As a college professor, I get sales pitches from publishers on a regular basis. Most of them I ignore. But a recent email from McGraw Hill caught my attention because of its snappy subject heading: “Would World War II Have Ended Differently?”
After clicking on the link, I was brought to the publisher’s webpage, which featuers a whole series of “what if?” propositions meant to excite readers about history.
They are introduced with the a hashtag, #historychangeseverything, and a preamble that reads:
“At McGraw-Hill Education, we apply the science of learning to creating innovative solutions that can improve education outcomes around the world. Why? Because learning changes everything.™ In History, moments of significance have occurred when learning has taken place, often with the help of current technology. Why is this important? Because we believe that the course of history changes everything too.”
It is notable, I believe, that publishing companies are marketing their historical texts with counterfactual headlines. This mirrors recent trends in journalism (both print and broadcast), both of which have increasingly sought to capture readers’ attention with provocative framing devices.
Since counterfactual statements are highly rhetorical and capture our imagination, this is eminently understandable. I wonder how much the trend will catch on with other publishers and help further normalize and legitimize the larger “what if?” enterprise.