Here I collect and (partly) address problems noted by commenters on "Predictive history classes", in no particular order. I do not expect to refute all of them. Some of them may actually cripple the proposal/show it to be impractical.

I figure this is more honest than leaving just the one-sided original proposal for those who don't read comments.

Thank you, commenters (Raemon, Dweomite, cousin_it, Inari, stonefly), for noticing these problems.

This already exists (Pastcasting)

Great! But that doesn't try to teach methods, nor is it in actual schools.

No one knows how to do this (model history well)

So we figure it out. Maybe have the students figure it out as they study, but that might be expecting too much of them.

Or hold the students to the standards of the professionals, rather than the standards of perfection. Give partial credit; curve the tests. If all that humanity knows how to do is 30% accuracy,[1] a student's 25% is regarded as good.

Also, don't be so sure of the limits of knowledge.

But maybe even the professionals would be so bad that the students' noise-in-guessing easily crosses from 0% to professional%, thus making the subject unassessable.

Situation seen now isn't situation seen then

That is, the summary of a historical situation, as used for teaching, may show the information very differently from what one would get as it happened (which is what you're supposed to practise for).

This can probably be mitigated by careful choice of content, e.g. using only news-from-that-time. Most news is horribly biased, but that might not matter, sith it closely reflects what you could readily access when studying the present and future.

Inari's objections

tl;dr (I think): history classes are for establishing a cultural basis, not thinking (at least before university); current studies have a method (not prediction-based) that needs to still be taught; there are other things you need to teach and can't make this a whole class.

I don't want to dismiss this — some of these may completely cripple the proposal — but I don't understand them yet.

They can be a source of more indoctrination

A predictive history teacher could pick a contrived subset of history to show particular patterns that support a message to indoctrinate.

Maybe we mitigate this be requiring that the examples be sufficiently spread out (at least X from all these places Y and time periods Z) — but who designs and enforces that?

Maybe we mix current-style and predictive classes, so we keep the advantage of the current ones that they teach one "to conduct research about known, factual questions."

  1. ^

    The questions aren't binary, so the 50% minimum doesn't apply.

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In my opinion, the biggest problem is that I don't expect predictive history to be able to provide much value apart from general advice like "don't invade Russia during the winter". Pure chance has a larger impact on historical events than our intuition would suggest; Erik Durschmied wrote a lot about this. No one can observe the track record of Napoleon until 1815 and confidently predict that he's definitely going to lose at Waterloo. In the counterfactual world where one tiny detail is different, he would win.

A predictive history teacher could pick a contrived subset of history to show particular patterns that support a message to indoctrinate.

If anything, predictive history should make this more difficult to do than with current teaching. Also, whatever you were having them predict, what they would mostly learn is how damn inaccurate they are on an absolute scale, independently of what truth was revealed. The sense of uncertainty is something they would feel strongly at each question they answered.


I while ago I had a similar idea, but instead of simulated prediction of the past, I thought about combining more classical history teaching with predicting the future. The rationale being: if the point of learning the past is understanding the present, then just grade on the goal by predicting the near future. The history professor would participate together with the students, and he can not cheat because he doesn't know the future. If he was actually better at prediction, the students would look up to him in a way which can not be imposed by authority. Also, having a concrete goal in mind while learning something helps the process.

I think you are missing the biggest problem: that the very question being asked tells you a lot about the future.

The student is up to 1939. One of the questions is "Will their be a war in Europe?". But, I don't even know of all the other (probably quite plentiful) examples of years in which it looked like a war was possible but did not happen. Would spending as much time on those "could have been wars" actually be useful or interesting? Maybe, I don't know.

I wonder if the experience, performance and critiques of the German Historical School of Economics holds any insights to the suggested approach. The link is just a pointer to the wiki article and doesn't really provide more than a start here if you don't already know something type pointer.

I don't know what you mean by predictive history unless you mean a pedagogical method. It is true that asking students in any field, "What might come next?" can keep them engaged, build creativity, push them to review what's been studied, get them to ask what needs to be known next, etc. However,  this would only go so far in the classroom as it doesn't teach content, sources, use of sources, interpretation, or methods (other than whatever predictive history uses). However, I'm not sure if you are using the term "predictive" in a more deterministic sense. If so, consider how bad we are at prediction. Predicting population change (which is just birth, deaths, migration in, migration out) is pretty hard. Predicting 9/11, the collapse of the Soviet Union, any of the "color" revolutions, the invasion of Ukraine, the rise of Trump, etc., humble "predictive history" (there's no Hari Seldon). History is not physics or math, so it can not be taught like them. Cliometrics and cliodynamics didn't get very far, as I understand it. Plus, humans are self-reflective, so as people learn about what the future might hold, they change and the game shifts again. Can you clarify what you mean by predictive history?