The term appears to have been coined by John W. Campbell, Jr., the editor of Astounding Science Fiction, in the February 1941 issue of that magazine, in reference to Robert A. Heinlein's Future History. Neil R. Jones is generally credited as the first author to create a future history.
A set of stories which share a backdrop but are not really concerned with the sequence of history in their universe are rarely considered future histories. For example, neither Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga nor George R. R. Martin's 1970s short stories which share a backdrop are generally considered future histories. Standalone stories which trace an arc of history are rarely considered future histories. For example, Walter M. Miller Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz is not generally considered a future history.
Earlier, some works were published which constituted "future history" in a more literal sense—i.e., stories or whole books purporting to be excerpts of a history book from the future and which are written in the form of a history book—i.e., having no personal protagonists but rather describing the development of nations and societies over decades and centuries.
Such works include:
- Jack London's The Unparalleled Invasion (1914) describing a devastating war between an alliance of Western nations and China in 1975, ending with a complete genocide of the Chinese. It is described in a short footnote as "Excerpt from Walt Mervin's 'Certain Essays in History'".
- André Maurois's
The War against the Moon (1928), where a band of well-meaning conspirators intend to avert a devastating world war by uniting humanity in hatred of a fictitious Lunar enemy only to find that the moon is truly inhabited and that they had unwittingly set off the first interplanetary war. This, too, is explicitly described as an excerpt from a future history book.
- The most ambitious of this subgenre is H. G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come (1933), written in the form of a history book published in the year 2106 and—in the manner of a real history book—containing numerous footnotes and references to the works of (mostly fictitious) prominent historians of the 20th and 21st centuries.