We humans have predicted our own doom over and over in a myriad of dramatic ways, from the Biblical apocalypse to movies like ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, with its enormous climate-shift tsunami. In this seven-part series, historian Charlotte Sleigh explores previous prophecies and sciences of annihilation, asking what we can learn from them. Hope, depression, fear, inspiration, selfishness and altruism resulted at different times and in different places. Our appetite for epic disaster tales makes it difficult to imagine how climate change will take place – or rather, is already happening. Climate change is different from the rest, but with the benefit of history, we might approach the brink a little more wisely this time.
When will the world end? Charlotte Sleigh explores how our obsession with dates and dramatic imaginings of the end can distract us from the dangers slowly creeping up on us.
Disastrous events and a significant combination of numbers signalled the end – or perhaps a new beginning – in 1666. But for some, this feverish period fuelled unprecedented inventiveness and development.
Mid-20th-century population-density research on mice produced a whiskered apocalypse, predicted to become the fate of humans too. But perhaps a more compassionate approach could fend this off.
Despite the country’s colonial and industrial dominion, the finest minds of Victorian Britain began to fear the devastating effects of declining natural resources. Even the death of the sun.
For over a hundred years, antagonistic alien invaders have been a popular focus for the imagined end of the world. But the destructive consequences of human behaviour is far more frightening.
In recent years we’ve come to realise that global heating is our biggest threat. But it’s hard to shake off the fear of a return to ice-age conditions, the predominant narrative since the late 17th century.
About the contributors
Charlotte Sleigh is an interdisciplinary writer and practitioner in the science humanities. Her most recent book is ‘Human’ (Reaktion, 2020). She is Honorary Professor at the Department of Science and Technology Studies, UCL, and current president of the British Society for the History of Science.
Gergo Varga is an illustrator, collage animator, motion designer and the name behind ‘varrgo’. varrgo is a place where Gergo creates and animates mixed-media projects, particularly in the style of collages and cut-outs. He enjoys working with things that have already had a life, from old magazines to scribbles in a notebook. His longest-running creative project is ‘oners’, where he visualises one-minute quotes from contemporary thinkers. Gergo created the animations and illustrations for ‘Apocalypse How?’ and ‘Eugenics and Other Stories’, published on Wellcome Collection Stories.