The future overwhelms us lately, appearing bright and cataclysmic at the same time. On the one hand, there are the positively stated endeavors (overcoming our biological limitations, opening a new space age; engineering the Earth system; building an artificial intelligence, etc.). On the other, oftentimes the very same endeavors are perceived as launching potentially catastrophic futures. In the course of developing such an understanding of future prospects, the question of history is of utmost relevance. For it is only with the birth of the modern idea of history that the future appears as different from the past and the present. Today, however, the future looks different to an extent that was simply unimaginable in the modern period.
The radical alterity of future prospects poses many questions and gives rise to competing interpretations. Against the backdrop of the emergence of new futures, we propose to introduce a new concept of “historical futures.” In using the term in its plural form, we aim to cover the various ways in which anticipated futures relate to apprehensions of the past, and we call for a broad exploration of these “modalities of historical futures.”
This session intends to bring together those scholars in recent historical theory and beyond who venture into theorizing our relationship to the future “historically” or explore the ways in which the future is integral to historical thinking. The focus of the session would be on the aforementioned big picture issues that kicked off a broad reflection on the future in the last decades: climate change, species extinction, technological prospects. The new anticipations of the future constitute the framework within which we ask prospective participants to reflect on the general theme of history and the future.