Title

WHITHER 'WHAT IF' HISTORY?

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

10-2014

Abstract

Richard Evans’s new book, Altered Pasts, offers a perceptive but flawed critique of the field of counterfactual history. The author provides a useful historical survey of the field’s recent rise to prominence and intelligently analyzes its respective strengths and weaknesses. His overall assessment of the field is quite skeptical, however. Evans cites many reasons for his skepticism, but his overall critique can be summarized in three words: plausibility, politicization, and popularity. Evans faults works of counterfactual history for their frequently implausible narratives, their promotion of political agendas, and their distressing degree of popularity. In advancing his critique, Evans makes many valid observations that call attention to important deficiencies in the field. But his view is a partial one that neglects countervailing evidence and never penetrates to the heart of why the field has left the margins for the mainstream. Evans’s study provides a useful introduction to an understudied topic, but further research—ideally of a less partisan nature—is required for us to better understand counterfactual history’s increasing appeal.

Comments

Copyright 2014 Wiley

A link to full text has been provided for authorized users.

Publication Title

History & Theory

Published Citation

Rosenfeld, Gavriel D. "WHITHER 'WHAT IF' HISTORY?" History & Theory 53, no. 3 (October 2014): 451-467.

DOI

10.1111/hith.10724

Peer Reviewed