Friday, 12 February 2016

Grahamstown Gazette: the Futurism edition

Every month I write a local heritage-themed column, on behalf of The Treasury, for the Grahamstown Gazette. Here's my piece for the February edition.

From The Treasury:

The writers of the Thames Star were not in a particularly optimistic mood one autumn day in 1888: they were predicting the end of the world. ‘Will the world in its present state last another century?’ the paper asked gloomily.  The population growth witnessed worldwide throughout the nineteenth century was the reason for their dismay; at its current rate of population increase, the paper doubted the world would survive long enough to see 1988. Pointing to the doubling population of poverty-stricken India, the article predicts that the world’s resources and economy cannot keep up with its astronomical population growth. ‘There is no ‘new world’ remaining now to be discovered and colonised,’ the column concludes glumly.  This is one of many signs which concur in showing us that ‘the time is short,’ and the end of our age is at hand.’ Heavy stuff for a page four filler article. The rest of the page mostly consists of an advertisement for Renshaw’s Pure Dandelion Coffee (delicious and invigorating!). 

By 1913, the Thames Star’s view of the future had perked up significantly. It was reporting on the possibilities of solar power, citing a plant set up in Cairo the previous year which used ‘sun-power’ to create steam. ‘It may be that very shortly it will be possible to utilise sun-power to commercial advantage,’ detailed the Star.

1917 saw the Thames Star make another major prediction about the future, under the headline ‘Have Women Clerks Come to Stay?’ Over three years of war, women had taken on many of the office job previously held exclusively by men, in what the paper described as a ‘feminine invasion.’ ‘In the early days of this change dismal predictions were freely uttered as to the unwisdom of employing women and girls in places of business other than drapers' shops or tea rooms,’ the paper reported. However, the paper could now reveal that women clerks were in fact just as competent at their jobs as their male counterparts, and hardly ever gossiped or spent too long drinking tea at all. In the banks of the future, the article concluded, women would be welcomed as employees, having successfully proved their worth over the difficult years of the war.

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