Notes to Future Worlds from a Common Past

Grant Museum of Zoology
15th Nov 2022
19:00  - 20:00

A figure in dark clothes stands looking up in a wide white space

One freeze-dried specimen and a piece of string. 200 million years, 100,000 years, 4,000 years, seven days. What is the common thread between these numbers? A story of human values, desires and fears.

It is 2022, and our narrator has returned from a journey that has taken them into the depths of history to the present now. They have met people whose villages are under siege from extreme flooding. They have collected rock pieces that formed the first agricultural tools. They have seen the borders and walls around cities that have since fallen or are new constructions. The fauna of a rainforest slowly destroyed. They have observed the way robots ‘learn’ to behave in the laboratories of America’s wealthiest research institutes.

Activated by the surroundings of the Grant Museum of Zoology and based on research by the Centre for Global Knowledge Studies Cambridge, ‘Notes to Future Worlds from a Common Past’ is an interactive performance that focuses on the human desires, fears and values accompanying breakthroughs throughout history. It asks: what kinds of values, knowledges, capabilities, fears and desires were created or lost during previous breakthroughs? And which of these do we want to hold on to, re-define or transform as we enter, or live within, a future formed through climate crisis, agricultural disaster and emerging technologies?

Using storytelling, objects and sound, this performance will animate the common threads that have passed through large upheavals and breakthroughs such as the first uses of growing and wilding practices in deep history, to the Green Agricultural Revolution of the 1950s, to the uncertainties of living within 'The Anthropocene'. ‘Notes to Future Worlds from a Common Past’ will incorporate the Grant Museum’s objects, specimens and history to challenge, re-define and prompt questions on climate justice, the relationship of imperialism to natural history, and the thread from deep history to speculative futures.

As the narrator takes us into the uncertain, volatile, speculative future, we are asked to bring along with us the values, desires, fears, systems, objects, communities and tools that we want to keep with us in order to help us live within it alongside each other.

Being Human Festival

‘Notes to Future Worlds from a Common Past’ is part of the Being Human Festival 2022 programme, the UK’s national festival of the humanities, taking place 10–19 November 2022. It is led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy.

Invented Futures

`Notes to Future Worlds from a Common Past ‘is devised, created and produced by the Invented Futures platform, written by Maria Leonard. Invented Futures is a research platform that is building a response to dominant ways the future is made, outside of institutions and in response to emerging technology practices, rates of change and the crisis in imagining alternative futures.

The platform has collaborated with the Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Cambridge, the Centre for Global Knowledge Studies, Bristol Digital Futures Institute (Bristol University); University College London; and Birkbeck. We have curated programmes at the School of Activism 2.0; Imagine! Festival of Ideas and Politics Belfast 2022; York Festival of Ideas 2022; Bristol Technology Festival and more.

Maria Leonard

Maria Leonard is director of the Invented Futures platform. She teaches public learning workshops and seminars for cultural organisations, and she is an independent journalist for publications such as Qisetna: Talking Syria and Words Without Borders. Her writing has been performed at Soho Theatre Upstairs, as part of the Young Almeida, at ACUD Theatre Berlin and Omnibus Theatre. She has appeared in Modern Queer Poets published by Pilot Press and was longlisted for the Women Poets’ Prize in 2022.


Notes to Future Worlds is an interactive event, but all participation levels will be closely and appropriately handled. There is no obligation to answer, ask questions or speak.

This is an accessible event with step-free access. This is a free event as part of the Being Human Festival 2022 and supported by Museums & Cultural Programmes, UCL.

Invented Futures logo

Being Human Festival logo

School of Advanced Study logo


UKRI Arts and Humanities Research Council logo
Book now
Share this: