What if there had been no World War I, or no Russian Revolution? Or if the German Spring Offensive of 1918 had succeeded? What if Napoleon had won at Waterloo in 1815, or if Martin Luther had not nailed his complaints to the church door at Wittenberg in 1517, or if the South had won the American Civil War, or at least not lost it? The questioning of apparent certainties or "known knowns" can be fascinating and, indeed, "What if?" books are very popular. However, this speculative approach, known as counterfactualism, has had limited impact in academic histories, historiography, and the teaching of historical methods.
In Other Pasts, Different Presents, Alternative Futures
(Indiana University Press, 2015), premier historian and public commentator Professor Jeremy Black, CMG offers a guide to the subject, one that is designed to argue its value as a tool for public and academe alike. Professor Black focuses on the role of counterfactualism in demonstrating the part of contingency, and thus human agency, in history, and the salutary critique the approach offers to determinist accounts of past, present, and future. An all-round splendid book by one of the historical profession’s past masters.
Charles Coutinho Ph. D. of the Royal Historical Society, received his doctorate from New York University. His area of specialization is 19th and 20th-century European, American diplomatic and political history. He has written recently for Chatham House’s