“Retrofuture” refers to earlier ideas about what our current time would be like. Now that we’ve hit the 21st century, we have lots to choose from — people making predictions in the 1900s often chose the 21st century to write or draw or make movies about.
Have your students explore the following retrofuture resources:
- Retrofuture space travel art
- Retrofuture art
- Dude, Where’s My Flying Car?
- Your Flying Car Awaits: Robot Butlers, Lunar Vacations, and Other Dead-Wrong Predictions of the Twentieth Century
Now use the newfound knowledge to think and create.
Compare and contrast
Make a Venn diagram showing how people from the past thought life would be now, and how it really is. Add a third ring and include how life was at the time the predictions were made (often the 1930s through 1950s). After starting this topic with the whole class, divide students into groups and encourage them to choose a narrower aspect such as clothing, gender roles, communications, or travel.
Now you’re ready for some great compare and contrast essays! Have students write their essays individually and then get back together to prepare a report to the class about their special area of study.
The posters, films, and illustrations people in the 20th century made showing their ideas about the 21st century are a wonderful genre of art that might be quite new to your students. Examine and analyze the examples linked above. Then have students design their own Retropolis, showing plenty of details of the way things might have been by now if those early futurists were right.
Check out our Robot Lesson Plans for a rich area of retrofuture ideas. People generally expected that there would be robot servants by now, and that most work would be done by robots. Do students think of their microwaves and vacuums as robots? Discuss these ideas and encourage students to include robots in their concept of Retropolis.
One particular variety of retrofuturistic design is called “steampunk.” The term originally referred to a type of science fiction and fantasy that took modern technology into a Victorian setting, but it’s now often used to describe design that combines Victorian style with high tech and fantasy elements. Movies like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Sherlock Holmes may be examples that are familiar to your students.
Examine some resources on the subject:
- Steampunk Workshop
- Steampunk Empire
- Instructable’s steampunk projects
- MTV on steampunk
- The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature
- Steampunk anthology of short stories
- Christi Friesen’s Clockwork Hearts art project
Having steeped themselves in steampunk, your students should develop a brief drama featuring a time traveler from the Victorian era. This can be a big, research intensive project, or just a three minute video. Either way, encourage creative use of costumes and props in steampunk style.