Introducing The Steampunk Explorer
Taking the wraps off a new resource for steampunks
Welcome to The Steampunk Explorer, your guide to shopping, travel, entertainment, art, history, and much more in 36 U.S. regions (with additional locations to come). If that's a lot of ground to cover, it's because steampunk is a niche with many tentacles. It touches on fashion, literature, technology, music, geek culture, the maker movement and other forms of creative expression. Steampunks are into antiques, thrift stores, flea markets, libraries, tearooms, old buildings (especially haunted ones), and all modes of 19th century transportation, whether by land, sea or airship.
The core of the site consists of the City Guides, where you'll find listings of local attractions and resources in 12 categories (see the About page for details). We also have an events calendar, listings of steampunk people, and several pages of online resources. That's in addition to articles about various aspects of steampunk culture.
One inspiration for this site was the Steampunk Map of New York City compiled by steampunks in the Big Apple. It's a real map, built in Google, that shows the locations of museums, taverns, retail establishments, and other hangouts favored by steampunks. In Orange County, Calif. (arguably the birthplace of steampunk as a literary genre), local steampunks have compiled a similar list.
George Peabody Library, Baltimore
Another inspiration was a session I attended last year at the Clockwork Alchemy convention in San Jose. Authors Harry Turtledove and Madeline Holly-Rosing were offering tips for aspiring steampunk writers, and I asked how they conducted research for their historical works. Both agreed that it was important to perform as much research as possible using primary sources — meaning materials from the relevant era — as opposed to secondary sources such as history books. The natural follow-up: "How do you conduct that research?" Both are UCLA alumni, which gives them access to the university's library, and they agreed that an academic library was an ideal resource for such research.
That got me to thinking: What if you're like me, and your alma mater is 3000 miles away? Long story short, this site includes listings of local academic libraries and their policies for public access, as well as information about local history museums, historic houses, and history societies. In addition to being resources for research, many of these places are great for photo shoots.
I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, which happens to be a nexus for the Maker Movement and Burning Man, two cultures that overlap with steampunk. As a journalist, I've covered every Maker Faire since 2011, which has given me an opportunity to learn about makers of all stripes and how they conceive and build their projects. (I've never been to Burning Man, but many projects first shown in Black Rock Desert eventually find their way to Maker Faire.) One of my goals with this site is to provide useful information and resources for makers regardless of where they reside.
The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen
Although it wasn't exactly an inspiration, a trip last year to Orlando for a journalism conference provided another example of how a site like this could be useful. I had a few hours of free time and rode a bus down International Drive, the main thoroughfare of the tourist area. I ended up at an outlet mall, not realizing that I had passed by The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen, a gigantic steampunk-themed restaurant where costumed performers (including a steampunk robot) wander the floor interacting with the guests. Take my word for it: The next time you visit a new city, you'll want to check out the listings, because you never know what you might miss. (The mall had some great deals, but still.)
This site has been in the making for nearly a year, and I've spent that time combing the Internet for information about local attractions. Still, I'm sure there's much I've missed, and I'm eager to hear from folks who can help me fill the gaps. Imagine this: If a friend who's into steampunk is visiting from out of town, where would you take them? What would you want them to know? Tell me about it, and I'll share it with the world. At least for now, you can use this contact form for all communications. I also welcome article submissions.
One final note: This is a big project, and it should be considered a beta version. I'll be ironing out the bugs over the next few months, but if you run into any technical issues, please be patient.