Historians explore the past in order to understand not only our present but also our future trajectory. However, climate scientists today are now telling us that the conditions on our planet are changing so quickly and unpredictably that the past has no bearing on the future. If our challenges are unprecedented, is history reduced to mere antiquarianism? What are historians to do? This presentation explores this predicament and proposes a new form of critical history as we move from modernity’s promise of freedom and development to the more modest goal of sustainability with decency. Julia Adeney Thomas considers ways that an alternative history might be found by examining the economic, social, and political practices of early modern Japan.
The Anthropocene—the geological epoch of humanity—has established itself as a key concept within a wider scientific and social discourse. In the midst of the dramatic and destabilizing changes to the basic conditions for life on our planet, new epistemic potentials for human action upon the Earth are to be explored.