Auld Lang Syne
Happy New Year, teachers! As you and your students settle into 2018, you’re probably looking towards the future – what the next year, or decade, may hold. In doing so, you’re part of a rich historic tradition of trying to imagine the future.
Ohioans have been trying to imagine the future for at least a century. How do we know this? Ohio Memory, of course! In celebration of the New Year, I’ve pulled together some examples of futures past that you can use in your classroom. Share these serious, funny and sometimes incomprehensible (thanks to a century’s separation between their humor and ours) predictions with your students, then check out the suggestions at the bottom of the post for how to engage in future thinking!
This article on page 19 of the Jan. 3, 1909 issue of the Ohio State Journal focused on financial predictions.
Predictions for the future often reflect the anxieties and events of the present. In 1919, for example, many predictions focused on the aftermath of World War I, which ended in November 1918. They can also reflect the culture of the time, as seen below. Several of these predictions reference jokes that we don’t understand anymore!
This article can be found on page 4 of the Feb. 15, 1919 issue of the Alliance Review and Leader.
Other newspapers chose to focus on how predictions of the past failed. The article below from 1998 examines technology predictions from the 1870s to the 1970s that proved to be completely wrong! Particularly funny to us today is Ken Olsen’s 1977 prediction that “computers would be of little use to ordinary people.” My laptop and I would beg to differ! Also of humorous interest is Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office Charles H. Duell’s statement in 1899 that “everything that can be invested has been invented.” I guess we can forgive him for that shortsighted prediction, as his job meant he saw more failed inventions than most!
This article is on page 50 of the Feb. 24, 1998 issue of The Sun (North Canton).
Activity (4-6th Grade)
Have your students interview an older friend or relative about how they imagined the future when they were growing up. What did they expect would be different? What kinds of jobs and technology did they think would be available? Did any of their predictions come true.
Question (6-8th Grade)
Using the article above from The Sun: why do you think experts of the past were so wrong about the use of computers in the future?
Question (1-5th Grade)
What do you imagine the future will be like and why?
Question (9-12th Grade)
What do you imagine the future will be like and why? What aspects of today’s world inform your predictions? Use newspaper or online articles about the world to justify your predictions.
Want more information about how to use historical thinking skills to study the future? Join us at the Ohio History Center on Sunday, January 7 at 2 p.m. for a talk by the Ohio State University’s Dr. David Staley. In Becoming a Futurist: Using Historical Thinking to Imagine the Future, Dr. Staley will detail his own journey “from historian to futurist,” and will discuss a class he recently taught at Ohio State where history students researched and wrote “histories of the future of technology.” He will discuss strategies for bringing the study of the future into the history classroom. This program is included with regular museum admission and teachers get in free! For more information call 614.297.2300.