A to Z

This section explores an A-Z of the themes that reoccur throughout the images that we gathered for this project. 

E is for Economy

Satirical critiques of economic and commercial development – and of competing capitalist and socialist visions of progress – can be found throughout our images of the future. One of our student researchers, Daniel James, explores some of these diverse images below.

Herbert C. Fyfe’s article for the July 1900 edition of Pearson’s Magazine offers visions of how the world could end. Warwick Goble illustrated this article with four illustrations and in the last, he depicts a dystopic vision of a geological future where cities collapse due to crumbling bedrock. Goble attributes this disaster to “reason of the extraction of its [the earth’s] minerals” in the image’s subtitle. By directly referencing “extraction,” Goble indirectly criticises the greed of capitalism because the Industrial Revolution, a nineteenth-century product and marker of the capitalist economic system, relied upon an unprecedented demand for coal.

In contrary to many of his contemporaries’ views, Harry Grant Dart’s vision of a socialist future is violent and authoritarian. This is clear because, in the middle of ‘In the Coming Era of Socialism’, a group of capitalists violently protest against socialist rule, and in the top-left corner three officials berate a vicar for his “decidedly capitalistic” sermons. As Samuel J. Thomas points out, though Dart’s imagined socialist society is harsh, the complaints of Capitalists are inane: “we will march once more to … valets, and country houses, and private yachts,” for example. Therefore, ‘In the Coming Era of Socialism’ is unlikely to be a piece of anti-socialist propaganda. Rather, it represents Puck’s position as a “non-partisan crusader for good government and … American constitutional ideals.”

Finally, ‘Picturesque London – Or, Sky Signs of the Times’ is Edward Reed Tennyson’s vision of the future of advertising. The illustration depicts a rooftop view of a London street that is dominated by advertisements: signs not only hang over almost every shop door, but gimmicks such as floating umbrellas and gloves also float above the city and stand on roofs. The omnipresence of advertisements in Tennyson’s illustration is overwhelming. The prevalence of advertising non-essential goods in ‘Picturesque London’, points towards both the rise of Britain’s consumer society in the late nineteenth century, and, consequently, Britain’s position as an industrialised nation. This is because, as Roy Church explains, in the late nineteenth century Britain, advertising functioned “as a means of coping with a surplus resulting from the nation’s enlarged industrial capacity.” 

Caption: Edward Reed Tennyson, ‘Picturesque London – Or, Sky Signs of the Times’, 6 September 1890.