Apocalypse Now & Then

A History of End-Times

An excerpt from a 1946 Popular Science article on the Hayden Planetarium’s exhibit “The End of the World.”

December 21st, 2012 marks the supposed end of the “Mayan Long Count” calendar, and has triggered another round of prophesies about the end of the world. And so we figured we’d spend this particular period of end-times looking back on all the good times we had… worrying about end-times.

On this episode: moments when we thought the game was about to be all over. We’ll try to figure out why apocalyptic visions gain traction from time to time, and what they tell us about American hopes and fears through the centuries. And we’ll ask why Americans have in many of these cases actually looked forward to the end of the world.

What would you like to hear us cover on this show? Do you have questions about end-time prophecies? Have you made a bucket list? Let us know below!


Comments (8)

{Discussion is closed
  1. Stamatis Marinos

    I’m curious about how apocalyptic thought has been used as a political tool over the years.

    Also, what (if any) effects has religious apocalyptic thought had on secular apocalyptic thought (nuclear, environmental, social, fiscal doomsday scenarios)?

  2. Cordy

    I was born in 1976, and I can always tell people who are part of my cohort, because we are invariably prone to apocalypse obsession. (The number of people I have met who’ve said “I’ve never even SEEN The Day After, too scary.” is pretty surprising.)

    Is this actually just par for the course in American History – that is, did those born in 1876 also suffer from this, as did those born in 1776, etc. – or are indeed certain generational cohorts more prone to apocalypse paranoia? And if so, what are those generations, and (here is my real question, I guess) how did that bolus of paranoia impact the politics of their day? Can you, for instance, see cold war kids coming of age and voting a certain way?

    Love the idea of this episode, and I can’t wait to hear it!

  3. William Peck

    I teach Geology, and every fall we note the Earth’s Birthday in my class. In 1650 Archbishop Ussher published his calculation from biblical evidence that the earth formed in the evening on October 22nd, 4004 BC. This is easy for me to remember because October 22nd is also my mother’s birthday.

    A few years ago I was reading about the Millerite movement, who believed that the world would come to an end on October 22nd, 1844. True believers sold everything they owned and came together at the William Miller farm for the big event. When the end of the world did not come to pass, it became known as the Great Disappointment.

    Is October 22 a coincidence here? Both are based on ‘biblical calculations’, so is there something that leads both of them to the same day? Or is the William Miller date selected to fall on Earth’s birthday on purpose…?

  4. Chris Myers Asch

    When I was an undergrad at Duke University almost 20 years ago, one of my favorite classes was “Apocalypse Now and Then,” taught by a religion professor named Dale Martin. We read apocalyptic literature from ancient times to the present, including Hal Lindsey’s best-selling “The Late, Great Planet Earth” from the 1970s and Tom Robbins’ “Skinny Legs and All” (great book) from the late 1980s. Fascinating stuff!

  5. Denis Sugrue

    I would think Bernard McGinn at the University of Chicago would be someone to have on the show. I read a book of his in the late 90s all about the Antchrist.

  6. Micah Saul

    A common argument or defense against threats of apocalypse or collapse seems to be something along the lines of: “We’ve heard from these doomsayers before, from Malthus to Jevons, but humanity is resilient and Americans doubly so. Progress can not be stopped and, as always, innovation will carry us through.” This brand of teleological technological progressivism seems to be prevalent throughout America, and I was wondering if this is a new development or if it has its roots in an earlier era in American history.

  7. Daniel Tickle

    I would be interested to see you all discuss on the show how the improvements in technology and our ability to control our environment has changed our opinion of Apocalypse over the years, from the times of Apocalypse only being on the minds of people in regards to God delivered end times to current day when we are well capability of killing off all of us in any number of ways.

  8. Andy Mangum

    What we see today in Christianity is generally some form of Premillennialist dispensationalism. But, what happened to postmillenial optimism specifically in relation to the Civil War and the First World War?