These historians are training students to think about the future

Historians in the News
tags: history, AHA2016



David Hochfelder, associate professor of history at the State University of New York at Albany, plans on introducing a new iteration of an undergraduate course this semester with an image: a 2012 cover of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Review featuring astronaut and Apollo 11 veteran Buzz Aldrin. It’s captioned, “You promised me Mars colonies. Instead, I got Facebook.”

It’s a provocative statement, and perhaps a perfect hook for Hochfelder’s course, called History and the Future. The course is inspired in part by the Teach the Future foundation, directed by Peter Bishop, a retired associate professor of sociology and former director of the Foresight program for future studies at the University of Houston. The foundation promotes training students in high schools, colleges and universities to think about the future in a variety of disciplines. The idea is to make all disciplines more relevant to students’ lives, as well to better prepare them for what’s ahead.

At the recent annual gathering of the American Historical Association in Atlanta, Bishop, Hochfelder and other proponents of teaching the future argued that historians are particularly suited to these kinds of questions (as well as how the National Aeronautics and Space Administration took a backseat to Silicon Valley in the public imagination) and that there may even be a moral imperative to adopt the approach.

"You’re looking at one direction on the timeline, and we’re looking at another direction on the timeline,” Bishop said. “When I describe this to people, they say, ‘You can’t teach the future because it happened yet,’ and I say, ‘Well, you can’t teach the past, because it doesn’t exist, either.’ We’re all working on the same order of phenomena.”

David J. Staley, an associate professor of history at Ohio State University and a part-time futures consultant, agreed, saying that “one of the biggest hang-ups historians will have is, ‘We can’t predict the future, we shouldn’t predict the future.’ It’s a kind of uncertainty, so there’s skepticism and almost a timidity, about venturing a prediction, so we just don’t do it.” ...




comments powered by Disqus