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.

This picture of Queen Victoria, taken in 1900, interests me very much.  This photo was taken late in her life – in fact, she would die the following year. You can see she wasn’t well at the time, but her personality is also evident: as long as Victoria lived, she would sit like that, a bulwark against the future and change. She was such a force in history that the 63 years she ruled over England are still known the world over as the Victorian era.

 

Queen Victoria 1900

Victoria was known to be a difficult and determined woman, with strong opinions. She is not known for her imagination. My guess is that she never gave it a moment’s thought during her lifetime, but what would she have thought of today’s royals?  Or the massively diminished position the monarchy holds today, which is about the equivalent of a cabinet curiosity?

Some people would like to return to the Victorian era, when life was slower, and there was such a thing as silence. A time when people had time to think and rest without being tied to their iPhones and laptops.  Was it a better time? It’s hard to say, because we see it all through the lens of books and movies, and even the very best can’t tell us what living then was really like.

I am absolutely confident Victoria would have no wish to exchange her place in history with Queen Elizabeth II, who is her modern-day equivalent.

But what about ordinary people of 1900 who did not have the world at their feet, as the Queen did? If they could experience today’s world, would they want to trade places with someone alive today? Our world bears little resemblance to that of 1900. What would they like about our time? What would they shrink from?