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'New Words for a New World: The Language of the Space Age, 1946-1973'

(12 February 2021)

You are invited to this talk by Dr Alexander Geppert (NYU) taking place via Zoom on Thursday, 25 February, 5pm–7pm. Dr Geppert is an eminent historian of the popular culture of outer space and space exploration, and has just published the final instalment of his European Astroculture, a trilogy of edited volumes on the subject—Militarizing Outer Space: Astroculture, Dystopia, and the Cold War (2021). Please register via Eventbrite.

Alexander Geppert (NYU), 'New Words for a New World: The Language of the Space Age, 1946-1972'

At the center of the so-called Space Age lay the promise of a collective future beyond planet Earth. Reaching for the stars and conquering the heavens by means of rocket technology, it was widely assumed, would result in a world-uniting planetary consciousness and herald a new epoch in human history. Based on a reading of Space Age dictionaries written in English, French, German, Italian and Russian and published between 1954 and 1988, this talk argues that the new language of space created as part of the so-called spaceflight revolution can be understood as a form of poetics that tried to reconcile technical requirements with the eschatological hopes deeply ingrained in European space thought and twentieth-century astroculture. At the same time the talk offers a pointed critique of many of the terms, concepts and analytical categories space and Cold War historians conventionally employ, from the ‘conquest of space’ to the ‘final frontier’, juxtaposing them with some of my own, including ‘astroculture’, the ‘post-Apollo paradox’, ‘planetization’ and others.

Alexander C.T. Geppert is Associate Professor of History and European Studies at New York University, jointly appointed by NYU Shanghai and the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies with the Department of History in New York City. In 2019–2020 he held the Charles A. Lindbergh Chair in Aerospace History at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. His book publications include Fleeting Cities: Imperial Expositions in Fin-de-Siècle Europe (2013); Wunder: Poetik und Politik des Staunens im 20. Jahrhundert (2011, co-ed.); Obsession der Gegenwart: Zeit im 20. Jahrhundert (2015, co-ed.) and the recently completed European Astroculture trilogy, consisting of Imagining Outer Space: European Astroculture in the Twentieth Century (2018, ed.), Limiting Outer Space: Astroculture after Apollo (2018, ed.), and Militarizing Outer Space: Astroculture, Dystopia and the Cold War (2021, co-ed.). At present he is completing a cultural history of outer space in the European imagination, entitled The Future in the Stars: Europe, Astroculture and the Age of Space.

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