Historical Thinking and the Human: Introduction

Abstract In recent years the age-old question “what is the human?” has acquired a new acuteness and novel dimensions. In introducing the special issue on “Historical Thinking and the Human”, this article argues that there are two main trends behind the contemporary “crisis of human”: ecological transformations (related to human-induced climate change and planetary environmental challenges), and technological ones (including advancements in human enhancement, biotechnology and artificial intelligence). After discussing the respective anthropocenic and technoscientific redefinitions of the human, the paper theorizes three elements in an emerging new historicity of the human: first, the move from a fixed category to a dynamic and indeterminate concept, considering the human as a lifeform in movement; second, the extent to which the human is conceived of in its relational dependence on various non-human agents, organic and non-organic; and third, the reconceptualization of the human not as one but as many, to comprehend that we cannot speak of human individuality in the classical biological sense. In the final part, the article addresses the consequences of the redefinition of the human for historical thinking. It makes the case for the need to elaborate a new notion of history – captured by the phrase “more-than-human history”, and attuned to an emerging planetary regime of historicity in which historical thinking becomes able to affirm multiple temporalities: digital, technoscientific, sociocultural, human, biological and anthropocenic. The article concludes by recognizing the necessity to venture into a new transdisciplinary knowledge economy, appropriate for making sense of the contemporary constellation of the entangled human, technological and natural worlds.