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My Own Private… Well, Not Idaho

Adam asks,

Because we never get tired of Time Travel questions, I’m wondering – assuming you know you’re going back in time for an indefinite period (possibly life), and can haul with you a couple hundred pounds of supplies, what period (pre-19th Century, just to make it interesting) would you go to if you hoped to build the local technology and set yourself up as a Connecticut Yankee, so to speak?

You know, I’ve not actually read that book. It’s Twain, right? I get the basic idea, but you know, I’ve never read the book or seen the movie, either. I think I saw a little at a showing at the public library as a kid but I felt sick and left or something. I don’t remember. Maybe I fell asleep.

Anyway, if I were to go back in time to set up my own little pre-19th century enclave, with as much supplies as a couple of hundred pouds would allow, and I had to go, I suppose I’d go to one of these locales:

  • The future. Where better to be a celebrity? Better health care than any place on earth now, one would imagine, and people would just gawk, wouldn’t they, to hear a real Twentieth Century man speak in Late English. I’d bring things that may not exist anymore, old technologies like saxophones and sax reeds and paper books and the like. Maybe I’d even haul along an authentic jazz band to go with me, tour the future world playing “authentic mid-twentieth century elite popular music” the way some rare ensembles go about singing organum and the songs of Donne these days. What the future needs is more of the neglected present, damn right!
  • Italy, during the Renaissance. Sure, I’d have to study a LOT harder, but you know, it’d be cool to ramp up the whole renaissance, see just how revolutionary it could be if you tweaked it in the right way. Gear would include lots of schematics for building things, a solar-powered autotranslator (or similar implant in my brain), some transitional tech—not CDs, but maybe foot-pump powered recordable wax cylinders or even something like old-style records, things like that.
  • London, early 18th century. After having read pages and pages of the diaries of Wordsworth’s sister for some Life-Writing class&#151the Grasmere Journals, what boring trash, full of endless complaints about “the tooth-ach”—I have just three words to say: Dental Care Revolution. Without even the skills of advanced dentistry I could catapult those people into the 20th century’s average of dental health. Toothbrushes made to last, plus baking soda. Imagine how the Brits’ teeth would look now! If only…
  • Hygeine in the Middle Ages. Give me a Latin-language implant in my brain, some theological training, and the name of a Cardinal who disappeared on the way to Rome before the plagues hit Europe. I’d cut the spread of the disease by half with soap, formulae for basic medicines that could be cooked up by any apothecary’s assistant, and Latin texts (“sent from Montpelier,” naturally, I’d tell them, such books dealing with how to react to the outbreak of a plague-like disease. Okay, maybe I couldn’t cut it in half, but I bet the damage could have been reduced.
  • Just because it’d be fun, I’d go back to the stone age, bearing all kinds of good stuff like farming implements, delicious calorie-rich foods, and a few items for self-defense. Many of our infectious diseases wouldn’t be a big problem as humans wouldn’t be herding animals yet, and I could capitalize on the lack of agritech by first becoming their “friend”, and then teaching them agricultural techniques as modern as possible without needing anything like modern technological infrastructure on hand—that is, hand- or livestock-drawn-plows, but not tractors, and non-mechanized irrigation systems (see ancient examples from all over the world). These folks would be the first agriculturalists in the world, and they’d be damned interesting to watch if they had advanced tools on hand instead of just chipped stones and fingers to work with. Hell, the chipped stones and fingers would be cool too, but not as cool as watching cavepeople work the land modern-style.
  • If you’re curious about others’ answers to Adam’s question, check the Friday Five dropdown menu in the right sidebar.

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