Histories of the Future: Utopia, Dystopia and Modernization in European Thought and Culture
This course explores the strange career of the idea of the future in modern European (and sometimes American) thought, from the religious notions of eschatology underpinning Western visions of the future, through the Enlightenment and Romanticism and focusing especially on early 20th-century visions of the future associated with high modernism. We will explore planned socialist utopias, the planned cities of architects with God complexes, and dystopian visions of a radiation-soaked planet after World War Three. This course will also attend to dystopic and utopian ideas about the future made possible by later 20th-century technological developments, especially the discourses surrounding computing and "cybernetics" and surrounding biotechnology. Thus the course culminates with contemporary hopes and fears surrounding the emergence of new techniques of information transfer, artificial intelligence and engineered life. Throughout we will attend to the careers of prominent futurists and to the ways in which they tend to place the past in conversation with the future - or use the historical past as a resource from which to craft new visions of the future. Students interested in intellectual history, political theory, the history and philosophy of science and technology, and the history of modern architecture and design may benefit from this course's interdisciplinary approach to these three areas.