Some intellectual foundations of futures studies appeared in the mid-19th century. In 1997, Wendell Bell suggested that Auguste Comte's discussion of the metapatterns of social change presages futures studies as a scholarly dialogue.
One might make a stronger argument that futures studies as a field originated in the early 20th century, intertwined with the birth of systems science in academia, and with the idea of national economic and political planning, most notably in France, the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries.
The emergence of futures studies as an academic discipline, however, happened after World War II. Differing approaches arose in Western Europe (mostly in France), in Eastern Europe (including the Soviet Union), in the post-colonial developing countries, and in the United States of America.  In the 1950s European people and nations continued to reconstruct their war-torn continent. In the process, scholars, philosophers, writers, and artists searched for what could constitute a more positive future for humanity, and for their own countries in particular. The Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc countries participated in the European rebuilding, but did so in the context of an established national economic planning process, which also required a long-term, systemic statement of social goals. The newly-independent developing countries of Africa and Asia faced the challenge of constructing industrial infrastructure from a minimal base, as well as constructing national cultural identities with concomitant long-term social goals. By contrast, in the United States of America, futures studies as a discipline emerged from the successful application of the tools and perspectives of systems analysis, especially with regard to quartermastering the war-effort.
Even today, a schism in perspective lingers between approaches taken by scholars in the U.S. and those in other countries: U.S. practitioners often focus on applied projects, quantitative tools and systems analysis, whereas Europeans investigate the long-range future of humanity and the Earth, what might constitute that future, what symbols and semantics might express it, and who might articulate these. With regard to futures studies within the former centrally-planned economies, or within the newly-developing countries, differences with U.S. futures practice exist primarily because futures researchers in the United States have no opportunity to engage in national planning, nor do their fellow-citizens call upon them to construct national symbols.
By the 1960s, academics, philosophers, writers and artists across the globe had begun to explore enough future scenarios so as to fashion a common dialogue. Inventors such as Buckminster Fuller also began highlighting the effect technology might have on global trends as time progressed. This discussion on the intersection of population growth, resource availability and use, economic growth, quality of life, and environmental sustainability — referred to as the "global problematique" — came to wide public attention with the publication of Limits to Growth, a study sponsored by the Club of Rome. This international dialogue became institutionalized in the form of the World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF), founded in 1967, with the noted sociologist, Johan Galtung, serving as its first president. In the United States, the publisher Edward Cornish, concerned with these issues, started the World Future Society, an organization focused more on interested laypeople.
The field currently faces the great challenge of creating a coherent conceptual framework, codified into a well-documented curriculum (or curricula) featuring widely-accepted and consistent concepts and theoretical paradigms linked to quantitative and qualitative methods, exemplars of those research methods, and guidelines for their ethical and appropriate application within society. As an indication that previously disparate intellectual dialogues have in fact started converging into a recognizable discipline, 
two solidly-researched and well-accepted first attempts to synthesize a coherent framework for the field have appeared: Richard Slaughter's The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies,
a collection of essays by senior practitioners, and Wendell Bell's two-volume work, The Foundations of Futures Studies.
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1975 saw the founding of the first graduate program in futures studies in the United States of America, the M.S. Program in Studies of the Future at the University of Houston-Clear Lake; there followed a year later the M.A. Program in Public Policy in Alternative Futures at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The Hawai'i program provides particular interest in the light of the schism in perspective between European and U.S. futurists; it bridges that schism by locating futures studies within a pedagogical space defined by neo-Marxism, critical political economic theory, and literary criticism. In the years following the foundation of these two programs, single courses in Futures Studies at all levels of education have proliferated, but complete programs occur only rarely. As a transdisciplinary field, Futures Studies attracts generalists. This transdisciplinary nature can also cause problems, owing to it sometimes falling between the cracks of disciplinary boundaries; it also has caused some difficulty in achieving recognition within the traditional curricula of the sciences and the humanities. In contrast to "Futures Studies" at the undergraduate level, some graduate programs in strategic leadership or management offer masters or doctorate programs in "Strategic Foresight" for mid-career professionals, some even online. Nevertheless, comparatively few new PhDs graduate in Futures Studies each year.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 Bell , Wendell Foundations of Futures Studies: Human Science for a New Era New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA}}
- ↑ Masini, Eleonora Why Futures Studies? Grey Seal Books
- ↑ Slaughter, Richard A.The Foresight Principle: Cultural Recovery in the 21st Century Adamantine Press, Ltd. London, England}}
- ↑ Sardar, Ziauddin, ed. (1999). Rescuing All Our Futures. Praeger Studies on the 21st Century, Westport, Connecticut, USA.
- ↑ Meadows, Donella H.; Meadows, Dennis, J. Randers, and William W. Behrens III The Limits to Growth New York, New York, USA}}
- ↑ Kuhn, Thomas (1975, c1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
- ↑ Slaughter, Richard The Knowledge Base of Future Studies
- ↑ Markley, Oliver (1998). "Visionary Futures: Guided Imagery in Teaching and Learning about the Future," in American Behavioral Scientist. Sage Publications, New York.
- ↑ Jones, Christopher The Manoa School of Futures Studies (Futures Research Quarterly