Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

On Jeremy Black's "Other Pasts"

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 europĂ©enne 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 less.”

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.

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