I’ve written here before about how nobody in history is really ahead of their time because ideas in the past must be looked at in their own context, and it’s utterly impossible to separate those ideas from the culture of their generation. However, that doesn’t mean that things that were totally popular in their own time can’t find new uses in the future, so here’s 8 things from history that are making a comeback.
Airships once held the future for aviation. People thought these behemoths would litter cityscapes like floating urban sky-whales. That’s why skyscrapers like the Empire State Building were designed with docking ports for zeppelins and why Lakehurst, New Jersey used to be a city people have heard of. Then several different high profile disasters put an end to all those dirigible dreams, condemning blimps to cameos at football games and supporting fringe GOP candidates. First the Akron, the US Navy’s signature airship, went down off New Jersey killing all aboard, then the airship that went to look for survivors of the Akron went down, then the Akron’s sister airship crashed, and finally, after the US had all but given up on the ships, the Germans sent the Hindenburg over to get everyone excited again. That didn’t work too well.
With that the era of airships ended and planes took over forever…or did they? Several companies, both in the US and Germany are not only bringing zeppelins back, but hailing them as the future of transportation. And it’s not just corporate spokespeople hyping their product, truthful folks also see promise in bringing the ships back. They’ve pointed to several advantages they have over planes, like transporting cargo without the need for infrastructure like runways, doing it at a much cheaper fuel cost, and able to take off and land almost anywhere. The only problem appears to be the dwindling global helium supply, which the ships require in massive amounts. And yes, they look all cool and futuristic because steampunk stopped being cool in 2009.
Throughout history leeches were the go-to remedy for almost everything, primarily because bloodletting was the go-to treatment for everything. In case you’re not familiar with horrific old-timey medical practices, bloodletting was the practice of draining a person’s blood in order to balance the body’s four substances, or what they hilariously called ‘humors.’ With modern medicine, people eventually caught on that not only was bloodletting bullshit, but that it was actually more likely to make someone ill. So with “making people bleed” no longer considered an acceptable treatment people pretty much gave up on leeches, only finding favor with alternative medicine practitioners and the insane.
But wait, now leeches are totally making a comeback in the medical community because it turns out draining blood does have some pretty niche legitimate medical uses. For instance, leeches are awesome at draining blood vessels that might otherwise become clotted during reconstructive surgery and are used to reconnect veins. There’s also been some use of leeches as an anti-inflammatory treatment used to ease pains in joints, but this still remains a fringe treatment, probably because there are already tons of drugs that do similar things.
So surely there’s a more technologically advanced method than slimy vampire worms. Well it turns out these literal bloodsuckers are damn good at what they do, so good that they’re much better than anything artificial. And they’ve tried before.
If that looks scary as hell, it’s because it’s an artificial leech, most likely created to make people far less scared of natural leeches. It also doesn’t work nearly as well as the real thing. Leeches administer their own anaesthesia and have microscopic razor-sharp teeth that mechanical device just can’t compete with. After all these years, leeches are still the best tech we’ve got for certain treatments. Their newfound use has also led to a resurgence in leech farming.
“Well of course,” you say, there’ve been Renaissance Fairs and places like Medieval Times for years. Actors dress up and joust in some choreographed performance to supplement their amateur wrestling careers. Why not just say that we’re also bringing back the Civil War because of all those reenactments? Well you’ve probably guessed from our hypothetical/fake conversation that I’m not talking about some lightly-scripted horseplay, I’m talking about full-on competitive jousting, classified as a combat sport.
There’s an international jousting association that regulates the sport, which is essentially unchanged from its dark age roots. If you can knock your opponent off their horse you win, and some tournaments even have melee competitions. In fact the only difference seems to be that during the modern day tournaments nobody conspires to overthrow governments (as far as I know) and the church hasn’t denounced them (as far as I know). So at this point I think it’s safe to say that modern-day jousting has moved beyond hobbyists and family-fun entertainment. Jousting is even the official state sport of Maryland.
The Silk Road
People might not realize it, but that website where Deep Webbers buy their drugs is actually named after something from history. The real Silk Road was a trade route connecting Europe and Asia that existed for thousands of years. The Romans used it to export glass in exchange for Chinese silk despite barely knowing of their existence, and hundreds of years later the Venetians sent Marco Polo along it in search of Indian spices. With Europe and China the two extremes, Central Asia, Persia, and the Middle East got rich by acting as the middlemen for trade. Then the Portuguese came along, realized they had the shit end of the stick being stuck on the wrong end of the wrong end of the trade, and took the incredibly risky move of attempting a bypass of the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and the vast steppes of Central Asia. They ended up guessing right and found a route around Africa, ultimately destroying the importance of the Silk Road for centuries.
But wait, now the Silk Road is making a comeback thanks to modern railways and a European demand for cheap Chinese electronics. HP has taken the lead, shipping notebooks overland from China to Holland in about 20 days. There are also discussions of other Silk Road routes, especially one being pushed by the US State Department which would go through Afghanistan. However, this remains a pipe dream at the moment, and routes through a modernizing Kazakhstan look to flourish so long as Russia doesn’t disintegrate or completely isolate itself.
Mirroring the arguments for bringing back zeppelins, concerns over fuel costs once again take center stage once again. HP sees rail shipping at a seventh of the cost of doing so by air, and with far less greenhouse gases as an added bonus. Russia and Kazakhstan’s plans to invest heavily in railways to China are also boosting the prospects for this new Silk Road.
And if international trade and commerce bores you, you should also know that like the original road, shipping is plagued by bandits who will try to drive up beside the train and hijack it.
Stay tuned for Part 2!