Lessons of History study

Round 1

Lessons and Questions from History to Apply to Futures Research

Invitation to Historians and Scholars:

The Millennium Project of the American Council for the United Nations University in cooperationwith the Smithsonian Institution and the Futures Group is conducting a unique study with aninternational panel of eminent historians, social scientists, and scholars to explore the possible usesof history in creating and improving scenarios of the future.

If you have a background in macro history and would like to participate in this study, then theMillennium Project of the American Council for the United Nations University in cooperation withthe Smithsonian Institution and the Futures Group has the honor to invite you to join this uniqueinternational panel on the possible uses of history in creating and improving scenarios of the future.

A futurist's use of the term "scenario" means a description of how a future might evolve from thepresent. Scenarios are usually written as sets of three or four scenarios, each with differentassumptions. Futurists and planners often construct scenarios with insufficient understanding ofhistory and how an historical perspective can provide a reality check in their work. In short, byidentifying and exploring lessons of history, we hope that the work of this panel can provide a newtool (a series of lessons and questions to act as a "check list" for futurists to apply) that will improveforecasting and planning.

Enclosed is the first round of a two- or three-round inquiry. This is a retrospective panel, chargedwith identifying historical lessons that teach about enduring relationships and consequences to beremembered in the future. This panel will include about 100 other people around the world. If youdecide to participate, please complete and return the attached questionnaire by 16 June 1997. Theresponses will be collated and form a second questionnaire that will be sent to you as soon aspossible. Pending the dynamics that emerge, a third and final round might be created. As in otherstudies of this sort, a list of participants will be published in the report of this research, but noparticular answer will be associated with an individual.

We would prefer that you respond to this and later questionnaires via e-mail if that is possible. If not,then please respond via fax or airmail. Details are on the enclosed instructions.

Please send us a copy of your resume and any other information about yourself and your work thatyou feel is relevant. If you have any questions please contact us at anytime. We look forward to yourresponses.

Sincerely yours,

Theodore J. Gordon and Jerome C. Glenn, co­Directors

Lessons and Questions from History to Apply in Futures Research


This first round makes two requests:

1. Identify two or three lessons from history that might be appliedto test the plausibility of scenarios. Several examples areprovided simply to give an idea of the kind of response requested;and

2. From your knowledge of history ­ as opposed to imaginedfuture situations ­ you are asked to list questions thatfuturists and planners should ask about their scenarios to improvetheir plausibility.

Lessons and questions suggested by individual panel members inresponse to this Round 1 will be fed back to the panel as-a-wholefor comment in Round 2. This second round is expected to be sentto you in late July. Let us know if your address will be differentat that time.

If possible, please respond by

e­mail to: jglenn@igc.org otherwise
fax to: 202-686-5179 or
mail to:
Millennium Project
4421 Garrison St. NW,
Washington, DC 20016-4055 USA.

No matter which mode of response you choose, please include yourname and post mail address, and ­ if possible ­ yourelectronic mail address, phone number, fax number, and resume.

Lessons and Questions from History to Apply in Futures Research

Round 1

Question 1.

Please list two or three important historical lessons that youthink should be remembered and used in constructing scenariosof the future and in planning. The criteria for identifying importanthistorical lessons include the number of people who were ultimatelyaffected, the severity and permanence of the effect, and likelihoodthat it can be generalized to future conditions. Please includean historical example that illustrates your suggestion.

Two examples are given below:

Example A:

When people migrate to areas already settled, and do so insuch a way or in large enough numbers as to disrupt the existingsocial situation, there will be conflict of some kind. Wecannot say what kind of conflict, but any scenario that projectsmigrations of this sort without conflict would be judged to beless plausible than those that include some form of conflict. Example: Migrations of Europeans into the Americas was associatedwith extensive conflicts.

Example B:

When an activity is desired by many people, the action of oneor a few people may be necessary in order to precipitate jointaction. Example: Many Americans wanted to respond to Russia'sorbiting Sputnik, but it took the inspired leadership of Kennedyto call for the lunar mission to galvanize efforts to open thenext frontiers in outer space.

Please briefly state three lessons of history and reply to Millennium Project (through email, fax, or letter):




Question 2.

Please list questions that are critical to understanding the outcomeof historical changes - questions that futurists and plannersshould ask and answer as they write their scenarios and plannersshape their strategies. Two examples are given below.

Example A:

At each development or application of a new and untried policy,ask who wins and who loses as this development evolvesor the policy is implemented.

Example B:

What technological advance could be mastered and applied by largenumbers of the non-elites to change the social structure?

Please enter the questions you recommend futurists consider.




This ends Round 1. Thank you for your participation.

Last Updated: Oct. 09, 1997