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CfP: Workshop “Future Thinking and Practices in Premodern Economy, Society, and Culture” – DL: 15 August 2023

Future thinking and practices have gained much traction during the last decade in various disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology, psychology, and history. In the latter case, the English translation of Reinhart Koselleck’s collection of essays Futures Past (2004) gave an important impetus for historians to look closer at historical temporalities and experiences of time.

In essence, Koselleck suggested a transition from a medieval “closed future” tied to traditions and religious prophecies to a modern “open future”, which is both filled with opportunities and risks for the individual and under the control of the modern state, which employs rational calculation and public planning. Cultural historians have voiced criticism against the inherent teleology, modernism, elitism, and Eurocentrism in this framework and stressed the differences between and within social groups and domains of life in light of future thinking and practices.

Socio-economic historians have only recently paid more attention to temporal orientation as an economic factor and tend to follow Koselleck’s narrative: futural orientation – especially future uncertainty and “rational” techniques to manage said uncertainty – is usually attributed to modern capitalist societies. At the same time, however, scholars of premodern economic history have always employed concepts related to the notion of an open future, such as ‘risk’, ‘uncertainty’, ‘plans’, and ‘strategy’. It has become obvious that historical futures were much more complex than Koselleck’s narrative suggests.

The research project “Back to the Future. Future Expectations and Actions in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, c.1400-c.1830” at the Centre for Urban History of the University of Antwerp organises a workshop on future-oriented thinking and practices in medieval and early modern societies. The aim is to bring together cultural and socioeconomic perspectives on futural orientations. In particular, we want to exchange different methods, perspectives, sources, and data on the history of the time to come.

We invite researchers at all career stages to apply and particularly welcome early-career researchers.

Some suggestions for contributions are:
• The relationship between open, uncertain versus predetermined, certain futures;
• Influence of opportunities, possibilities and threats on decision-making (e.g., maritime insurance, social mobility);
• The impact of cross-cultural relations on future thinking and practices;
• Perceptions of change or novelty;
• Goals, plans, and strategies (e.g., family planning, mercantile or notarial contracts, prevention);
• Future in concepts and language usage (e.g., risk, insurance, uncertainty, hope, fear);
• Gender and the future;
• Emotions and the future;
• Methodological approaches and theoretical frameworks to study historical futures.

The workshop takes place at the University of Antwerp on 23-24 November 2023. To submit a proposal, send an abstract of 250 words and a short bio to The deadline for submission is 15 August 2023.

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This workshop is part of a project that has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant agreement no. 851053).