The Collapse of Western Civilization

The Collapse of Western Civilization 

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The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future

Historians always operate in the present.  That is, an historian situated at some point in time, say the year 2021, examines in the present whatever evidence she can find to answer whatever historical question it is she is trying to answer.  She peers back into the past from her situated position in the present.  But, in this little book by two historians, we have an account of a past which is in fact our future.  They imagine an historian in the 24th century looking back at our present and the future which is to come over the next several centuries. That is, they do what we expect writers of science fiction to do, construct an imagined future.  But they do so as historians. The geologist from the future is a key figure in the thinking of those who propose a stratigraphic version of the Anthropocene; here you have an historian of the future who narrates the story in the book.

By the time you sit down to write your essay on the book, you should have a good working knowledge of what the Anthropocene is: both Davies’s and McNeill and Engelke’s books examined it.  For this assignment I want you to ask yourself the question: how historically persuasive, how historically plausible, is the view of our future developed in The Collapse of Western Civilization?   What sorts of evidence (pay attention to the footnotes!) has this future historian used to account for what happened on planet Earth from the end of the twentieth century on? Can you imagine a future more historically plausible than the one presented here?  If so, what is it?



Your essay should be five pages in length, 12-point font.  There should also be a title page with your name, the course name and number, and the date on it.  (The title page is NOT one of the five pages of the text of your essay).  If you quote directly from the Oreskes and Conway book, then all you need to do is put CWC and the appropriate page number in parentheses behind the text you quote (or paraphrase: NB—any time you paraphrase someone else’s work, even if you do not quote directly, YOU MUST CITE THE APPROPRIATE PLACE IN THE TEXT THAT YOU ARE PARAPHRASING).  EXAMPLE: “………” (CWC, 42.) If you use other sources for this essay (and it is NOT a requirement that you do), then those sources must be listed in a bibliography at the end of the essay.  Follow Chicago-style format in your bibliography.


N.B. If you access the website of VCU’s Department of History, you will see a tab called “Resources for Undergrads.” [] This contains an abundance of valuable information.  For purposes of this essay, you should consult “Chicago-style Citation for Historian.”  This will provide you with all you need to know about how to put together a bibliography, IF you need to put one together

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