Trent University, Thornton Road Campus, Winter 2019.

Professor Robert Wright

Office: Thornton 167   Email:   Tel: 905 435 5102 x 5046

Room TBA

Office Hours: Mondays, noon - 2 p.m., or by appointment.

Department of History
1600 West Bank Drive, LEC, Peterborough, ON K9J 7B8
(705) 748-1011,

Secretary: Joan Sirtonski 905-435-5102 x 5057


This version of the syllabus was posted on 7 February 2018.  Subject to revision.

History 3730/4730 explores the centuries-old obsession in the West with the political, technological and social future of humankind.  The course will meet as a seminar weekly over the Winter 2019 term.  Each student will be expected to make one seminar presentation, to a maximum of 20 minutes' duration, in which s/he will assess critically the week's designated readings.  These presentations will serve as a springboard for a general discussion with all members of the seminar.  Click here for Wright's tips on seminar preparation.  Non-presenting students will be expected to read and reflect on assigned readings and to come to class prepared to discuss them critically.  Students' participation grades will be based on the quality of their contributions, not the quantity.  Participation grading will be consistent with Trent University standards for academic integrity, professionalism and accountability.  Insofar as seminar participation represents a significant proportion of students' overall grade in the course, the importance of thorough preparation and regular attendance should be underscored.

Learning Outcomes

As a cross-listed third- and fourth-year seminar course, History 3730/4730 provides students with the opportunity to explore the Western "futurist" tradition in depth, both through class discussion of scholarship in the field and through advanced independent research.  Students should be able to use their advanced knowledge of the field and skills in critical thinking, historical writing, historical approaches and methodologies to conduct research using primary and secondary sources, produce an original analytical argument based on the evidence, and situate it in the appropriate historiographical and theoretical contexts.  Students should be able to communicate their arguments to the instructor and their peers with clarity, accuracy, and logic through major research papers and class presentations.  Upon completing the course successfully, students should understand the conventions of historical writing, the rules of academic integrity and professionalism, the importance of personal initiative and accountability, and the evolving nature of historical knowledge.  They should also be able to evaluate historical writing effectively through examinations of sources, arguments, and methodologies.

Course Evaluation

0%    Review prospectus, due January 2019.

15%   Book review, due February 2019.

10%   Research prospectus, due February 2019.

45%  Research paper, due March 2019.

20%  Seminar participation.

10%  Seminar presentation.

Selected chapters of the following books will be required reading in History 3730/4730.  Note: books listed as required readings are not required purchases.  Copies of all required readings not available online will be placed on reserve at the Trent Library at the Thornton Road campus, so if you lack either the resources or the inclination to purchase these books, there will be other ways of keeping up with your readings.

Ehrlich, Paul R.  The Population Bomb: Population Control or Race to Oblivion?  New York: Ballantine Books, 1970.  Full-text available online.

Frase, Peter.  Four Futures: Visions of the World After Capitalism.  New York: Verso, 2016.  Buy it new.  Buy a used copy. 

Gore, Al.  The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change.  New York: Random House, 2014.  Buy it new.  Buy a used copy.

Harari, Yuval Noah.  Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.  Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2015.  Buy it new.  Buy a used copy.

Lovelock, Jame. The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning.  New York: Basic Books, 2009.  Buy it new.  Buy a used copy.

Malthus, Thomas.  An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society.  London: Printed for J. Johnson, in St. Paul’s Church-Yard, 1798.  Full-text available online.

Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels.  Manifesto of the Communist Party.  London: Marxists' Internet Archive, 1987; originally published in 1848.  Full-text available online.

Moran, Alan ed. Climate Change: The Facts.  Melbourne: Institute of Public Affairs, 2015.  Buy it new.  Buy a used copy.

Toffler, Alvin.  Future Shock.  New York: Bantam, 1970.  Full-text available online.

Wells, H.G.  The Time Machine.  Toronto: Penguin, 2015; originally published in 1887.  Full-text available online.

All other required readings in this course take the form of scholarly articles and documents, which can be accessed online.

Book Review

The first written assignment will be a critical book review.  The total number of book pages under review should be approximately 300.

Note: a book review is not a book report.  The purpose of a review is not merely to describe the contents of books in narrative form but to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of books, to estimate their contribution(s) to knowledge, to assess their relationship to the scholarly field in question, and to provide an opinion to their prospective readers of their general worth.  Click here for Wright's tips on writing book reviews.

A review prospectus will be required, containing a full bibliographic citation for the book you plan to review.  This book must deal with some aspect of the Western "futurist" tradition, broadly defined.  Books listed as required readings for this course are ineligible for review.  The review prospectus will not be graded but it must be submitted in advance of your review.  Both the review prospectus and the book review should be submitted via email.  Click here for Wright's formatting guidelines for electronic submissions.

Fourth-year students will be held to a higher standard of writing and analysis than third-year students.

Length: 600 words for History 3730; 750 words for History 4730.

Due dates: review prospectus January 2019; review February 2019.

Research Paper

The research paper has been conceived with two primary objectives in mind.  The first is to acquaint students more closely than has been the case thus far with the scholarly literature in an area of historical study which is of special interest to the student.  The second is to acquaint students with some of the processes by which historians conduct original research.
Students may select topics of their own choice, with the proviso that each student must submit a prospectus in advance of her/his essay, in which s/he must specify the nature and scope of her/his topic, as well as the resources s/he plans to use.  A thorough prospectus will include a short synopsis of a student's aims, as well as a bibliography of sources.
The purpose of the prospectus is two-fold: it will allow the instructor to consider the proposal of the student and to make specific recommendations about sources and approaches that might be used (thus creating between student and instructor a "customized" topic); and it will provide a medium by which the student and the instructor can maintain close contact about the progress of the research.
The prospectus will be graded and must, therefore, be submitted in advance of the research paper.  The paper must conform to the topic as selected by the student and as "customized" by the student and the instructor.  If it does not, the student will receive a grade of zero on both the prospectus and the paper. 
Both the research prospectus and the research paper should be submitted via email.  Click here for instructions on formatting and emailing assignments.  Click here for some tips on writing essays.  Fourth-year students will be held to a higher standard of writing and analysis than third-year students.  Third-year students must utilize a minimum of twelve scholarly sources; fourth-year students must utilize a minimum of fifteen scholarly sources.
Length: 3000 words for History 3730; 3500 words for History 4730.
Due dates: research prospectus February 2019; research paper March 2019.

Final Examination

There will be no examinations in this course.

Late Policy
There will be no penalties for late submissions, but students will not be granted extensions beyond April 2019 without official (e.g. medical) documentation.

Academic Integrity

Academic dishonesty, which includes plagiarism and cheating, is an extremely serious academic offence and carries penalties varying from a 0 grade on an assignment to expulsion from the University.  Definitions, penalties, and procedures for dealing with plagiarism and cheating are set out in Trent University’s Academic Integrity Policy.  You have a responsibility to educate yourself – unfamiliarity with the policy is not an excuse.  You are strongly encouraged to visit Trent’s Academic Integrity website to learn more .

For Wright's policy on plagiarism, click here.

Access to Instruction

It is Trent University's intent to create an inclusive learning environment.  If a Trent Oshawa student has a disability and/or health consideration and feels that he/she may need accommodations to succeed in this course, s/he should visit the Student Accessibility Services at Room 111 or call (905) 435-5100. 

Dropping Courses

Please see the Trent University Academic Calendar for University Diary dates, Academic Information and Regulations, and University and departmental degree requirements.


Week 1
Seminar:  Introduction to the course.
Required readings: J. Galtung, "What Did People Predict for the Year 2000 and What Happened?" Futures 35 (2003), 107-121; David Lowenthal, "The Forfeit of the Future" Futures 27:4 (1995), 385-395; John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. "What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years" The Ladies' Home Journal (December 1900), 8; Isaac Asimov, "Visit to the World's Fair of 2014" New York Times (August 16, 1964); and "The Cooling World" Newsweek (April 28, 1975).

Student responsibilities before next class:

1.  If you have not already done so, email me with your preferred email address.  Place your name and course number in the subject field exactly like this:

Jones, Stephen  HIST 4310

2.  Think about at least three seminars you would be willing to present.  Do not email me with your selections.  We will assign each student one presentation in class.

Week 2
Seminar: Thomas Malthus
Required readings: Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society; and Jonathan Chenoweth & Eran Feitelson, "Neo-Malthusians and Cornucopians Put to the Test: Global 2000 and The Resourceful Earth Revisited" Futures 37 (2005), 51–72.

Week 3
Seminar: Karl Marx
Required readings: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, "Bourgeois and Proletarians" and "The Principles of Communism"; Elise S. Brezis & Warren Young, "Economic Growth: Ancient and Modern" History of Economic Thought 23:2 (2016), 246–271; and Edward Granter, "A Dream of Ease: Situating the Future of Work and Leisure" Futures 40 (2008), 803–811.

Review prospectus due via email.  Click here for instructions on formatting and emailing assignments.  Click here for some tips on writing reviews.

Week 4
Seminar: H.G. Wells & E.M. Forster
Required readings: H.G. Wells, The Time Machine, ch. 3-11; and E.M. Forster, "The Machine Stops" Oxford and Cambridge Review (1909).

Week 5
Seminar: The Population Bomb
Required readings: Paul R. Ehrlich, The Population Bomb: Population Control or Race to Oblivion?, Prologue, Foreword, ch. 1, 6; Paul R. Ehrlich, "Seeking Environmental Solutions in the Social Sciences" Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 67:5 (2011), 1-8; and Justin Sully, "On the Cultural Projection of Population Crisis: The Case of The Omega Man" Criticism 58:1 (Winter 2016), 87-113.

Review essay due via email.  Click here for instructions on formatting and emailing assignments.  Click here for some tips on reviews.

Week 6
Seminar: Future Shock
Required readings: Alvin Toffler, Future ShockIntroduction, ch. 1, 9, 19-20; Alvin Toffler & John McHale, "The Future and the Functions of Art: A Conversation" Leonardo 20:4 (1987), 391-396; and "Revolutionary Wealth: An Interview with Alvin Toffler" New Perspectives Quarterly (Fall 2013), 121-130.

Week 7
Seminar: Nuclear Winter
Required readings: R. P. Turco, et al., "Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of Multiple Nuclear Explosions" Science 222:4630 (December 23, 1983), 1283-1292; R.P. Turco et al, "The Climate Effects of Nuclear War" Scientific American 251:2 (August 1984), 33-43; Carl Sagan, et al, "The Nuclear Winter Debate" Foreign Affairs 65:1 (Fall, 1986), 163-178; and Carl Sagan & Richard P. Turco, "Nuclear Winter in the Post-Cold War Era" Journal of Peace Research 30:4 (November 1993), 369-373.

February.  Reading Week.

Review prospectus due via email.  Click here for instructions on formatting and emailing assignments.  Click here for some tips on writing reviews.

Week 8
Seminar: Climate Change
Required readings: Al Gore, The Futurech. 1; James Lovelock, The Vanishing Face of Gaiach. 1; Alan Moran, ed., Climate Changech. 1, 3; and Decca Aitkenhead, "James Lovelock: Before the End of this Century, Robots will have Taken Over" Guardian (September 30, 2016) . 

Week 9
Seminar: Evolving a New Humanity I
Required readings: Richard A. Slaughter, "Welcome to the Anthropocene" Futures 44 (2012), 119-126; Erika Lorraine Milam, "The Ascent of Man and the Politics of Humanity’s Evolutionary Future" Endeavour 40:4 (2016), 225-237; and Jamie P. Monat, "The Emergence of Humanity’s Self-awareness" Futures 86 (2017), 27–35.

Week 10
Seminar: After Capitalism
Required reading: Peter Frase, Four Futures: Visions of the World After Capitalism.

Research paper due via email.  Click here for instructions on formatting and emailing assignments.  Click here for some tips on essay preparation.

Week 11
Seminar: Evolving a New Humanity II
Required reading: Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.

Week 12
Seminar: Tomorrow's Forecast is Mixed
Required readings: P.A. Carpenter & P.C. Bishop, "The Seventh Mass Extinction: Human-caused Events Contribute to a Fatal Consequence" Futures 41 (2009), 715–722; David Wallace-Wells, "The Uninhabitable Earth" New York Magazine (July 10, 2017); Peter Holley, "Stephen Hawking Just Moved Up Humanity’s Deadline for Escaping Our ‘Increasingly Precarious’ Earth" Washington Post (May 5, 2017); "A Future with Flying  Cars is Near" The Current podcast (May 8, 2017); Sameer Chhabra, "Hyperloop Technology will Revolutionize Transportation, but it has to Get off the Ground First" CBC News (July 21, 2017); and Lionel Shriver, "Why Catastrophising is My Idea of a Good Time" Spectator (April 14, 2018).

April 2019, 11:59 p.m. 
Departmental deadline.  If you need an extension beyond this date, you will require medical or other official documentation.