Course Outline: History of the Future

My most enjoyable classroom experiences seem to come in Level 3 courses. Perhaps it has something to do with being able to move out of the survey and engage with some more nuanced and complicated material, all while sharing it with a diverse student group (McMaster’s History Department restricts entry into our Level 4 seminars to Honours History students). Also, the topics are fun. This semester, I have returned to my “History of the Future” class. I shared the last iteration of the syllabus here. This version is markedly different, and I may try to share some of the lectures here in due course.


The course examines how past societies imagined the future, working on the premise that historians can fruitfully be interested in what pasts didn’t happen. In principle, I try to stress the relationship between technology and historical imaginations of the future and the influential feedback loop between them. The class slowly works its way through utopian and dystopian visions of machines, cities, fiction, and the vocabulary of futurism, before turning its attention to environmental futures—and how modelling, predicting, and fearing environmental crisis has a rich and important history worth exploring.

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