01:506:233 History of the Future
- Academic Credits: 3
- SAS Core: HST, CCO
- Mode of Instruction: Lecture
Syllabus: Spring 2021
Syllabus Disclaimer: The information on this syllabus is subject to change. For up-to-date course information, please refer to the syllabus on your course site (Sakai, Canvas, etc.) on the first day of class.
Prediction is a ubiquitous feature of daily life in the twenty-first century. Every day we encounter a steady stream of macro-level forecasts in the news cycle, as economists predict rates of growth and employment, pollsters predict results of elections years away, and climate scientists model the increasingly bleak scenarios of our planetary future. And every day we consult an array of forecasts to guide our individual decision-making, ranging from weather forecasts to market outlooks to sports picks. Since the Great Recession of 2008, interest in astrology has boomed, and science-fiction films continue to sell out at the box office. Visions of the future—whether calculated or imagined—are a central part of the present. Yet the future also has a past.
This course examines the global history of human attempts to predict the future ranging from antiquity to the present, with an emphasis on
the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. The course begins from two basic premises, the first of which is that predicting the future is not a timeless human activity. Rather, ideas about prediction and methods of forecasting have changed over time in response to major changes in political economy, society, and culture. The second premise is that visions of the future have often exerted influence on the present. Decision-making in a particular historical moment is shaped by what human actors anticipate will come next, as well as by their illusions of control over an unpredictable future.