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Creating Your Own Time-Capsule

Co Author:
Zoë Reid
© by Zoë Reid

What could you put in the box for today that would be interesting for someone in the future?!

A time-capsule is a sealed box which contains various items that capture the history of an event, time, place or people.

For those who create the time-capsule, it can be great fun to think about what to put in a time-capsule, and the excitement comes from sealing the box and knowing that it will not be opened for a significant period of time.

For those opening a time-capsule, holding something in their hands that links them to the past can provide both a thrill and a window into history which has significance to them. It also provides great learning about the past.

When thinking about creating a time-capsule, some important questions to ask are:

  • Who do you hope is going to open the time-capsule?
  • What do you want to put in it?
  • Where will the time-capsule be stored once it is closed?
  • When will the time-capsule be opened?  

Who should create a time-capsule?

Time-capsules can be a fantastic gift or journey-of-discovery for someone in the future. Ideas include :

  • Parents could create time-capsules of the first year of their child’s life to give to them on their 21st birthday.
  • School children can create time-capsules of their school, class and what they do on a daily basis for a class of the future to learn about them.
  • Community groups can come together to recognise a significant event and create a collective memory to be shared on an anniversary.

What should be in it?

It is important to include objects that have significance to you or the group. Objects should reflect your story now, as this will become your history. Talk about current trends, attitudes, costs and include things that reflect the present.  Items do not need to be expensive.

  • A letter or introductory page explaining the capsule is a great start, remember to include the date the capsule was created.
  • Handwritten personal messages.
  • Everyone loves photographs; traditional printed photographs should offer good permanence and high quality prints can be ordered from commercial printers.
  • Electronic items, CDs, DVDs and USB flash drives are likely to be affected by changes in technology. If you decide to include these be aware that even if the data they contain cannot be read they might still be of interest to demonstrate what was state-of-the-art technology of our time.
  • Labels or packaging from favourite food could be included, but food items will perish over time. Nobody wants a 40 year old cheese sandwich!
  • Newspapers or magazines show current events and popular opinions, although the paper they are printed on is meant to be thrown away after a few days. There are many examples of newspapers clippings in archives today that can still be read.
  • Currency or commemorative coins or medals.
  • Handbills, flyers and stickers can all be included, although the adhesive on the back of the stickers will yellow and age.
  • Recipes can be good to include; as it can be interesting to see how diets change over time.

Where should the time-capsule be stored?

Not all time-capsules need to be buried. Burying a time capsule in the cornerstone of a building or underground requires a significant investment in the container.  The contents in the sealed container will still be exposed to the elements and will deteriorate rapidly.

The ideal location for the closed capsule is one that will provide stable levels of temperature and relative humidity, such as a secure place in your house, office, library or archive.

When should you stipulate that your time-capsule be opened?

Part of the success of a time-capsule project is to arrange for who will ‘inherit’ the capsule.

If the time-capsule is a community project, you could lodge the details with the local library or archive as to where it is and how and when it is to be opened. Remember that a time-capsule does not need to be buried for 100 years; even five or ten years from now the world will have changed and the contents of today which have been placed in the time-capsule will stir memories.

Keep an eye out for the next post, which will cover What materials to use and how to pack your items to prevent damage and deterioration!

By Zoë Reid – Head of Conservation, National Archives of Ireland

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