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Beyond Goggles and Corsets : Australian Steampunk
Researched, compiled, and written by Dr Catriona Mills and Geoffrey Hondroudakis
(Status : Subscribers Only)
Coordinated by Australian Steampunk
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  • Introducing Steampunk

    Having moved out into the world since its early days as a small speculative fiction subgenre, the notion of steampunk as a category has become amorphous and disputed territory. It is no surprise that newcomers to the style often have some difficulty parsing the genre tag, with its various elements, offshoots, themes, and icons. The conflict between prescriptive and descriptive definitions of steampunk further muddies the waters, throwing into doubt whether any particular work might be considered truly steampunk or simply a watered-down imitator (Nevins 513).

  • From left to right: Amy Johnson (British aviatrix), Bell Mullins (Brisbane aviatrix), and Bessie Coleman (American aviatrix)
    Image one (rollover for description)
  • We aim here to give a working overview of steampunk as it stands, as a discursive field of practice in fiction, criticism, craft, and culture (albeit, in our role as a scholarly bibliography, with a stronger focus on writers than on makers). This encompasses those who consciously write and produce within the steampunk style, and those works which may less deliberately use it, but nevertheless engage steampunk for thematic content, aesthetics or iconography. Beginning with its emergence as a sub-genre in the late 1980s, we trace some highlights in the history of steampunk, from the earliest works through to second wave to today, where steampunk is as much cultural practice as it is genre. We consider if the 'punk' has left steampunk – and if so, when it disappeared. We then tease out some of the central concerns of steampunk: historicity and ahistoricity, technology, class and political struggle, gender and emancipation, and colonialism. In all these sections, we focus on Australian steampunk, but always in the context of steampunk as a broader movement. Steampunk is no longer a niche genre, and Australia plays a role in its globalisation.

  • Using the Exhibition

    This research project is formed of two intersecting bodies of work: the dataset and the research essay.

  • —. The Dataset

    Australian author Beatrice Grimshaw, indicative of the kind of Victoriana that often attracts steampunkers.
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    The dataset is a collection of more than 330 enhanced AustLit bibliographical records labelled 'steampunk': short stories, novels, novellas, graphic novels and comic books, film, games, criticism, picture books, essays, and drama. The research covers all the aspects in which steampunk appears, including bustlepunk, neo-Victorian works, pseudo-Victorian works, secondary worlds, proto-steampunk, clockpunk, and Weird West.

    Building from existing AustLit records and from focused research into the field, these records trace the publication and republication details of works, and track settings (temporal and geographical) and key themes. Each record has been enhanced with 'steampunk notes', indicating how – and to what extent – the works are 'steampunk'.

    You can access all the works in the dataset here.

    Or you can explore the second part of this research project: the research essay.

  • —. The Research Essay

    E. Lilian Todd, a self-taught inventor who was considered the first woman in the world to design and build aircraft.
    Image three (rollover for description)

    The research essay is a sustained engagement with the history of Australian steampunk, drawing on the works in the dataset and positioning them within the global genre and culture that is steampunk.

    The research essay is divided into the seven sections you can see in the tabs to the right:

    • A Brief History of Steampunk
    • Thematic Concerns : An Overview
    • Romancing the Past : History and Victorianism
    • Alienation or Fetishisation : Technology in Steampunk
    • Filthies and Bushrangers : Class and Political Struggle
    • Gender and Sexuality : Corsets and Beyond
    • Steamroller : The Empire of Steampunk

    Each section is richly illustrated and accompanied by selected lists of relevant works. Links will take you to both AustLit records and external resources; bolded links take you to own illustrated glossary of steampunk terms. The sections can be read alone or sequentially.

    Finally, we have constructed a timeline of Australia's alternative history, assuming that the steampunk works we've discussed were historical fact.

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