I have a long backlog of posts I've been meaning to add to the CHR blog, one of which is to announce the publication of an important new academic study of counterfactual history, Jeremy Black's Other Pasts.
I will have a review of the book appearing in The European Review of History - Revue européenne
d'histoire, but as is so often the case with academic publishing, it will take a while to appear. In the meantime, I can say that Black's study is an indispensable defense of counterfactual history from its many critics and is particularly strong at exploring 18th century diplomatic history scenarios. One of the most interesting is whether France could have defeated England in their battle for global domination.
Black convincingly shows
that Britain’s rise was far from inevitable and that France had multiple
opportunities to assume the global role of its historical rival. He asks many excellent counterfactual
questions about this topic and offers a good
number of plausible answers, among others: “A French dominated transatlantic
world would have looked to Catholicism, civil law, French culture and language,
and a different notion of representative government and politics from that of
Britain, or rather, of Britain as it turned out." Black explains that France’s failure
was rooted in its conflicting geopolitical interests as both a sea and land
power (unlike England) and speculates that had France triumphed over England,
“the pace and extent of European overseas expansion would probably have been
I have a few problems with Black's genre-blurring, for instance, his discussion of "alternative futures" -- a very problematic concept -- together with alternate pasts. But my comments will have to wait until the publication of the review. I'll post it when it appears.