Book Reviews Books

Medieval futures: Attitudes to the future in the Middle Ages

Medieval futures: Attitudes to the future in the Middle Ages

Edited by John Burrow and Ian Wei

Woodbridge, The Boydell Press, 2000
ISBN: 9780851157795

Synopsis: Medieval Futures explores the rich variety of ways in which medieval people imagined the future, from the prophetic anticipation of the end of the world to the mundane expectation that the world would continue indefinitely, permitting ordinary human plans and provisions. The articles explore the ways in which the future was represented to serve the present, methods used to predict the future, and strategies adopted in order to plan and provide for it. Different conceptions of the future are shown to relate to different social groups and the emergence of new mentalities, suggesting that changing conceptions of the future were related to general shifts in medieval culture.

Review of Medieval Futures, from Futures, Vol. 35, No. 10 (2003)

If you have any pretense of being a futurist, or interest in futures studies, stop reading this review and immediately purchase the book being reviewed. This is as close to essential reading for all futurists as any book published in the last several years.

It is a collection of papers from a conference on Medieval Futures convened by the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Bristol, UK, in August 1997. Every paper is a jewel worth careful consideration by anyone interested in futures studies as an academic discipline and as an activity in the present aiming towards the creation of better futures.

The conference is also an activity that most certainly should be replicated around the world. The essays in this book focus on the European Middle Ages (dealing for the most part from around 1200 to 1500, with most focusing on the 12th and 13th centuries, but with some telling the story through the 15th century). What would a collection of studies dealing with futures in pre-modern China, or India, or Japan, or elsewhere in the world tell us? And how much better would such conferences be if futurists were invited to participate with the historians, as was not the case in Bristol meeting? Getting historians and futurists from various cultures together to think about futures studies should be high on the agenda of everyone involved in both fields, this book makes abundantly clear.

Click here to read the full review from the University of Hawaii

Click here to see the publisher’s website

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

Smartphone and Tablet users click here to sign up for
our weekly email