Once upon a time, there was a fanwriter who looked around and thought that steampunk costuming looked like a lot of fun. She’d had some passing contact with the genre through literature, and while some of it made her twitch with unexamined imperialist assumptions, a heartening majority of it seemed to be performing useful social critique alongside the cool gadgets and giant squid adventures.
It still seemed awfully… limited, though. A lot of it was extremely anglo-centric, which, it seemed to her, just re-inscribed the imperialist thing. And if history was already being altered to make room for the development of air-ships and land-ships and bullet trains, and sometimes robots and ray guns, decades or even centuries before their time, why should it only be altered in Europe?
The writer was an anime and manga fan, so she started thinking what it might take to produce steampunk sorts of technology in Japan. Among other things, it occurred to her that if Tokugawa Japan had significant technology, they’d probably have been able to tell Commodore Perry where to get off when he arrived. Which, when she thought about it, could be a really good lever to reduce Japanese imperialism. This gave rise to the thought that, actually, if steampunk technology was global, imperialism all over might have looked very different; in fact, it might be possible to divert most imperialism after the 15th C this way. There would be wars, and lots of them, but if the technology and materials inequality was less then there might be far less, or at least altered, conquest and occupation.
Steampunk has a lot of literature that offers dire warnings about where humanity is headed, but it also has a strong current of optimism in it. Making scientific advances global, if diverse, and in the process reducing imperialist and colonialist events seemed like a good, steampunk sort of project. And wouldn’t it actually explain steampunk technology a whole lot better to assume it arose out of multiple centers of development, all exchanging and competing, and warring and trading, and inventing like mad?
It would also open up possibilities for experimenting with steampunk style in a far wider variety of cultures and aesthetics without, and this was very important, without simply reifying the deeply racist orientalism of Victorian Britain. Such “victorientalism” has, sadly, been a trend in some corners of steampunk, and there’s simply no excuse for it. China would be a good place to start, the writer thought, China developed half of everything first anyway. And the Abbasid Caliphate during the Middle Ages, too. And perhaps something could be arranged in Mesoamerica…
And so the Global Steampunk project was born.
Caveats: I am only one person, and not a scholar of history in particular. There is a whole lot that I didn’t get to! My work is intended merely as a starter, and if other people wish to add to it or revise it further, please feel free to use as much or as little of my work as you like.
I have world-built with as broad strokes and small tweaks as I could, attempting to leave the characters of the nations and cultures in question untouched. This is, in may ways, a found-art collage, using the theories of historians of the areas in question. But there are places where I had to make assumptions, as for example the notion that renewed study of Islamic Golden Age texts, involving as they do law and philosophy of the Abbasid Caliphate, would lead to a revival of the Caliphate in northern Africa. It is entirely possible I have, somewhere, stepped on a land-mine debate topic without fully understanding the implications. If this is so, I welcome having it pointed out, and I will do my best to remedy my understanding.
That doesn’t guarantee I’ll change my mind. Anyone who simply disagrees with my particular choice of historical diversion points, please see above re doing your own version.
As always, I trust that good writers, artists, and costumers will thoughtfully research any era or culture they want to work with and will not descend to mere appropriation with a fistful of gears pasted on. Or, at least, will not use me as an excuse if they do.