New Book Review: Quentin Deluermoz and Pierre Singaravélou, A Past of Possibilities: A History of What Could Have Been.
Here is my long review of Quentin Deluermoz's and Pierre Singaravélou's new book, A Past of Possibilities: A History of What Could Have Been, which recently appeared with Yale University Press.
My review appears in the new issue of History & Theory.
The abstract is below and the essay can be found HERE.
"As wondering “what if?” about the past has become increasingly prominent in Western life, scholars have sought to historicize the phenomenon. The latest attempt to do so is Quentin Deluermoz and Pierre Singaravélou's A Past of Possibilities: A History of What Could Have Been.
A stimulating, if somewhat meandering, book of essayistic reflections on historical speculation, A Past of Possibilities highlights the challenges of, and continuing opportunities for, historicizing the field that today is called “counterfactual history.”
Ever since the mid-nineteenth century, historians have recognized the presence of “what-ifs” in historical scholarship, but they have disagreed about what to call them. For over a century, they have embraced a bewildering array of phrases, including “imaginary history,” “hypothetical history,” “subjunctive history,” “conjectural history,” “conditional history,” “probable history,” “iffy history,” “alternate history,” “allohistory,” “uchronia,” “historical might-have-beens,” and “historical ifs.”
Deluermoz and Singaravélou continue this tradition by employing many different terms for historical counterfactuals in their effort to explain their increasing prominence. This conceptual pluralism, which is rooted in an interdisciplinary methodology, enables the authors to arrive at important insights about the field of counterfactual history.
However, it also prevents them from generating a systematic argument that builds toward a larger conclusion. A Past of Possibilities is thus an important study that nevertheless highlights the need for further research."