Friday, December 08, 2006

Histories of the Future

My grad seminar in digital history wrapped up this week with a discussion of "histories of the future." As I explained to the students, I was trying to capture three things with the (syntactically ambiguous) title. In a course about history and computing, I thought it might be nice if we discussed some readings on the history of computing. More generally, I was also responding to an intriguing essay collection by the same title, which looks at a few of the different ways that people in the past imagined what was to come. And finally, I also wanted to provide a space to talk about how history may come to be done in the digital age.

As I've mentioned before, digital history is new enough that there's no real gap yet between the frontiers of research and classroom discussions. So for me, the idea of "histories of the future" represents a problem that I'm struggling with. Many of the histories that are being written right now don't really reflect the present, at least not my present. (In his wonderful Blessed Among Nations, Eric Rauchway uses the metaphor of an eyeglass prescription that no longer makes things clear.) I have the sense that if I could only figure out how to relate the two senses of the phrase "histories of the future," I'd know what history should look like in the present.

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