Time Capsules, 1938-2013
The Hugo Keesing Time Capsules are a series of boxes containing popular culture memorabilia, each corresponding to decades or parts of decades spanning from the early 1940s onward. Collected by Keesing, each time capsule includes material representative of historical events, cultural climate, and everyday life in the United States as experienced by Keesing. The collection is organized in a single series.
Use and Access to Collection
The collection is open for research use. Please note that all individual items are not reflected in this finding aid, in regards to sheet music and recordings. Contact the curator for more information.
Materials from this collection must be used in the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library's Irving and Margery Morgan Lowens Special Collections Room, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday. Contact the curator for an appointment: http://www.lib.umd.edu/scpa/contact
Each time capsule contains realia, ephemera, and paper publications representing American popular culture of that time period. Materials include magazines, newspapers, books, toys, sheet music, and stickers, and cover the time period from the late 1930s to the present.
A time capsule is a sealed repository of cultural artifacts or information intended for retrieval on a scheduled date. The practice of making time capsules was popularized in the mid-twentieth century, often to commemorate the completion of a building, event, or era. Beyond preserving cultural life in a historic moment, a time capsule can serve as a means of communication with future people, or a research aid for future archaeologists and historians. Many enclosures for time capsules are crafted from metal alloy or Plexiglas, and are frequently stored underground, embedded in buildings, or sent into outer space.
One of the most well-known time capsule sets in popular culture were collected by the American artist Andy Warhol (1928–1987). Warhol’s “time capsules,” 610 mystery parcels that he compiled from the early 1960s until his death in 1987, take the form of standard-size cardboard boxes. During the last 13 years of Warhol’s life, he sealed the boxes and sent them into storage, where they remained until 2014. Warhol’s time capsules, which include flyers from galleries, junk mail, fan letters, chunks of concrete, LPs, and pornography, serve not as a record of a particular historical moment, but as a record of Warhol’s everyday life. Described both as an archival and artistic project, the time capsules reflect Warhol’s fascination with the passage of time, surrealism, and material culture.
Hugo Keesing’s time capsules are visually similar to Warhol’s: a set of cardboard boxes whose contents range from books and newspapers to children’s toys and empty envelopes. Keesing is a scholar of popular music and culture, formerly a professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, and a collector of popular culture memorabilia. The time capsules, which cover the time period from the early 1940s onward, are organized into decades or portions of decades. Some of the materials are clearly intended to mark a specific place or event, such as newspaper clippings or souvenir items; other materials serve to document everyday life, as in Warhol’s time capsules, including chewing gum, office supplies, and junk mail. Keesing’s early time capsules appear focused in their content, encompassing just portions of decades and often containing materials that relate to significant events such as wars; later time capsules are broader in their temporal scope, a single box spanning up to thirty years, and contain large quantities of ephemeral material not directly related to major historical events.
Arrangement of Collection
This series is divided into seven sub-series, or time capsules, each corresponding to decades or parts of decades of American history
- 9.1: Early 1940s Time Capsule
- 9.2: Postwar 1940s Time Capsule
- 9.3: Early 1950s Time Capsule
- 9.4: Late 1950s Time Capsule
- 9.5: Late 1950s-Early 1960s Time Capsule
- 9.6: Early 1960s Time Capsule
- 9.7: 1980s Onward Time Capsule
Custodial History and Acquisition Information
This collection is a gift of Hugo Keesing, received in a single shipment in 2015.
Processed by James Ace in Fall 2016 and Spring 2017. Original grouping and order was maintained where possible. All physical materials have been foldered when appropriate, and rehoused into archival boxes. Oversize items have been moved to size-appropriate boxes, which are labeled according to time capsule of origin. All materials are processed and described at the item level.