A Past of Possibilities A History of What Could Have Been Quentin Deluermoz, Pierre Singaravelou, Stephen W. Sawyer

Publication date:
23 Nov 2021
Yale University Press
400 pages: 235 x 156mm
Sales territories:

An exploration of hypothetical turning points in history from Ancient Greece to September 11

What if history, as we know it, had run another course? Touching on alternate histories of the future and the past, or uchronias, A Past of Possibilities encourages deeper consideration of watershed moments in the course of history. Wide-ranging in scope, it examines the Boxer Rebellion in China, the 1848 revolution in France, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, and integrates science fiction, history, historiography, sociology, anthropology, and film. In probing the genre of literature and history that is fascinated with hypotheticals surrounding key points in history, Quentin Deluermoz and Pierre Singaravélou reach beyond a mere reimagining of history, exploring the limits and potentials of the futures past. From the most bizarre fiction to serious scientific hypothesis, they provide a survey of the uses of counterfactual histories, methodological issues on the possible in social sciences, and practical proposals for using alternate histories in research and the wider public.

Quentin Deluermoz is professor of history at the University of Paris. Pierre Singaravélou is professor of history at King’s College London and at the University Panthéon-Sorbonne. Stephen W. Sawyer is professor of history at the American University of Paris.

“Our political activities are based on the presumption that choices matter.  But historians rarely consider roads not taken and the chain of consequences that a different direction at a crucial turning point could have had.  Quentin Deluermoz and Pierre Singaravélou push us to pose such questions, and hence to reconsider how we think about history.”—Frederick Cooper, author of Citizenship, Inequality, and Difference:  Historical Perspectives

“In this wonderful book, Quentin Deluermoz and Pierre Singaravelou show "counterfactual history" has itself a long and rich history. Ever since Tite-Live, Edward Gibbon, Louis Geoffroy and Niall Ferguson, social actors and intellectuals have been describing some of the many historical paths and bifurcations which did not happen. The book offers a fascinating analysis of this body of discourse, its uses and misuses. A must-read by two of the most innovative historians of their generation.”—Thomas Piketty, author of Capital and Ideology

Impeccably documented, A Past of Possibilities provides an impressively broad survey of the usages of counterfactual reasoning in various disciplines, weaves epistemological reflections with critical assessments, spells out methodological recommendations, and outlines how these can inform the teaching of history in various settings: a remarkable and multi-faceted achievement.”— Ivan Ermakoff, author of Ruling Oneself Out: A Theory of Collective Abdications