Imagine the year is 1906—except that it is not the 1906 you have heard of. Airships (like the Hindenburg) of all sizes fly around the skies like airplanes of today. Vehicles evolved earlier than gasoline automobiles and are powered instead by steam engines. Fantastical inventions and adventures like those in the stories of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells come to life. A woman might walk down the street in a beautiful corset and dress, and trade them in for oil-stained overalls to build a mechanical robot in a secret laboratory. Such things are the imaginings of steampunk, a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy that takes bits of the past and re-assembles them in new ways.
The steampunk setting itself offers a rich palette from which to draw materials for discussion and stories, capturing the excitement of scientific discoveries and technological innovations in the era of the late 19th century, examinations of gender roles, class changes, and ethnic mixing resulting from global transportation and commerce in a world where the sun never sets on the British Empire.
But there is more, there is the world of Steam Century. The creation of Kerry Dobbins when she was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison around 2007, Steam Century is a steampunk alternate world history. What would happen if the American Revolution failed? In the Steam Century world, the United States of America does not exist; instead, North America is divided into British, French, and Russian colonies, parts of Mexico, and Native American nations.
Minneapolis and St. Paul, the real-world location for the Red Ribbon Society, Inc., is a city in the Steam Century world called Kaposia, the capital of the Native American nation of Tekamthi. This is not a Native American society of small tribes roaming the prairies and living in teepees. Our part of Steam Century imagines how a Native American society might develop into a modern (well, 1906-modern) industrialized nation, grappling with issues of industrialization and urban growth and the transition from agrarian-centered activities; ethnic identity in the face of immigration growth like the population growth of the Midwest in real history and the challenges of cultural integration from peoples of diverse backgrounds; issues maintaining the spiritual history of Native American cultures while adapting to non-native citizenry; wealth and social class conflicts as commerce and industry changes the economic landscape; and gender roles when immigrants from male-dominated societies join the matriarchal Tekamthi nation. These are some of the topics we present in educational and entertaining activities.
Read more in "A Brief Introduction to Steam Century".
Minnesota Public Radio released a video feature of our group, filmed at our mystery event on November 22, 2014.
You can find the article on the MPR site here.