Topics for Talks

I like to think of myself as a “Jill of all Trades” when it comes to Steampunk and 19th century topics. In 2009, I started actively researching the Steampunk genre, as well as the historical and cultural underpinnings of the era that inspired it. Now, I’ve got a nifty list of topics I’m prepared to talk about at your next Steampunk or geeky event. And I’m always open to researching new topics to cater to your theme. My formal training is in Anthropology, Art History, and Museums Studies.

This is the list I’ve compiled so far, but there’s plenty of room for growth. If you’re interested in having me as a speaker at your event, feel free to drop me an email at Phoebe @ (remove spaces when you email)

Thirty Years of Steampunk

The term “Steampunk” first appeared in print in 1987, but there were plenty of things before and after that date that have added their flavor to the genre. Take a walk through a timeline of Steampunk’s evolution past, present, and future. (This talk was first presented at the International Steampunk Symposium)

“Ways to Punk Your Steam” Series

This collection of talks come from The Steampunk Handbook, a free reference book I offer to newsletter subscribers. These could be presented as individual talks, or a quick overview rundown of all 12 topics in one hour. (The condensed version was presented at TeslaCon 2018 and Book Fiends Reader Fest 2019. )

Make it Alien

Different forms that aliens have taken in classic science fiction, their pitfalls and strengths, and how to incorporate space travel into Steampunk.

Make it Alternative

Historical fiction is not the same as alternative history, and it can be difficult to make sure you make this distinction for your audience. This talk centers on creating internal logic in world-building and situating a story in time or space without the dreaded “info dump.”

Make it Feminist

What does it really mean to infuse an oppressive era with new-age ideas and what were Victorian-era women really going through?

Make it Funny

Like art, comedy is in the eye of the beholder, but what kinds of things did steam-era denizens find funny, anyway?

Make it Futuristic

Steampunk treads a fine line between past and present. What’s the most effective way to add a dash of the future to the past, or bring the past into the future?

Make it Multicultural

History happened in more places than just London, but where’s a Steampunk to look if they want to expand their horizon beyond just that comfortable setting? Interesting things were happening all over the world, and this talk offers a chance to sample them.

Make it Musical

Steampunk music is a wide-reaching un-genre that has a variety of influences. This talk looks at some of the 19th century musical stylings that inspire contemporary musicians, as well as a look at how musical groups played an important role in spreading Steampunk.

Make it Playable

Many Steampunk fans are gamers, and prefer to immerse themselves in LARP-ing or tabletop games. Get some tips on getting into the game with your fellow Steampunks.

Make it Scary

Doppelgangers, madness, and “new humans,” oh my! Come and explore the things people feared during the steam era, and how to incorporate them into your own Steampunk creations.

Make it Supernatural

Even though they were riding the coattails of the Enlightenment, the 19th century saw an increase in reports of werewolves, doppelgangers, and other things that go bump in the night. In an age of reason, how did people fall for it? (This talk was first presented at TeslaCon 2017)

Make it Travel Through Time

H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine is celebrated as one of the seminal works in science fiction history, but what’s the current state of science when it comes to taking a vacation in the Jurassic?

(The 12th topic is “Make it Yours” which is the conclusion, but can’t stand alone as its own talk)

History of Scientific/Cultural/Artistic Movements

(Alphabetical order)

Aether and Alchemy

Steampunk writers love to create things like aether-powered airships and make their villains into alchemists, but with little understanding of where aether theory even came from or how the Victorians thought it worked. This talk shows the scientific underpinnings of the theory and its relationship to the alchemical arts, and tell the story of the man who cheated to keep the idea of aether alive long after it was proven false. (This talk was first presented at the International Steampunk Symposium)

Alcohol and Temperance

Coal may have been used in the furnaces, but beer fueled the workers during the Industrial Revolution. The rise in the prevalence of alcohol to the masses during the 19th century led many to fear for the future of the human race. This talk looks at the types of alcohol that were available, the facts behind the myths propagated by the tea-totalers, and the rise and fall of the Temperance movement.

Beyond Darwin: The Many Theories of Evolution

We don’t tend to learn about histories “failures” in school, but for anyone living during the steam era, evolution was a topic that was hotly debated and approached from many sides. Charles Darwin may have “written the book” on evolution theory, but plenty of other people contributed to the conversation, and these varying viewpoints could sometimes lead to terrible consequences.

Beyond Dracula: Vampires in the Victorian era

We’ve all heard of Bram Stoker, but he wasn’t the only author with vampires on the brain. Find out more about the roots of the vampire mythos and why this type of fiction exploded during the Victorian era.

Colonialism, Exploration and Empire

During the steam era, the sun really never set on the British Empire, but they weren’t the only players in the game. This talk will give quick overviews of conflicts between different countries abroad and why people were so keen to get places like Japan into the global economy.

The End of Slavery

In America, we memorize the date Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but slavery was a worldwide issue in the 19th century. This talk provides an overview of the movement to end slavery during this time across different countries, and touch on what life was like for a freed slave.


As technology improved, the influx of goods to Europe from the rest of the world drastically increased, bringing new cultures to the forefront. Western Europe went through a period of obsession with Egypt and the secrets of the pharaohs, going so far as to hold mummy unwrapping parties in their homes. This movement led to several books, including the first ever mention of a mummy’s curse. (This talk was presented for the first time at TeslaCon 2018)

Ghost Stories and Spiritualism

The Victorian era is known for its ghost stories, but what did people living then really think about ghosts and the people who claimed to communicate with them?

Guilty by Gaslamp: Criminals and Detectives of the Steam Age

The 19th century saw the true birth of the detective story genre. But what came before to lay the groundwork, and which real life crimes inspired the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? (Presented for the first time at TeslaCon 2018)

Leisure and popular pastimes

All work and no play may make Jack a dull boy, but most people in the steam era had very little time for leisure. How did they spend those precious hours off, and where did these new forms of entertainment originate?


Not everyone was happy about the rate of advancements in technology during the steam era, and this group of rebels actually went so far as to destroy factories for their ideals. But how “pure” were their motives, and how organized were they really?

Museums and Society

Museums as we know them today grew out of the tradition of elites keeping “cabinets of curiosities” in their homes, but during the Victorian era there was a push to expose the masses to beauty and culture as a means of elevating them. This talk examines at the false starts and triumphs in the early days of museum history and international expositions, and explores their status in our culture today. (Presented for the first time at TeslaCon 2018)


The colonization of the Near East and the opening of the East Asia in the 1800’s led to the importation of new goods and customs, and a romantic view of exotic, far away lands. More often than not, this led to exploitation and a poor understanding of the reality facing these regions as they were forced into conflicts by steam-era imperialism.

Rise of the “ready-made”

When you think about the Industrial Revolution, you probably picture clouds of smoke billowing out of factories, but one of the biggest effects of technology on every day life came from the sewing industry. Many of the new technologies of the steam era were created to make clothing, so find out more about how all of that fabulous Victorian era fashion came to be.

Scientific Romances and Adventure Stories

Nowadays, we call works like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Frankenstein “science fiction” but when they were written they were called by another name. The ‘scientific romances’ of the steam era were like no works that had come before, and the tales of adventure captivated generations to come. (Presented for the first time at TeslaCon 2017)

The History of the Orient Express

Few modes of travel have captured our imaginations quite like the Orient Express. Find out more about the technological advances that made it possible and the slew of colorful characters who used this famous train line during it’s heyday. (Presented for the first time at TeslaCon 2019)

The Visual Arts During the Steam Era

The Enlightenment ended with the beginning of the 19th century, but its sensibilities and philosophy continued to have an influence in artistic movements long after. Romanticism gave way to Realism, which put the poverty and oppression of the working classes at the forefront of the art world for the first time in history. Other artists were experimenting with new techniques and colors that had never before existed.

Wily Women of the Wild West

Cowboys get all the credit, but what about the female pioneers, prospectors, saloon owners, performers, and ladies of the night who helped tame the wild West? Find out more about the real and literary women of the frontier and how their legacy lives on. (Premiering at International Steampunk Symposium 2020)

A Stroll Through… Series

I have had the opportunity to explore many places in Europe over the years. Steampunk conventions often have a theme that aims to transport people to another time and place. I can give introductory talks on the 19th century role of the following locations:

  • Black Forest, Germany
  • Bucharest, Romania
  • Chicago, Illinois, USA
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Istanbul (Constantinople), Turkey
  • Italy – Lazzio and Tuscany regions
  • London, England
  • New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
  • Sacramento, California, USA
  • Sofia, Bulgaria

Readings from my Novels

Riftmaker (Published Feb 2019) – A dog and his boy find themselves in new bodies on the wrong side of a rift between our world and another that never progressed past the 1860s.

No Rest for the Wicked (Published March 2019) – A con woman in 1870s America is forced out of retirement when her past comes back to haunt her…literally. Winner of the 2019 Pencraft Award for Gaslamp Fantasy.



I am also available to do panel sessions with others on the following topics.

  • Any of the topics listed above
  • Getting started with Steampunk
  • Indie publishing tips and resources
  • Working on collaborative projects and anthologies
    • I coordinated and contributed to the collaborative novel of Army of Brass in 2016/17
    • I acted as the project manager and editor for a pair of Steampunk anthologies in 2019