Visionary Histories are twenty “histories of the future” that consider a range of topics: the future of artificial intelligence, of democracy, of capitalism, of education, of labor and leisure, as well as the future social and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. This collection of essays, drawn from David J. Staley’s “Next” column in Columbus Underground, argues that we cannot actually predict the future, since a prediction assumes that the future is already in existence someplace, waiting for the forward movement of time to encounter it.
When someone says they want to know the future of something, what they are really saying is they want to know what the state or behavior—especially the emergent behaviors—of some complex adaptive system is going to be at point n in the future. Visionary Histories makes the case for the disciplined study of the future via the historical method, that historians are methodologically well-positioned to anticipate the possible future behaviors of a wide variety of complex systems.
Creating images of the future is similar to writing counterfactual histories. The historian of the future examines current evidence, considers what choices contemporary actors are contemplating, and makes reasonable inferences about what might plausibly happen next based on the logic and context of our current situation. Visionary Histories is an exercise in applied history.
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About the Author
David J. Staley is an historian, futurist and designer at The Ohio State University, and is a fellow at the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University. He writes the monthly futures column “Next” for Columbus Underground, from which this collection draws and for which he was awarded “Best Freelance Writer” by the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists in 2022.