This idea from Gale sounds like a fun conversation. It’s basically an exercise in “what if” history, also known as counterfactual history. Counterfactual history is a thing. There are books and blogs and discussion groups on-line devoted to imagining how history might have unfolded if, say, some battle or election or catastrophe had turned out differently.
I thought I’d skip the usual opening presentation. (Pause for cheering.) Instead, I’ll just ask who has ideas on what they might change and why, and then I’ll moderate as the group discusses the possible ramifications of the counterfactual.
This stuff isn’t as easy as it seems. Asking what if is basically asking another question: What are history’s “hinges,” the moments when our future really did, or could have but did not, take off in a whole new direction? If Napoleon had not sold us the Louisiana purchase, we probably would have acquired it eventually, anyway. But, what if Lee Harvey Oswald or Sirhan Sirhan had missed their targets, or if the Supreme Court had not awarded the presidency to George W. Bush? Or, if Hamilton had killed Burr in their duel and not the other way around? When does history turn on the acts of individuals and when does it turn on impersonal social and cultural and economic forces?
Not many links this week.
Mistakes were made –
- 2011 public survey: The worst mistakes in U.S. history. Recommended
- Top 10 worst decisions by American presidents
- Our 10 big economic mistakes.
- Our 5 worst foreign policy failures and 10 worst intelligence agency failures.
- 17 events in U.S. history liberals would want to have changed.
Alternate and counterfactual history –
- What is “counterfactual history?” (Wiki)
- Can history be studied with hypotheticals? Recommended.
- The 17 scenarios from that book, “What Ifs of American History.”
- What if JFK or Jimmy Carter were never president, or if RFK had lived?
Next Week: Is more federalism the answer to our political divide?