What Might Have Been: The French View

The French National Library has a wonderful exhibit of prints from 1910, imagining the wonderful new world of the year 2000. For instance, how we would learn:


And, le train électrique Paris-Pekin*:


Studies of "how the past imagined the future" make up a rich and established field -- for instance, with David Gelernter's 1995 book about the "futuristic" 1939 New York World's Fair. Or in a different way Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. But if the library's presentation of these images is not a breakthrough concept, the drawings are wonderful, in themselves and as specimens of the things people can envision and the things they can't. For instance, the imagined Paris-to-Peking train actually looks quite similar to some recent drawings of Chinese trains designed to run on normal freeways -- but suspended in a way that keeps them above the traffic.

One more after the jump. You can browse through the whole Utopie suite at the Bibliothèque nationale's site (captions in French, but there are tabs for other languages). Thanks to former guest blogger Edward Goldstick for this find.

Long-distance air travel of the future:


* There was a time in their high school careers when one of my sons was immersed in French and the other in Japanese. This is the kind of phrase the Japanese-studying son would use to illustrate his "my brother has it too easy" complaint that French and English were essentially the same language. Since in Japanese le train électrique would be (according to me) roughly パリから北京行きの電車. On the other hand, my faith that French and English are the same language ebbs whenever I am in France.