Teaching and Learning History

Using history to teach future societies

  • 1.  Using history to teach future societies

    Posted 01-14-2020 06:42:00 AM

    I'm developing a course on Future Societies. I'm curious re experience of colleagues re the linking of historical materials and reflections on the future, explicitly or implicitly.


    The foci will be:

    1 Arriving at the present moment: the making of the 21st century 

    2 The Anthropocene: climate change, biodiversity loss, planetary boundaries, resilience, and deep adaptation 

    3 Global governance: the nation-state, transnational corporations, and civil society 

    4 Technology and innovation: Moore's law, the fourth industrial revolution, cultural lags, and institutional challenges 

    5 Human nature: perception, cognition, social identity, culture, and citizenship 

    6 Critical literacy: Big data, privacy, individual autonomy, and manufacturing consent 

    7 Measuring progress: Regenerative capitalism, the circular economy, and doughnut economics 

    8 Smart cities: population growth, urbanization, imigration, and the meaning of work 

    9 International security: food insecurity, social instability, and access to natural resources


    10 Individual choice/collective action: Carbon footprints, consumption patterns, investment decisions, political engagement, and human rights.



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    David Starr
    Brookline MA
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  • 2.  RE: Using history to teach future societies

    Posted 03-20-2020 06:55:00 PM
    Sorry so much time has passed before I replied to this, I'm new to these AHA discussion sites.

    In the context of teaching the history of the world in the 20th century, I hold several class sessions on the "future" in the 20th century--one on imagining the 20th century around 1900, one on the space age, one on trying to assess where long-term trends are headed.

    I've found using excerpts from a couple of texts extremely useful.  One is H. G. Wells' Discovery of the Future (1902, but I use a 1913 edition available on Google Books).  This contains some very interesting reflections on how to use methods of thinking about the past to think about the future, as well as some extraordinary reflections on what the future might hold.

    A second useful one is an earlier text, Winwood Reade's Martyrdom of Man (1872 I think, but I use an 1890 edition I found on Google Books).  This was a very influential book, and contains some astonishing imaginings of the future.  I can send page references if you are interested--it's a big tome.

    In the past I've also asked students to read this, from ladies' Home Journal in 1900: http://www.openculture.com/2013/12/ladies-home-journal-publishes-28-predictions.html

    I've found it useful to couple all that with a brief excerpt from Martin Beech, Terraforming: The Creating of Habitable Worlds (Springer, 2009)

    Late in the course I include a session on global warming and the environment more generally, for which I ask students to read excerpts from Ludwig Klages, "Man and Earth" (1913--I use an excerpt available online at

    from: http://www.revilo-oliver.com/Writers/Klages/Man_and_Earth.html), the "Deep Ecology Platform" (1984--http://www.deepecology.org/platform.htm), and excerpts from congressional hearing available in McKibbins' The Global Warming Reader.

    I do draw too on Schumacher's "Buddhist Economics" essay, though I haven't assigned that, and some of the media fol-de-rol surrounding Bjorn Lomborg, climate change, capitalism, etc.; I haven't asked students to read any of that, but I think it might be a great way to discuss "how do we make it from here to the future?"

    On innovation, the WIPO Statistics Database I've found a great source: https://www.wipo.int/ipstats/en/

    BTW, the text I use is my own, The World in the Long Twentieth Century, which however doesn't include any of this material, except some reference to Klages and Arne Naess . . . though there are some recommendations in the teacher's manual e.g. re: democracy and inequality.  The last chapter offers some ways of thinking about where things might be headed based on long-term trends.

    Sounds like a great course!  Enjoy

    Edward Dickinson
    UC Davis



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    Edward Dickinson
    Univ. of California, Davis
    Davis CA
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  • 3.  RE: Using history to teach future societies

    Posted 04-27-2020 11:30:00 AM
    This is really interesting. I posted something in the AHA community but maybe you two could help with this...

    Attention #historians - I am working on some research about how post-truth will impact how future generations study our history. #futurists how will it affect the future we invent. Please reach out to me if you are open to a chat.

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    Marty Resnick
    Woodstock GA
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