Steampunk Defined (by Scholars and Professionals):

By Cassie Gustafson, Katie Dubell, and Stephanie Panozzo

As writers and scholars, some of the most useful definitions we came across are as follows:


Steampunk as Fantastical Projections: “Steampunk seems precisely to illustrate, and perhaps even perform, a kind of cultural memory work, wherein our projections and fantasies about the Victorian era meet the tropes and techniques of science fiction, to produce a genre that revels in anachronism while exposing history’s overlapping layers.”

Bowser, Rachel A., and Brian Croxall. “Introduction: Industrial Evolution.” Neo-Victorian Studies 3:1 (2010): 1-45. Print.


Steampunk as Age of the Amateur: “The Victorian era was the great age of the amateur, where nonprofessionals could contribute to the advancement of science, and because these amateurs were most often well-heeled gentlemen, great emphasis was placed on ornamental beauty in their equipment” ( Mark Frauenfelder, qtd. in Wired).

-Mark Frauenfelder, editor-in-chief of Make magazine and co-founder of Boing Boing.

Brownlee, John. “Meet Mr. Steampunk: Jake von Slatt.” Wired Magazine. 29 June 2007. Web. 5 Mar. 2015.


Steampunk as Technological Relationships: “First and foremost, steampunk is about things – especially technological things – and our relationships to them. As a sub-genre of science fiction, it explores the difference an object can make; it imagines alternative Victorian pasts in which technological advances (such as those imagined by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne) radically alter the course of history and open up possible future techno-cultural worlds.”

Forlini, Stefania. “Technology and Morality: The Stuff of Steampunk.” Neo-Victorian Studies 3:1 (2010): 72-98. Print.


Steampunk as Alternative History: “Steampunk, which emerged as a fictional subgenre in the 1980s, is characterised by alternative histories that frequently explore the rise of new technologies in Victorian England and throughout its global empire.”

Jagoda, Patrick. “Clacking Control Societies: Steampunk, History, and the Difference Engine of Escape.” Neo-Victorian Studies 3:1 (2010): 46-71. Print.


Steampunk as Contemporary Punk: “The very name steampunk suggests a playful will-to-anachronism – steam is obsolete, whereas punk, certainly at the time of the term’s coinage, resonated as deliberately modern and contemporary. The genre depends on a kind of double consciousness, in which we recognise the Victorian period as simultaneously other to and identical with our contemporary moment.”

Jones, Jason B. “Betrayed by Time: Steampunk & the Neo-Victorian in Alan Moore’s Lost Girls and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” Neo-Victorian Studies 3:1 (2010): 99-126. Print.


Steampunk as ‘Array of Visual Markers’: “[…] defining steampunk unilaterally is challenged by what aspect of steampunk culture one is trying to define: the literature, the fashion, the bricolage artworks, or the politics? I suggest that rather than defining any of these single expressions, it is more useful to consider steampunk as an array of visual markers which, when combined, constitute the look popularly understood as steampunk.”

Perschon, Mike. “Steam Wars.” Neo-Victorian Studies 3:1 (2010): 127-166. Print.


Steampunk as Reimagined Past: “[…] steampunk is a fiction that places a premium on minutely accurate historical detail, within flamboyantly wrong imagined pasts, in order to explore the ways in which the conventional historical sensibility sometimes gets it wrong.”

Rose, Margaret. “Extraordinary Pasts: Steampunk as a Mode of Historical Representation.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 20.3 (2009): 319-333. Print.


Steampunk as Aesthetic: “Steampunk is an aesthetic that mixes three features: technofantasy, neo-Victorianism, and Retrofuturism.”

  •      Technofantasy: “ […] tech that lacks plausibility, or utilizes fantasy elements as impulsion.”
  •      Neo-Victorianism: “[…] steampunk’s aesthetic is grounded in the Victorian period with fuzzy boundaries. It’s not a geographic or temporal limitation, save as inspiration.”
  •      Retrofuturism: “The way the past viewed the future, or more important in steampunk, how we think the past viewed the future.”

SteampunkScholar [Mike Perschon]. “Steampunk Aesthetic.” SteampunkScholar. Blogger, June 2012. Web. 5 Mar. 2015.


Steampunk as Improvement of Global Understanding: “At its best, steampunk fiction promotes understanding of the roots of our current global scene, and offers lateral insights as to how we could improve retroactively on some of the choices we made, all unknowing, in the path of technological development.”

Yaszek, Lisa. “Democratising the Past to Improve the Future: An Interview with Steampunk Godfather Paul Di Filippo.” Neo-Victorian Studies 3:1 (2010): 189-195. Print.

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