Portals Exhibition Installation Photo

Portals: The History Of The Future

February - July 2016

All Adventurers: Join Us!

The dream of time travel has fascinated humans for centuries. Facing the future, it engenders both hope and fear about our imagined outcomes; facing the past, it provokes curiosity (and sometimes scorn) toward people who lived and thought in ways that now seem alien.

The notion of time itself, which seems so natural and linear, was challenged a century ago by the publication of Einstein’s theories of relativity. Meanwhile the technological optimism of the early 20th century, culminating in the 1939 World’s Fair, was pushing Americans to dream of the “World of Tomorrow” even as they were climbing out of the Great Depression.

With our PORTALS: The History of the Future exhibition, interactive program experiences and more, we’re studying the imagined futures of generations past while offering opportunities to explore current visions for the future. From technology to fashion, we present how people of the past looked into the future (and what they saw). And, we invite today’s visionaries to think ahead and even do their own experimentation.

Portals Exhibition Installation Gallery

Portals Exhibition Catalog

Providence 2050

Visualizing Tomorrow

What will Providence be like in 34 years?

Portals Creative Fellow

Updates from Creative Fellow Walker Mettling

Dive Into The History Of The Future

Portals Events and Happenings


Providence Center for Media Culture logo

Providence Center For Media Culture

The Providence Center for Media Culture, previously known as the Cable Car Cinema, and PPL are teaming up present a series of six topical futuristic and sci-fi films through the 20th century. From time travel, to space travel, to alternate worlds, follow along with us to see what filmmakers portrayed for the future and how things have changed over time.

The Met school logo

The Met School

Teens from The Met School will film children interviewing members of an older generation about their past. The tables will turn and the elders will ask the children about imagined futures. This will result in the creation of a video display of inter-generational interviews.

Musicians outside Community Music Works in Providence

Community MusicWorks

Community MusicWorks resident musicians and MediaLab students will research PPL’s collections to influence their MediaLab project, which is a CMW initiative designed to expose students to non-traditional music making as well as audio and visual media skills.

Nordstrom Logo Black


The Visual Merchandising team from Nordstrom at Providence Place is working with PPL and local teens to design displays in the Library windows along Empire Street.

Design Agency logo

Design Agency

Design Agency created the PORTALS graphic identity and print collateral, including the giant banners hanging on our building and the RIPTA bus ads that can be seen zooming around the state. They also transformed our Providence Journal Rhode Island Room for the exhibition, designing case displays and panels that offer an immersive experience of the collections on display.

RISD CE logo

RISD Continuing Education

RISD Continuing Education is helping teens learn how to read the future by looking at past and current fashion trends in the program Teen Squad: Fashion Forward.


Rhode Island Museum of Science and Art

RIMOSA will be hosting a series of Cut-Paper Animation Workshops, that will take place at five libraries in the city from February through April. Youth will learn how to transform still pictures, actual reproductions of images from PPL’s Collections of patents, textiles, periodicals, and more into animated shorts.

4 H Logo


URI’s 4-H will assist younger learners to explore fundamental mechanical concepts through hands-on engineering activities that inspire critical thinking and problem-solving skills while building robots.

A drawing by Walker Mettling

Walker Mettling

Walker Mettling is the exhibition’s Creative Fellow. A local artist and member of the Providence Comics Consortium, Walker will use inspiration from PPL’s Special Collections materials to produce comics and illustrations related to the exhibition theme of futurism, as well as to curate an exhibit-related project involving other local artists and designers.

Exhibition Partners


John Hay Library at Brown University

John Hay Library at Brown University contributed a copy of Albert Einstein’s Grundlage der allgemeinen Relativitätstheorie(1916).

Observatory at Brown University

Ladd Observatory

The Ladd Observatory contributed a clock from their collection of timekeeping artifacts to our Portals exhibition.

Providence Athenum Logo

Providence Athenaeum

The Providence Athenaeum contributed a copy of Richard Jeffries’ After London (1886) to our Portals exhibition.