The future has a history – and understanding that history and where it started is an important part of securing our own futures now.
The future as we think about it now has its origins in the nineteenth century, as people started to imagine their own tomorrows in different ways. As new technologies exploded – new forms of transport and communication in particular – people speculated about how they would change the world. The future was going to be remade by technology. Much of this speculation took place on the pages of popular magazines and newspapers – and this trend continued throughout the long twentieth century. In these pages, readers could read about the activities of self-styled inventors of the future like Nikola Tesla, they could read speculative essays by leading scientists, imagining how the latest discoveries might transform life a century in the future – and they could also read the latest scientific romances and fictions. The speculative fiction, just like the scientific speculations, drew on the same material to imagine what the future would be like. Writers of fact and writers of fiction fed on each others’ work as ideas about the future swirled back and forth between fantasy and reality.
This database is the beginning of an effort to catalogue and chart this avalanche of imagined futures. It contains details of stories and articles from (for example) Victorian and Edwardian magazines like McClure’s, Pearson’s, or Scribner’s. It contains lists of material from later twentieth-century magazines like Time. You can browse by subject, by publication, or author. Some of these periodicals had circulations in the millions, others sold tens of thousands of copies. All had their own views about the ways in which science and technology were going to remake the future.
This is not a comprehensive database. It is a work in progress, and we welcome your participation in its further development. If you have items from your own reading and research that you think belong on this database, then please feel free to add them using the 'contribute an item' link above. The more you add, the more comprehensive this database will become – and the more accurate it will be as a catalogue of how the future was made in the past – and is still being made.
You can comment on individual items using the comment form at the bottom of each page. Your comments will help other users by offering different perspectives on how the future was made in the past.
For copyright reasons we cannot feature the full text of articles within this database. Where possible we have offered links to other publications, or to sources where you can read the articles online.
This database was originally created by the Unsettling Scientific Stories project based at Aberystwyth University, the University of York and Newcastle University, and funded by the AHRC.