This exploratory research concerns the various ways in which artists, writers and others have imagined future historians, archaeologists, geologists, or their equivalents confronting ‘the now’ as an historical entity. Within this broad subject area (and linking the aesthetic and the political from the outset), the research asks what lessons can be learnt from these ‘speculative archaeologies’ to help us rethink existing planetary concerns, from the articulation of cosmopolitan memory to the shifting emphases of ‘progress’ away from economic development.
While it would be wrong to identify any decisive point of origin for the emergence of these future archaeologies, it is well known that the middle of the 18th century saw an upsurge in artists and poets imagining major cities and prominent cultural institutions (e.g. The Louvre, The Bank of England) in ruin. These highly romanticised prophecies would later be complemented by satirical evocations of history and archaeology within science fiction and – more recently – by empirical attempts to determine what will remain of ‘us’ in the post-human future. Within such work the present as future past is routinely picked apart, decoded and reconstituted as myth, evidence, spectacle or moralising lesson. By interrogating the ideas and motifs underpinning such speculations, this research will shed new light on the various ways in which artistic, cultural and historical processes give shape to the past and simultaneously frame our understanding of the contemporary world.
The research looks to case studies in film, literature, music, and conceptual art to trace the co-evolution of speculative thinking, archaeological practices, and closely related notions of heritage and memory.