Future of the Past

Projects and research theme – Studio Michael Shanks

The past matters and we need to take care of what remains – or do we, and, if so, how?

In a complex world of runaway change, uncertainty and insecurity, it is vital to stand back to take in a bigger historical picture, to see where we have come from, and to use such hindsight as a means of gaining orientation on possible futures, achieving foresight. 

A concern for the future of the past is not a concern for history – for knowing what happened in the past. This is a concern for actuality – the past-in-the-present that frames possible and preferable futures. Actuality is about orientation and navigation, pragmatics.

The past is all around us; we are immersed. The past matters. Archaeologists work with what remains with a care for the future. There are two aspects to this care:


Our memories, individual and shared, make us who we are. Memory is the lens through which we focus on the future. The past, embedded in places, artifacts, collections, memories, archives, legacies is essential to the identity of organizations, businesses and communities as well as individuals. This is especially the case as more people can expect to live longer lives. How might we build richly documented pasts-in-the-present that point to hopeful futures?

Preservation, conservation, legacy

How might we take care of what remains? How might we best manage and mobilize the past to enhance personal wellbeing, individual and community identity, the values that organizations and businesses wish to stand for and pursue?

Read more

  • Main research findings – [Link]
  • Critical heritage – [Link]
  • Design thinking and strategic foresight – [Link]
  • JANUS Initiative – [Link]
  • Archaeologies of the contemporary past – [Link]
  • The Revs Program at Stanford – [Link]

Recent posts:

First class dining room of ocean liner Olympic, exactly the same as sister ship Titanic. Now in the White Swan Hotel, Alnwick, Northumberland UK [Link]