt examples of the coeval Germanophobia caused in England by the perception of an increasing Teutonic menace.[9] Imagined conflicts became a fairly well-established subgenre, in which technology supplied a spectacular element, while being a focal point for anxieties related to the increasing speed of technological progress and world connections, as well as of international relations characterised by instability and/or by the emergence of non-Western actors such as Japan and China, with their economic and demographic power.

The next post will aim to understand and critically assess the wave(s) of future-war narratives that characterized European illustrated periodicals and book markets before 1914.


Notes

[1]  [Rudolf Erich Raspe], Gulliver revived, or The vice of lying properly exposed. … Also an account of a voyage into the moon and Dog-Star; with many extraordinary particulars relative to the cooking animal in those planets, which are there called the human species (London: Printed for C. and G. Kearsley, 1793).

[2]  Marc Angenot, “Science Fiction in France before Verne,” Science Fiction Studies 5, no. 14 (1978): 58-76.

[3]  Published anonymously until 1841; Pierre Versins, Encyclopédie de l’utopie, des voyages extraordinaires & de la science-fiction (Lausanne: L’âge d’homme, 1972), ad vocem.

[4]  Darko Suvin, “Victorian Science Fiction, 1871-85: The Rise of the Alternative History Sub-Genre,” Science-Fiction Studies 10, no. 2, (1983): 148-169; see also Brian M. Stableford, “Future War,” SFE: Science Fiction Encyclopedia, ed. John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls, Graham Sleight, 2005, last version 2018, http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/future_war.

[5]   First published in Blackwood’s Magazine, and reprinted as a stand-alone pamphlet. A contemporary edition is in Clarke, British Future Fiction, vol. 6: 1-44; on its reception: I. F. Clarke, “Before and after ‘The Battle of Dorking,’’’ Science Fiction Studies 24, no. 1 (1997): 33-46, see 42-44; on its innovative role see also: Paul K. Alkon, Origins of Futuristic Fiction (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987), 40.

[6]   Mike Ashley, “The Fear of Invasion,” British Library, Discovering Literature: Romantics & Victorians, 15 May 2014, https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/the-fear-of-invasion.

[7]   John Rieder, Colonialsm and the Emergence of Science Fiction (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008), qt. 5.

[8]   Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 90.

[9]   Cecil D. Eby, The Road to Armageddon: The Martial Spirit in English Popular Literature, 1870-1914 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1988), 33 and ff., 80 and ff.

This post is adapted from Giulia Iannuzzi, “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come: Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the Long History of Imagined Warfare”, Cromohs – Cyber Review of Modern Historiography22 (2019): 95-136; par. “Techno-apocalypses”, pp. 111-113. DOI: 10.13128/cromohs-11706. Full text available in open access: https://oajournals.fupress.net/index.php/cromohs/article/view/11706.

See here all posts in the future-wars series

Representations of (Future) Wars, Exhibitionary Practices

Exploring Diego de Henriquez’s Collections at the Museums of the City of Trieste

In a few unpublished projects and notes written between the 1950s and the early 1970s Diego de Henriquez, Italian ex-soldier and passionate collector, developed his reflections and designs for a “war museum for peace”, which he planned to establish in Trieste.

These papers represent a rich and yet unexplored material and are today at the Civico museo di guerra per la pace “Diego de Henriquez” of the City of Trieste, along with de Henriquez’s notable private collection of armaments, military tools and technologies, documents and books pertinent to the theme of war throughout history.

This essay, newly published in Qualestoria (chief editor Luca G. Manenti, issue 1, June 2020, pp. 98-110) dwells on de Henriquez’s manuscripts, devoting specific attention to the popularization and educational purposes he foresaw for future exhibitions, and the role played by literary and visual works of fiction in his programmes, as well as in his library and collection of objects and works of art.

Planning to devote the closing section of his war museum to future conflicts as imagined by writers and illustrators, in 1957 de Henriquez bought fifteen original sketches made by Albert Robida for Pierre Giffard’s feuilleton La guerre infernale (1908) from a bookstand in Rome.

This essay, enhancing the presence of these rare materials in Trieste, and accompanied by the publication of two of Robida’s sketches, offers some remarks on the representation of war violence in early-contemporary imagery and on the re-use of Robida’s work in de Henriquez’s programme.

This essay is available in green open access under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International cc license:

Qualestoria, 1, June 2020, pp. 98-110. ISSN 0393-6082 98 

DOI: 10.13137/0393-6082/30734

https://www.openstarts.units.it/handle/10077/30734

Download the article published on Qualestoria here:

Exhibiting Temporal Hierarchizations

Great Expositions, temporal hierarchisation, and the birth of a global consciousness

According to Darko Suvin, “the instauration of capitalist production as the dominant and finally all-pervasive way of life engendered a fundamental reorientation of human practice and imagination: a wished-for or feared future becomes the new space of the cognitive (and increasingly of the everyday) imagination.”1  The expansion of the Western powers brought about techno-driven globalisation processes at an increased speed,2 bearing remarkable consequences in the development of a globalised consciousness, and of ideas and imageries deeply rooted in new knowledge concerning remote areas of the globe and their inhabitants.

The origins of this process can in fact be traced back to the multiple availability of sources deriving from geographical explorations, to the momentum thus gained by comparative and universal history during the late-modern age, and to the growing influence of Enlightenment ideas of progress and conjectural histories, organising civilisations according to subsequent stages of development.3

Notions regarding examples of radical “otherness” from remote parts of the globe conceptualised as remains of the common human past and instances of humanity in its infancy were decisive in fostering ideas of historical time as a dimension of progressive development. Ideas of degeneration and stagnation applied to other societies implied the use of the European civilisation as a standard against which other might be evaluated, and also brought about reflections on historical time as a frame of causal relations between phenomena and human actions. In ideas of a linear and irreversible historical time lies the – insufficient but necessary – precondition for the hierarchisations of societies and humans that will characterise a mature imperialistic phase.4

During the nineteenth century, these conceptualizations informed important expressions of popular culture, such as the Great Expositions, in which a temporal dimension was touched upon by central symbolic and discursive structures.5 Through the recreation of ancient Greek and Roman monuments, medieval quarters and villages, and the living ethno-expositions of alien humans presented as embodying primitive or early stages of civilisation,6 international exhibitions effectively put on stage a temporal dimension, which culminated in sections devoted to the scientific and technological wonders of Western modernity and progress.

This temporal hierarchisation provided the ideological frame in which an increasing thematization of the future found a place, and this became central near the end of the century, with the 1889’s Eiffel Tower, Alva Edison’s pavilion of electric light, and the Hall of Machines. Conflating ideas of history and images of the globe7 in limited urban areas – or even in single attractions, such as George Wyld’s Great Globe in Leicester Square during the London Great Exhibition of 1851 – these expositions allowed visitors to complete a tour of the world on foot in a few hours. As one of the first and most effective “laboratories for a global space-time,”8 these exhibits made a decisive contribution to the elaboration of a science-fictional mind-set.9

The technological sublime, which became typical of early speculative-fiction literature and illustration, has the same cultural backdrop as Expos and Fairs, and is partly indebted to the exhibitionary strategies of those early pavilions. Expos embodied a growing interest in science and technology, helped to visualise their future effects on human society and the global environment, and put forward a use of technology not strictly utilitarian, but rather aimed at fostering a sense of wonder in its spectators. As early as 1905 on Coney Island, with the dark ride A Trip to the Moon designed by Frederick Thompson, visitors could physically travel through scenic illusions, which staged a whole series of early science fiction tropes, from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (patented in 1903) to the North Pole, to a War of Worlds.10 The latter – which despite the similar title was not inspired by H. G. Wells’ novel of 1897 – enacted an attack on New York by (small-scale) European navies. This attraction was heir to the naumachias that, since the Roman world and throughout modern Europe, had constituted a form of entertainment and public spectacle,11 while also tapping into an“early-twentieth century frenzy for disaster spectacles, science fiction and ‘you are there’ adventure journeys.”12

It will come as no surprise that three years before publishing Vingt mille lieues sous les mers: Tour du monde sous-marin, Jules Verne visited the 1867 Paris Universal Exposition. Here Joseph-Martin Cabirol’s diving suit (an innovative version of Augustus Siebe’s creation) received a prize, and model of the 1863 submarine Le plongeur was on display, which became sources of inspiration along with the other latest literary and current events.13 By the turn of the century, the diorama and panorama attractions in the “Tour du Monde” pavilion at Paris 1900 had a distinctive Vernian twist, being a miniature version of his namesake 1872 novel,14 designed by Alexandre Marcel, with the collaboration of Louis Doumoulin, already known as the “Jules Verne du pinceau.”15

The “Tour du Monde” with its Arabian, Japanese, Chinese and Indian sections among others, compressed geographical distances and summarized global space through the juxtaposition of remote cultures. A 1900 report on the Expo by the French Ministère du commerce, de l’industrie, des postes et des télégraphes highlighted that the attraction was home to various dioramas and an “exotic theatre” with 300 seats, devoted to the “most curious countries” serviced by the French Compagnie des messageries maritimes. Here living “natives” demonstrated for the public everyday activities or traditional dances,16 albums illustrated with lavish photos documented the mises en scènes and became tokens of the Fair for visitors to collect, and to enjoy (again) the aesthetic marvels and visits of important personalities.17

Another section of Paris 1900, the “Vieux Paris” designed by journalist, illustrator and novelist Albert Robida, condensed historical time from the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth century into one attraction.18 The official report mentioned above described Robida’s attraction and documented it with numerous photos: “Le Vieux Paris se divisait en trois groupes principaux: quartier du moyen âge, s’étendant de la porte Saint-Michel (face au pont de l’Alma) à l’église Saint-Julien-des-Ménétriers; quartier des Halles au XVIIIème siècle; groupe formé par le Châtelet et le pont au Change (XVIIème siècle), la rue de la Foire Saint-Laurent (XVIIIème siècle) et le Palais (Renaissance).”19 The report highlighted the many leisures and attractions that animated the area, which included “a small battalion of figurants in costumes”: “Des établissements de spectacle, des restaurants, des cafés, de nombreuses boutiques pour la vente d’objets-souvenirs étaient installés dans le Vieux Paris et contribuaient à son animation. Un petit bataillon de figurants en costumes anciens peuplait la concession.”20 Among the dioramas described in the report, the exoticism of a Kremlin with special snow effects, was to be found alongside the techno-wonder of New York’s elevated railway.

Verne was among the authors featured in the Gazette du Vieux Paris: rédigée par une société d’écrivains des Annales politiques et littéraires, which Albert Robida designed to accompany the Vieux Paris section of the expo. The Gazette devoted fourteen four-page monographic issues to different moments in French history, and constituted a visual pendant of the recreation of pasts that was staged by architecture in the Vieux Paris section of the expo. From a first “Gallo-Roman” issue featuring Verne on “The Origin of Paris,” through a second “Merovingian” issue a third “Carolingian,” and so on, the Gazette was meant both as a guide to and souvenir from the exhibition. While contents celebrated French national spirit and its role in the birth of modern democracy, every issue embodied the era to which it was devoted, being printed on a different kind of paper, imitating fonts and illustration style of the period represented.21

Gazette du Vieux Paris. Rédigéè par une société d’écrivains des Annales Politiques et Litteraires, n. 1 – Numero Gallo-Romain, 15 Avril 1900, first page. Copy at the British Library. Photo: Giulia Iannuzzi.
Gazette du Vieux Paris. Rédigéè par une société d’écrivains des Annales Politiques et Litteraires, n. 1 – Numero Gallo-Romain, 15 Avril 1900, cover. Copy at the British Library. Photo: Giulia Iannuzzi.

In other works by Robida, the Great Expos is a central source of inspiration: Le vingtième siècle (1883), set in 1952, gives account of future society constructed around the inventions on show at the Paris 1881 Exposition Internationale d’Électricité. “Jadis chez aujourd’hui” (published in Le petit français illustré between 10 May and 14 June 1890) presents a time-travel fantasy featuring a scientist who resuscitates Molière and other literary figures and accompanies them to visit the Paris 1889 Exposition Universelle.22 The same ideas underpinning the design of the 1900 Vieux Paris are at work in such projections of a future Paris. Scenarios depicted in La guerre au vingtième siècle (1887)23 and La guerre infernale (1908) are logically extrapolated from the present as a consequence of historical processes, of an irreversible time flow and causal mechanisms. Ideas of progress informed these fictions, as well as, on occasion, the terrible awareness of the potential consequences of using new technologies to develop weapons and military hardware.

Notes

1 Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979), 115-116.

2 Daniel R. Headrick, Power over People: Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2012).

3 Guido Abbattista, “The Historical Thought of the French Philosophes,” in The Oxford History of Historical Writing, ed. José Rabasa, Masayuki Sato, Edoardo Tortarolo, and Daniel Woolf, vol. 3, 1400-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 406-427; Georg G. Iggers and Q. Edward Wang, with contributions from Supriya Mukherjee, A Global History of Modern Historiography (London and New York: Routledge, 2013), 19-32; Daniel Woolf, A Global History of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), esp. 280-343.

4 On temporal hierarchization from a cultural history perspective: Chris Lorenz and Berber Bevernage, eds., Breaking up Time: Negotiating the Borders between Present, Past and Future (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013).

5 Guido Abbattista, Giulia Iannuzzi, “World Expositions as Time Machines: Two Views of the Visual Construction of Time between Anthropology and Futurama,” World History Connected 13, no. 3 (2016), doi: 10.5281/zenodo.2652723.

6 Guido Abbattista, ‘Concepts and Categories in the History of World Expositions: Introductory Remarks,” in Abbattista, ed., Moving Bodies, Displaying Nations: National Cultures, Race and Gender in World Expositions Nineteenth to Twenty-First Century (Trieste: EUT, 2014), 7-20; and Abbattista, Umanità in mostra: Esposizioni etniche e invenzioni esotiche in Italia (1880–1940) (Trieste: EUT, 2014), esp. 32-36.

7 Alexander C. T. Geppert, “True Copies: Time and Space Travels at British Imperial Exhibitions, 1880-1930,” in The Making of Modern Tourism: The Cultural History of the British Experience, 1600-2000, ed. Hartmut Berghoff Barbara Korte, Christopher Harvie, Ralph Schneider (Basingstoke-New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 223-248.

8 Roger Luckhurst, “Laboratories for Global Space-Time: Science-Fictionality and the World’s Fairs, 1851-1939,” Science Fiction Studies 39, no. 118 (2012): 385-400.

9 Brooks Landon, “SF Tourism,” in The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, ed. Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts, and Sherryl Vint (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), 32-41.

10 Woody Register, The Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements (Oxford-New York: Oxford University Press, 2001): electronic edition, par. “The Crying Need for Novelty.”

11 Martha Pollak, Cities at War in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 284-286; Ignacio Ramos Gay, “Naumachias, the Ancient World and Liquid Theatrical Bodies on the Early 19th Century English Stage,” Miranda 11 (2015): 1-15, doi: 10.4000/miranda.6745.

12 John S. Berman, Coney Island (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2003), 34; see also William J. Phalen, Coney Island: 150 Years of Rides, Fires, Floods, the Rich, the Poor and Finally Robert Moses (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016), 114.

13 William Butcher, “Introduction” and “Appendix: Sources of Ideas on Submarine Navigation,” in Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas, trans. William Butcher (1870; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), ix-xxxi, 382-384, see xiv and 383; Smithsonian Libraries, Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction 1780-1910, “Sea Changes,” website of the exhibition, July 1, 2015 – February 26, 2017,https://library.si.edu/exhibition/fantastic-worlds/sea-change.

14 Roger Benjamin, Orientalist Aesthetics: Art, Colonialism, and French North Africa, 1880-1930 (Berkley-Los Angeles-London: University of California Press, 2003), 114.

15 Julien Béal, “Le Japon dans la collection photographique du peintre Louis-Jules Dumoulin (1860-1924) ,” Hal – Archives ouvertes 2017, hal-01517490v1: see 3 and note 9.

16 Alfred Picard (Ministère du commerce, de l’industrie, des postes et des télégraphes), Exposition universelle internationale de 1900 à Paris. Rapport général administratif et technique (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1902-1903), 8 vols., vol. 7, 226; accessed via Bibliothèque numérique en histoire des sciences et des techniques, http://cnum.cnam.fr.

17 Le Panorama. Exposition universelle 1900, sous la direction de René Baschet, avec les photographies de Neurdein frères et Maurice Baschet Publisher (Paris: Ludovic Baschet éd., 1900).

18 Exposition Universelle de 1900. Le Vieux Paris: guide historique, pittoresque et anecdotique (Paris: Ménard et Chaufour, 1900), booklet, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica, ark:/12148/bpt6k201257n; see here, xviii-xiv for Robida as “maistre de l’oeuvre” and a list of his main collaborators. See also Elizabeth Emery and Laura Morowitz, Consuming the Past: The Medieval Revival in fin-de-siècle France (Burlington: Ashgate, 2003), esp. ch. 7 “Feasts, fools and festivals: the popular Middle Ages,” 171-208; Robida, créateur du Vieux Paris à l’Exposition Universelle de 1900, thematic issue of Le Téléphonoscope. Bulletin des amis d’Albert Robida 9 (2002), esp. Jean-Claude Viche, “Bibliographie sommaire sur «le Vieux Paris» de Robida,” 2.

19 “The Vieux Paris is divided into three main parts: the Middle Age district, extending from Porte Saint-Michel (opposite to the Alma Bridge) to the Saint-Julien-des-Ménétriers church; the district of the XVIII century halls; a quarter formed by the Châtelet and the Change bridge (XVII century), the Foire Saint-Laurent street (XVIII century) and the Palace (Renaissance).” Picard, Exposition universelle, vol. 7, 240, see also 244, where the report specifies that the area occupied by the Vieux Paris was 1.918-square meters large, and that to this had to be added a 250-meters long and 3.900-square meters large area of corbelled constructions along the Seine.

20 “Entertainments, restaurants, cafes, and numerous souvenirs shops were installed in the Vieux Paris and contributed to its animation. A small battalion of extras in costumes from ancient eras populated the concession.” Picard, Exposition universelle, vol. 7, 244.

21 On the Gazette: Christine A. Roth, “The Narrative Promise: Redesigning History in La Gazette du Vieux Paris,” CEA Critic 78 no. 1 (March 2016): 116-128; Patrice Carré, “Paris perdu, Paris mis en pages… En feuilletant la Gazette du Vieux Paris,” Le Téléphonoscope. Bulletin des amis d’Albert Robida 9 (2002), 19-21.

22 Cf. John Clute et al., “Robida, Albert,” in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, ed. John Clute, Peter Nicholls, and David Langford, last modified January 4, 2019, accessed December 10, 2019, http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/robida_albert; Dominique Lacaze, “Albert Robida, Explorer of the Twentieth Century,” part I, “Technical Innovation” and part II, “The Invention of a Society,” Futuribles 366 (2010): 61-70, and 367 (2010): 65-76.

23 Albert Robida, La guerre au vingtième siècle (Paris: Georges Decaux, 1887), this is a short, lavishingly illustrated novel in a stand-alone 51-pages volume; under the same title – “La guerre au vingtième siècle” – Robida published also a short story in La Caricature, 27 October 1883, 337-343.

This post is adapted from Giulia Iannuzzi, “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come: Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the Long History of Imagined Warfare”, Cromohs – Cyber Review of Modern Historiography22 (2019): 95-136; par. “Exhibiting temporal hierarchizations”, pp. 105-110. Full text available in open access: https://oajournals.fupress.net/index.php/cromohs/article/view/11706.

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Historicizing the Future

… I must acquiesce, and be content with the Honour and Misfortune, of being the first among Historians (if a mere Publisher of Memoirs may deserve that Name) who leaving the beaten Tracts of writing with Malice or Flattery, the accounts of past Actions and Times, have dar’d to enter by the help of an infallible Guide, into the dark Caverns of Futurity, and discover the Secrets of Ages yet to come.

Samuel Madden,  Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (London: Printed for Messieurs Osborn and Longman, Davis, and Batley …, 1733) vol. 1, 3.

Contemporary historiography has highlighted the role played by a spatial dimension in the birth of a speculative imagination which, in modern-age Europe, exploited fantastic and philosophical motives, and was rich in theological and spiritual interests.1 The Copernican revolution opened up cosmic space as a possible home to other planets and civilisations. From Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moon (1638) to Cyrano de Bergerac’s The Other World (1657), up to Fontenelle’s Entretiens sur la pluralités des mondes (1686), the seventeenth century reflected on the possibility of extra-terrestrial life and saw the flourishing of interplanetary voyages, explorations of the moon and more remote celestial bodies, close encounters with distant civilizations, including the possibility of being visited by extra-terrestrials beings on Earth (e.g. Charles Sorel’sL’Histoire comique de Francion, 1623, progenitor of the imaginary visits of alien humans in Europe).2

Cultural historians and scholars of speculative fiction usually locate in a late-modern period the appearance of a temporal dimension exploited as a means of dislocation from the writer’s reality, and thus as a source of cognitive estrangement.3 However, while some see in the consequences of the same Copernican revolution the crucial condition thanks to which the imagination first became able to work outside the temporal horizon of Biblical time,4 others place the shift from a spatial-based to a temporal-based speculation as late as the eighteenth century,5 or take the year 1800 as a conventional watershed.6 In his comprehensive anthology of British future fiction, I. F. Clarke identifies a turning point during the nineteenth century, but traces from the seventeenth century onwards the first developments of a temporal imagination, in consequence of which “the geographies of utopian fiction evolved into the historiographies of a new literature.”7

The conceptualization of a future intimately linked to the present and shapeable by human action can in fact be traced back to the emergence of new ideas and sensibilities towards historical time, which matured gradually during the modern age.8 Anglophone and francophone literatures offer extrapolations of near-future scenarios as early as the beginning of the seventeenth century. 

A play such as A Larum for London (published anonymously in 1602) implicitly suggests that a Spanish sack of London might replicate the horrors of 1576 Antwerp,9 John Dryden’s Annus Mirabilis (1667) imagines London reborn after the Great Fire, political prophetism nourishes works such as Aulicus his Dream of the King’s Sudden Comming to London (anonymous, 1644)10 and Jacques Guttin’s Épigone, Histoire du siècle futur (1659). The future is home to a model society towards which the English Parliament is invited to work in A Description of the Famous Kingdome of Macaria (1642) attributed to Samuel Hartlib.11 These narrations offer possible and counter-factual histories used to make a point about the politics of the day, whether through ominous predictions, practical indications, or – in the case of Guttin – as the backdrop to adventurous plots.12 Squibs, satires, or exotic romances, these texts represent a step towards a secularized history13 and conceptualizations of the future that their late-modern and early-contemporary descendants will come to embody, without yet constituting a genre, nor focusing their inventions and extrapolations on those techno-scientific wonders that would only later take centre-stage.14

As Bronisław Baczko has argued,15 the topographical dislocation exploited in early-modern imaginary voyages may serve the purpose of constructing an ideal society untouched by the same historical processes experienced by the reader’s, so that history as known by the writer and the reader constantly informs the invention as a negative presence, by its absence. Utopian societies may consequently be described as a result of different histories, and characterized by alternate calendars and time-computing methods, such as in L’histoire des Sevarambes; peuples qui habitent une partie du troisième continent, communément appelé la Terre australe by Denis Veiras (1677-1679).16 Baczko discusses also what he calls utopia-proposals, such as Étienne-Gabriel Morelly’s Code de la Nature (1755), in which the utopian project may serve the purpose of showing a different yet possible continuation of history, freeing society from its past to offer a new beginning.17

A fantastic voyage: a ship has left the sea below and is sailing among the clouds, in a nocturnal sky. The caption below reads "The ship is caught up into the skies". Illustration from Lucian's wonderland: being a translation of the 'Vera historia' by Lucian, by St J. Basil Wynne Willson; with numerous illustrations by A. Payne Garnett (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1899), p. 47. Copy via InternetArchive.
“The ship is caught up into the skies”. Lucian’s wonderland: being a translation of the ‘Vera historia’ by Lucian, by St J. Basil Wynne Willson; with numerous illustrations by A. Payne Garnett (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1899), p. 47. Copy via InternetArchive. Non known restriction for scholarly use.

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Future Wars: Introductory remarks

Introducing a series on future-wars fiction in modern European culture

Ne soyez point en peine de ce Heros inconnu qui se presente à vos yeux. Encore qu’il ne soit pas ny de ce Monde ny de ce Siecle, il n’est pas si farouche ny si barbare, qu’il ne soit capable de faire un beau choix, & qu’il n’ait jugé aussi juste de vostre merite, que l’auroient pû faire tous ceux qui ont l’honneur de vous mieux connoistre.

Jacques Guttin [Michel de Pure], 
Épigone, histoire du siècle futur
 (A Paris: Chez Pierre Lamy, 1659), aij-p.nn.

Late modern and early contemporary imageries related to techno-driven globalization processes are to be found, in some of their most popular and graphic expressions, in visual and literary works of fiction. Made possible by the emergence of new ideas of a secularized historical time, early speculative fiction is an exceptional vantage point from which to observe the birth and development of popular themes and tropes related to those compressions of time and space, which increasingly characterized the world system between the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century.

In the European cultural space, and especially in mature publishing markets such as the French one, speculative fiction set in the future became an apt expression of new imageries related to techno-science, including new communication and transportation systems and the astonishing speed of their development.1 Narratives and illustrations interpreted the appearance of new forms of awareness of globalization processes, becoming part of a communicative circuit, which was expanding its audience at a fast rate, thanks to the increasing presence of the popular press.

In this phase of techno-scientific acceleration and tumultuous changes in cultural habits, speculative fiction began to depict a major shift that had been occurring in the European mind-set during the late modern era: the emergence of a plastic future. New ideas of the future were a consequence of new, secularized temporalizations of history. The conception of historical time as home to linear processes of development was in turn deeply influenced by a close encounter with “others,” by explorations, voyages and the availability of written, figurative and material sources regarding remote parts of the world, which documented Western forms of ethnocentric hierarchization and, at the same time, began the task of problematizing them.2

Fantastic narratives and illustrations can be read as part of a broader social history of ideas of space and time,3 and work as litmus tests of the complex reconfigurations they underwent in the Western mind, as global interconnectedness brought new subjects and issues onto the stage.

The subgenre of imagined future wars developed in relation with the use of alternate history as a means for political propaganda, which could be found from the late seventeenth century onwards in non-fiction tracts and pamphlets, as in some of the examples discussed below. Near the end of the nineteenth century, this literary and visual narrative strand assumed clear-cut characteristics, and articulated concerns regarding instabilities and tensions in international relations, and fears related to the destructive use of those technological innovations that were following one another so rapidly and that were taking centre stage at the great international exhibitions and world fairs. 

The discovery of a selection of Albert Robida’s original sketches for Pierre Giffard’s feuilleton La guerre infernale (1908),4 offers an occasion to connect these various strands and critically assess the role of wars to come in the development of an imagination related to the future, and in the construction of the consciousness of a global, human, earthly destiny.

Recent scholarship in speculative fiction studies and cultural history has produced a few excellent studies tackling speculative fiction as a laboratory for a global space-time between the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century,5and the emergence of science fiction as a genre in the age of colonialism and empires.6 Existing contributions, also when dealing with the specific theme of imagined future wars,7 tend to concentrate on the early-contemporary age, rightfully stressing the significant changes that in that phase affected the European techno-scientific, socio-political and economic system, and their influence on new forms of mass media communication, collective imagery and textual genres.

Histories of science fiction dealing with the development of the genre from ancient times through the ages tend, in turn, to be written from a perspective internal to the science fiction genre..8 While excellently outlining main authors and trends, general histories of science fiction necessarily give up more in-depth analysis of specific themes, and usually broader issues of cultural history remain outside their scope. Such works do not deal, or only marginally, with the connection between speculative imagery and the conceptualization of time, and they often keep their focus on literary expressions, while leaving aside other spheres and levels of public discourse and forms of representation.

The present series of posts, building on existing contributions, aims at fostering a better understanding of imagined future wars in the early contemporary age by locating them within a long history of imagined warfare, including late-seventeenth and eighteenth-century developments, and against the backdrop of the cultural history of time. Furthermore, for late modern and early contemporary expressions, this study – drawing on Robida’s case –, aims at enhancing the deep connections that run between literary, figurative and exhibitionary cultural artefacts in terms of representation strategies and circulation of ideas.

NOTES

1

“SF and Globalization,” ed. David Higgins and Rob Latham, special issue, Science Fiction Studies 39, no. 3, 118 (November 2012).

2Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, trans. Keith Tribe (1979; New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).

3Peter Burke, “Foreword: The History of the Future, 1350-2000,” in The Uses of the Future in Early Modern Europe, ed. Andrea Brady, Butterworth Emily (New York and London: Routledge, 2010), ix-xx.

4Presently part of the Civico Museo di guerra per la pace “Diego de Henriquez” of the City of Trieste, of which seven are reproduced here (Figures 6-12). Diego de Henriquez, Italian ex-soldier and creator, between the 1940s and the early 1970s, of a notable private collection of armaments, military tools and technologies, documents and books pertinent to the theme of war throughout history, bought fifteen of Robida’s original sketches in 1957, when he found them on a bookstand in Rome. On Henriquez (Trieste 1909-1974) see Antonella Furlan, Antonio Sema, Cronaca di una vita: Diego de Henriquez (Trieste: APT Trieste, 1993); Furlan, La civica collezione Diego de Henriquez di Trieste (Trieste: Rotary Club Trieste-Civici musei di storia ed arte, 2000). On Robida’s sketches within Henriquez collection: Giulia Iannuzzi, “The Cruel Imagination: Oriental Tortures from a Future Past in Albert Robida’s Illustrations for La guerre infernale (1908),” in Law, Justice and Codification in Qing China. European and Chinese Perspectives. Essays in History and Comparative Law, ed. Guido Abbattista (Trieste: EUT, 2017), 193-211, esp. 194, note 3.

5Higgins and Latham “SF and Globalization,” quoted above.

6E.g. Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr, “Empire,” The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, ed. Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts, and Sherryl Vint (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), 362-372; John Rieder, Colonialsm and the Emergence of Science Fiction (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008). See also Paul K. Alkon’s works cited below.

7E.g. I. F. Clarke, “Future-War Fiction: The First Main Phase, 1871-1900,” Science Fiction Studies, 24, no. 3 (November, 1997): 387-412; I. F. Clarke, “Before and after ‘The Battle of Dorking,’’’ Science Fiction Studies 24, no. 1 (1997): 33-46.

8E.g. Adam Roberts, The History of Science Fiction, 2nd ed. (London: Palgrave, 2016).

This post is adapted from Iannuzzi, G. (2019). “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come: Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the Long History of Imagined Warfare”, Cromohs – Cyber Review of Modern Historiography22, 95-136; par. “Introductory remarks”, pp. 96-98. DOI: 10.13128/cromohs-11706. Full text available in open access: https://oajournals.fupress.net/index.php/cromohs/article/view/11706.

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