“If a Victorian historian had his way, there’d be a giant time capsule under Stonehenge”

Thomas Moynihan writes for the BBC on a novel immortality project proposed by the English historian and freethinker Frederic Harrison in 1890:

With posterity on his mind, Harrison decided to write an article titled “A Pompeii for the Twenty-Ninth Century”. Leaping off from a forecast that London may one day be as “desolate” as the ancient ruins of present-day Egypt, Harrison beseeched that his epoch preserve itself in a way none had done before.
Noting his was an “age of archaeologist research” – preoccupied with relics like the “Rosetta Stone”, and gripped by a “passion for looking backwards” – Harrison ventured his present was being comparatively neglected. “We are absorbed in thinking about our ancestors”, he wrote. “Why do we not give a thought to our descendants?” Accordingly, he posed his fix: to “prepare a Pompeii” for future researchers to unearth.
Fortunately, Harrison wasn’t being literal. He was not suggesting the internment of an actual, living city. Instead, he envisioned constructing a time capsule the size of a “small museum” within which to store a snapshot of Queen Victoria’s England. If only, he daydreamed, prior epochs had committed to such acts of conservation: how much more the present would now know of the “biography of the human race”.
Musing on this, and the thus-far haphazard curation of humanity’s collective memory of itself, Harrison laid out his plan. “Let us no longer leave it to chance”, he declared.

Leave a Comment