Facing the Future (with an eye on the past)

Some other possible titles:

Facing the future: museums, archives, therapy. Inventing a temporally inflected historiography.

Dealing with an uncertain past in order to work in an uncertain future

For a once and future archives

Part of the AHRC Care for the Future Research Theme

"The future is certain. Only the past is unpredictable." USSR graffiti 1980s.

The idea behind this program of workshops is broadly to explore symmetries and asymmetries between futures, presents and futures (note that all are pluralised). So although we are at a present moment between many pasts and unknown futures, we are also (now) part of the past of future presents, just as we were the future of a past present. To help anchor us and guide us through the dangers of open philosophizing, we will concentrate on archives in general and contentious archives in particular (archives of contentious events/periods). And we will consider how today we can think about future historiography – building digital archives is possibly more difficult than conventional paper based ones.

Two background papers (on very different topics)

Zeitlyn, D. 2012. 'Divinatory logics: diagnoses and predictions mediating outcomes', Current Anthropology, 53(5): 525-46. DOI: 10.1086/666829
Zeitlyn, D. 2012. 'Anthropology In and of the Archives: Possible Futures and Contingent Pasts. Archives as Anthropological Surrogates', Annual Review of Anthropology, 41: 461–80. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-anthro-092611-145721

Archival media from the Past for the Future? A Clay Tablet for the Future

Is clay viable as a digital storage medium?
As little experiment I have made a digitally encoded clay tablet in the hope it might be readable in six thousand years time


Project Workshops

Workshop 1 S.T. Muna Foundation, Yaoundé, Cameroon. April 2013

Workshop 2 Wolfson College, Oxford, UK. June 2013

Workshop 3 Wolfson College, Oxford, UK. September 2013


  1. A new online journal <Vestiges> which we also think of as Traces of Record
  2. October 2015 Special issue of History and Anthropology on Archives and Futures
  3. Project Summary Report

Funded by: