Alternate Histories: Where politics and history collide

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What if Jefferson hadn’t purchased the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon?

Mental Floss recently blogged about alternate histories that have been written and suggested.  They selected seven (plus a few) examples.  I have always been intrigued by alternate histories, but ultimately repelled.  As an intellectual exploration it is a pretty fascinating idea, and I think it could be a useful exercise for the classroom, but when these are published on the bookstore shelves and the politi-rags, they are always emotionally-charged, political tirades.

They are also, in my opinion, very seldom probable.  It is as though the authors are unhappy about X in their current world and Y in the past and it is just easiest to link them together (or so I simplify, in this case).  Curiously, I’ve never been a big fan of time-travel story-lines, either.  I think it is a related affront to the way my brain works.  The factors, the details, the extenuating circumstances inevitably spoil any attempted plots for me, because of all the loose ends.

Naturally, I do think the occasional alternate history considerations in my classes and conversations, but even so I seldom suggest actual alternatives so much as  I question whether certain events would have transpired at all given fundamental changes.  In the end, I find that the political motivations obscure intelligent historical thought.  The bias certainly leaves a thick stench over the content, at least that’s the odor prompting me to turn up my nose.  It was a bitter realization when I first encountered alternate histories in the book store in high school: I was immediately excited but after reading the back and perusing the table of contents immediate disappointment followed.  The political agendas override the potential of the intellectual exercise.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historian's Journal

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