Telling It Like It Wasn’t: The Counterfactual Imagination in History and Fiction

Panel Discussion | October 3 | 12-1 p.m. | Stephens Hall, Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall

 Catherine Gallagher, Emerita, Berkeley English; Thomas Laqueur, Helen Fawcett Professor of History Emeritus, Berkeley History

 Townsend Center for the Humanities

Inventing counterfactual histories is a common pastime of modern day historians, both amateur and professional. They speculate about an America ruled by Jefferson Davis, a Europe that never threw off Hitler, or a second term for JFK. In Telling It Like It Wasn't (Chicago, 2018), Catherine Gallagher (English) examines how counterfactual history works and to what ends. Beginning in eighteenth-century Europe, where the idea first took hold in philosophical disputes about Providence, and moving through alternate histories of the Civil War and World War II, she shows how the counterfactual habit of replaying the recent past can shape popular understandings of the actual events themselves.

Gallagher is joined by Thomas Laqueur (History). After a brief discussion of the book, they open the floor for discussion.