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What If? Introduction to Counterfactual History
CHUM 303
Fall 2015
Section: 01  

What if the Roman Empire had never collapsed? What if the South had won the civil war? What if Hitler had never been born? To ask these questions is to delve into a new field of historical inquiry known as counterfactual history. In the last several decades, the exploration of "what if?" scenarios has become a notable phenomenon in Western culture. As seen in countless novels, films, television shows, comic books, plays, and historical essays, the question of how history might have been different has begun to fascinate audiences as never before.

This course explores the rise of counterfactual history as a new force in contemporary Western culture. After examining the emergence of counterfactual history against the background of recent political, cultural, and intellectual changes that have taken place in the West, we will investigate how "what if?" narratives help us better understand the larger dynamics of history. Counterfactual history, for example, can help us better grasp the deeper aspects of historical causality. Is history driven by great individuals or broad structural forces? If we remove Hitler from German history, do we still witness the rise of Nazism? Studying counterfactual history also helps us appreciate the complexity of drawing moral conclusions about historical events. We can only judge the wisdom of the United States dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, for example, by contemplating what might have happened had it not been done. Finally, we will also explore how counterfactual histories shed light upon the workings of collective memory. What do accounts of what never happened tell us about the memory of what did?

We will investigate these and other issues from a theoretical as well as from an empirical perspective, examining a wide range of academic scholarship on counterfactual history as well as primary examples of the genre from the realms of literature, film, and historiography. Our case studies will span many of the pivotal events of modern history, including the outbreak of the American Revolution, the Civil War, the rise of the Third Reich, the outbreak of World War II, the perpetration of the Holocaust, the dropping of the atomic bomb, and the events of the post-9/11 world.
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: HA CHUM
Course Format: LectureGrading Mode: Graded
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: None
Past Enrollment Probability: Not Available

Last Updated on JUL-25-2024
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