The promise of time travel, be it forwards or backwards, has long been a compelling fantasy. What could we learn, predict, better understand, prevent, or resolve if we had the ability to move forwards or backwards in time? Historians are perhaps the closest we’ll ever get to the possibility of time travel – their painstaking work in archives, attempts to place themselves in the mindset of their subjects, and probing of the past for understanding (and how that understanding can prevent repeating our same mistakes) enacts the work of a time traveler. But can historians use their work to time travel forward—or can they only trace the path of expired time? And finally, why has time travel so captured the popular imagination as a promise of the future? What practical use might there really be in time travel, both in how we envision it in popular culture and how historians strive towards it?
Deborah Harkness is a historian of science and medicine from antiquity to the present and a best-selling author. A specialist in the period from 1400-1700, she is fascinated by how the study of the natural world traveled from the universities of the Middle Ages, through the libraries and royal courts of the Renaissance, into the cities and homes of early modern Europe, and then finally arrived in the learned academies of the Enlightenment. Her best-selling series, All Souls Trilogy, uses her historical background and time travel as integral plot devices. Her research often centers on alchemy and the polymathic mingling of science, religion, and magic.