At the turn of the century, Jean-Marc Côté and other French artists were eagerly looking forward to what the new century would bring.

The year 2000 was especially interesting to them. They visualized all of the technical advances and innovations humanity would enjoy one hundred years hence. Their imaginings were documented in a set of picture cards, 87 in all, for La Exposition Universelle 1900 in Paris. These wonderful pictures are collectively called En L’An 2000 (“In The Year 2000”).

The artists lived in a world Their ideas ranged from household cleaning powered by electricity to farm animals that could be easily manufactured and crops that could be harvested remotely.

Three years after the artists created these cards, Orville Wright piloted the first rudimentary flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina…

 

… which makes it especially impressive the artists were already designing combat aircrafts and small planes and Air Firefighters.

The artists liked the idea of flying, but they also thought we should spend more time underwater.

Amusement and grooming would have evolved to meet the demands of the 21st century. A new-fangled barber would be required, amongst other things.

It must be noted, however, that occasionally the artists became a little too imaginative. For the record, Old Spirituals does not recommend chemical dinners or radium fireplaces.

 

These pictures were primarily created in 1899, 105 years before podcasting became a common way to listen to the news, and 108 years before the first iPhone.

It proves Albert Einstein was right when he said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”

We haven’t gotten around to teaching students through wired devices powered by a crank but somewhere, someone is probably working on it.

The Library of Congress has a collection of photographs, arranged by W.E.B. Du Bois, especially for Paris’ Exposition Universelle. The collection depicts the “history and present conditions” (circa 1900) of black Americans.

Dentistry at Howard University, Washington, D.C., circa 1900
Dentistry at Howard University, Washington, D.C., circa 1900

It’s a curious collection because nothing overt ties the photos together, except that everyone pictured is black and American. There are over 500 photographs of various subjects, ranging from dentists to cabinet photos, from piano lessons to candid group photos. They are interesting to me because they were all taken at the turn of the century, but the photos were current at the time. I wonder what effect they were intended to have. My theory, unsupported by anything except my imagination, is that W.E.B. Du Bois knew the media offered a 1-dimensional, negative representation of black America, and when he lived in Europe he realized there was no other, more realistic information out there.

If you haven’t heard of W.E.B. Du Bois, you almost certainly have heard of his legacy, which includes writing The Souls of Black Folk and in 1909 and co-founding the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

W.E.B. Du Bois, circa 1918
W.E.B. Du Bois, circa 1918

William Edward Burghardt (W. E. B.) Du Bois was a remarkable man of great energy and intelligence who devoted his career to bettering the condition of black Americans. Du Bois attended the Universities of Berlin and Harvard, and eventually received his doctorate. He became a professor at Atlanta University in Georgia, where the artifacts for the Paris exhibition were gathered.

The pictures are available on the Library of Congress’ website, in some cases with a little information about the subjects.

Here are a few of my favorites:

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At the turn of the century, Paris hosted an Exposition Universelle, known to the rest of the world as the World’s fair of 1900. Paris Photographs, World Fair Exhibition, 1900. Posters, pictures and photos.

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Among the wonders introduced to mortals were the Crystal Palace, a building made entirely of iron and glass, the Hall of Machines, and the diesel engine.

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