Look Beyond a Lifespan

History should be a guide to public life. But it can only be so if more academic historians embrace a long-term perspective.

Age-old crisis: a villager prays as rising sea levels submerge graves, Tenggang, Indonesia, June 2014.

A spectre is haunting our time: the spectre of short-termism. 

We live in a moment of accelerating crisis that is characterised by a lack of long-term thinking, as rising sea levels threaten low-lying coastal regions, the world’s cities stockpile waste and human actions poison the oceans, earth and groundwater for future generations. We face rising economic inequality within nations even as inequalities between countries abate, while international hierarchies revert to conditions not seen since the late 18th century, when China last dominated the global economy. Almost every aspect of human life is planned and judged, packaged and paid for, on timescales of a few months or years. There are few opportunities to shake loose from these short-term moorings. It can hardly seem worthwhile to raise questions of the long term at all. 

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