Remembering the past for the future: The function of museums in science fiction time travel narratives

In Time Travel in Popular Media: Essays on Film, Television, Literature and Video Games, ed. Matthew Jones and Joan Ormrod, 118–131. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015.

Science fiction as a genre has often invoked museum settings as windows into the past, as places of memories. How does that function when a science fiction time traveller encounters a museum? In this chapter, we travel with three time travellers as they encounter a museum: the Time Traveller of H. G. Wells’ Time Machine, the Man of Chris Marker’s La Jeteé, and the Doctor of the television series Doctor Who. In these stories, the museums the travellers encounter have fallen into disuse and the collections are left up to interpretation, but the travellers still find value in their visits because they bring their own memories of past and future through the museum’s doors. As a result, what will be remembered and what will be forgotten is at stake. Because time travel narratives fold together past, present, and future, the time travellers’ encounters with museums expose the entangled relationship between time, objects, and memory. Science fiction time travel can re-envision the museum as house of memory and forgetfulness, which may help us to draw some conclusions about our own modern museum experience.

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