Telling It Like It Wasn't: The Counterfactual Imagination in History and Literature

Inventing counterfactual histories is a common pastime of modern-day historians, both amateur and professional. We speculate about an America ruled by Jefferson Davis, a Europe that never threw off Hitler, or a second term for JFK. This book locates the origins of contemporary counterfactual history in eighteenth-century Europe, where the idea of other possible historical worlds first took hold in philosophical disputes about Providence before being repurposed by military theorists as a tool for improving the art of war. In the next century, counterfactualism became a legal device for deciding liability, and lengthy alternate-history fictions appeared, illustrating struggles for historical justice. These early motivations—for philosophical understanding, military improvement, and historical justice—are still evident today in our fondness for counterfactual tales featuring the Civil War and Nazis. Alternate histories of the Civil War and World War II abound, but here, Gallagher shows how the counterfactual habit of replaying the past often shaped the actual events themselves.  

Catherine Gallagher
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