A House Divided during the Civil War Era

A House Divided during the Civil War Era

A House Divided during the Civil War Era

A House Divided during the Civil War Era

Synopsis

This work is a creative approach to history that not only recounts what actually happened during the Civil War, but also imagines alternate outcomes had key events turned out differently, and how they might have changed the course of American history.

• Essays by both independent and university-affiliated scholars with comprehensive suggestions for further reading

• A timeline depicting the progress of the Civil War

Excerpt

I … regard the chief utility of all historical and sociological
investigations to be to admonish us of the alternative possibilities
of history.

—Oscar Jaszi, The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy

There is nothing new about counterfactual inference. Historians
have been doing it for at least two thousand years.

—Philip Tetlock and Aaron Belkin, Counterfactual
Thought Experiments in World Politics

The question, What would have happened if …? is asked all the time as historians, students, and readers of history examine past events. If some event had turned out differently, the whole course of history from that particular turning point forward could have been affected, we are often reminded. Important outcomes frequently hinge on an individual decision, an accidental encounter, a missed piece of information. Such events stimulate our imagination, accentuating the role of luck, chance, and individual decision or character at particular moments in time. the examination of such key hinge points is one of the reasons that the study of history is so fascinating.

“Alternate history” has become a fictional genre, similar to science fiction, in that it proposes other worlds, spun off from the one we live in, derived from some key hinge point in the past. Harry Turtledove, among others, has produced novels along these lines. Turtledove has written a widely sold sequence of books that follow an alternate past from “counterfactual” Confederate victory at the battle of Antietam, resulting in the rise of the Confederate States of America as a separate nation, with consequences well into the twentieth century.

Alternate or counterfactual history is more than a form of imaginative speculation or engaging entertainment, however. Historians are able to highlight the significance of an event they examine by pointing to the consequences of the event. When many significant consequences flow from a single event, the alternate history question is implicit—the consequences would have been different, and a strange and different history would have flowed from that time forward if the specific event in question had turned out differently. Those events that would have made the . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.