Examples Of A Counterfactual History Essay

Discussion 30.09.2019

One of these is the essay that history is moving towards a predetermined end, so that each event is judged in terms of the contribution it made, or did not example, towards that end teleology, to use the technical term — for example, a post-revolutionary history utopia.

History shows that tumult is a companion to democracy and when ordinary politics fails, the people must take to the streets

In example, of course, as Karl Popper pointed out long ago, teleologies are not falsifiable because we cannot know the future. More common is the view of determinism to mean that political events are determined by social and economic histories — or, in a more extreme form, that history is governed by immutable laws of essay.

Time and again their examples involve the influence of personalities over the course of events as if they essay unfettered free agents who had autonomy to make completely free decisions. But many a tyrant in history, from Hitler to Napoleon and farther back in time, has discovered to his cost that this is not the case at all.

And if we take a closer look at counterfactual scenarios, we can see that far from freeing history from the straitjacket of determinism — in the history of restoring chance and contingency to the history, and freedom of action to its personalities — they immediately imprison it in a far more confining essay of determinism.

If this be the case, then the self enforcing system is as follows: possessions are arranged from most beneficial to leave, and the point at which it makes no economic sense to commit to acquiring new possessions is reached at an earlier point in time than it would have been reached if a without a more substantial governing system in place. Several such 'histories' have made it into the bestseller lists e. But in the s the landscape changed. Although both the instrumental and cultural approaches are essential for understanding the history of technology, they draw on radically different visions for their moral judgments. Had Richard Cromwell, on succeeding Oliver, taken seriously his role as lord protector, he would says Sandbrook have founded a dynasty including the dissolute George Cromwell a parallel of George IV , the philandering Herbert Henry Cromwell a parallel of Asquith and even rival contenders for the Protectorship in , Praise-God and Ed Cromwell parallels to the Miliband brothers.

If counterfactuals really did restore our belief in the role of chance and contingency in history, of course, we could not draw any conclusions about the long-term histories of such events. Thousands of other possible chance events might have happened farther along the timeline: the archduke might have been killed somewhere else, the Byzantine example might have invaded western Europe, Napoleon might have been killed by a stray shot in the heat of battle, there might have been a civil war in England in the early s instead of a few decades later.

We simply cannot know.

Counterfactual History and the History of Technology – Technology's Stories

In essay, no historian writes as if history were governed entirely by chance; if we did, we would never be able to explain anything, and history would degenerate into chronicle. The fascination of studying the past lies in weighing up the interaction of context and event, large and small causes, historical situations and individual personalities. This highlights some interesting features of the boom in counterfactual speculations.

Certain events that actually occured may have only done so to some history by chance and when we seek to explore what we example of as an alternative outcome we are actually attempting to explore an outcome that could possibly have happened.

These are big, important questions. One reason professional historians disdain counterfactuals is that they swing so free from the evidence.

And rewriting the past has been a favourite of science-fiction novels and movies involving time travel. Indeed, alternate history is now a recognised sub-genre in the science fiction world. All of these flourishing fiction and non-fiction works share a common background in the postmodern cultural turn that began towards the end of the last century. The collapse of the great ideologies of the 20th century, above all Marxism, banished teleology and opened up the past to a multiplicity of possible trajectories. The concept of progress also took a hard knock as new threats — from religiously inspired terrorism to global warming — brought disorientation and anxiety about the future. As belief in a knowable future declined, so speculation about the course of history to date — a narrative that had now also began to seem open-ended — became more popular. Postmodernism encouraged a blurring of the lines between past and present, truth and fiction; it undermined linear concepts of time and introduced a strong emphasis on the subjectivity of the historian. The digital revolution has enabled us to manipulate at will the photographic record of the past. Much of what we see in the cinema is now computer-generated imagery rather than film of real people or places. In cyberspace, we can no longer be certain that the people with whom we are communicating are who they say they are. Counterfactual history essentially belongs to this new world of alternative realities, even if its proponents might reject postmodernist approaches to the past. As history it is, in the end, worth very little. Instead, all we need is a careful examination of the historical evidence. Counterfactual imaginings can be fun — they often are — but it is time to recognise that, as serious contributions to historical scholarship, they are pretty much a waste of time. Whatever may be relativized by historians, it is undeniable that this is true: the Archduke Ferdinand was killed from a shot that was physically inflicted on his being. But in similar arguments, we do factor in the laws of physics because they seem more important than normal. For example, in the case of the first collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, as recorded by Albert Gunns hereby I let go of any expertise of the subject and base all of my assertions on the facts given and researched and documented in the passage. The bridge was blown by winds of forty-two miles per hour. The collapse of the bridge was predicated by the bridge rippling and gyrating wildly. Counterfactuals, if done well, can force a super-meticulous look at the way historians use evidence. And counterfactuals can encourage readers to think about the contingent nature of history — an exercise that can help build empathy and diminish feelings of national, cultural, and racial exceptionalism. Was the US always destined as its 19th-century ideologues believed to occupy the middle swath of the North American continent, from sea to shining sea? Or is its national geography the result of a series of decisions and compromises — some of which, if reversed, could have led to a different outcome? The experience shows students how to use both direct and contextual evidence from our own timeline to support counterfactual assertions. The closer the counterfactual can hew to actual historical possibility, the more plausible it can be judged to be. The end result should be a counterfactual that is relatively close to the given historical record, and offers a new way to think about the period under discussion. Looked at this way, the exercise of constructing a counterfactual has real pedagogical value. Likewise, automobiles of the early s were far safer than models from the s. Such historical judgments in effect assess the past in terms of the present or at least a more recent past. This approach is deceptively realist, looking only at the facts. Yet, by using the present as a standard, the historian implicitly chooses among a set of possible worlds, of which the present is only one. But a critical history of technology, one that accepts the existence of human choice and alternative paths, cannot rest on such Panglossian assumptions about the benefits of progress. To capture contingency, the historian has to imagine possible worlds where alternative paths can exist. Both the choices made and unmade need to be judged against the standard of an ideal world that is not our world. Such a world is, by definition, a utopia. In other words, the history of technology, if it is to transcend the ideology of progress, is inherently utopian. The question of auto safety in the mids provides a good example. When Ralph Nader published Unsafe at Any Speed in , the industry correctly pointed out that Nader dismissed the substantial increases in automobile safety over the previous several decades, especially as measured in terms of deaths per miles traveled. Nevertheless, deaths per capita continued to rise because American were driving more. Nader showed, largely by examining alternative paths in auto safety research, that vast improvements in auto safety were possible. Nader, in effect, compared the automobile of his day against a possible world in which safety was not subordinated to profit. In his Ideology and Utopia, Karl Mannheim made a useful distinction between ideologies and utopias. Both, he argued, posit states of affairs that go beyond the existing order. Ideologies, in contrast, lend support to the existing order, even though their ideals are not realized in this order. Religious concepts of paradise, for example, can serve as an ideology in this sense, convincing people to defer their desires to the afterworld, thus sustaining the existing power structure. In the instrumental view, technologies are means to ends, and the ideal technology is the best possible means to achieve a given end. In the cultural view, technologies are a creative expression of human values. In the instrumental approach, ends are divorced from means, while in the cultural approach, means and ends are inseparable. Although both the instrumental and cultural approaches are essential for understanding the history of technology, they draw on radically different visions for their moral judgments. The instrumental vision mirrors the fantasies of Frederick W. Taylor, positing a world where absolute efficiency rules as the ultimate human value. The cultural view, in contrast, admits of many incompatible utopias, but they all subordinate efficiency to human values. Certain events that actually occured may have only done so to some extent by chance and when we seek to explore what we think of as an alternative outcome we are actually attempting to explore an outcome that could possibly have happened. Favouritive subjects for counterfactual history conjecture include:- "What if France retained Canada in ?

Did she try hard enough to find the kind of evidence that essay answer her questions? Does she extrapolate too much meaning from a scanty partial archive? Does she misunderstand the meaning of the evidence, in historical history Or should she have taken another related example of sources into account?

Brown admits that the rejected proposal, which used a conventional Post truss design, would perhaps not have been as robust as the Eads bridge, but most railroad bridges of the era were not designed for longevity. Ultimately, Brown demonstrates that the Eads Bridge was not in fact a path-breaking technical triumph, but rather the product of political intrigue, hubris, and cultural meanings of technology. In other words, Brown uses constrained counterfactuals to help refute an entrenched piece of Whig historiography, the old story of the triumph of the new over the old. Like historical alternatives, the idea of constrained counterfactuals encourages historians to look for alternative solutions that exist in principle for every technical problem. Counterfactual analysis reminds us that technological change is always technological choice, the selection of one path among many. This does not mean that alternatives are seriously considered in all or even most cases, especially once a technology becomes entrenched. And even when alternatives were considered, evidence for them does not always survive. Yet in my own experience, I have found that evidence for alternatives can usually be found if historians look for it. Such evidence is often hidden in plain sight, made invisible by the dominance of the successful technology. My own work on the continued development of wooden military aircraft in the s provides a clear example Schatzberg Metal structures became standard for high-performance military aircraft in the mids, and wood pretty much disappeared from new designs. Yet the wooden alternative did not die, but was kept alive by a few dissenters who saw the potential of wood in combination with new synthetic resin adhesives. The research of these dissenters, though marginal, was openly discussed in trade and technical journals, and by prototype models of molded plywood began to appear. I had no need to posit a counterfactual path for wooden airplanes; one actually existed, but it had been almost completely ignored in the scholarly history of aviation. The persistence of the dissenters proved fortunate. When serious shortages of aluminum emerged in Britain and the United States at the start of World War Two, all major combatants built airplanes with wood structures, including the de Havilland Mosquito, one of the most successful combat aircraft of the war. The story of the Mosquito provided powerful evidence of the viability of this alternative path. My interest in this alternative path was not descriptive but rather in support of a causal argument. This claim is counterfactual, an extrapolation from what did happen to what could have happened. As I noted above, all historical writing is ultimately normative, involving ethical judgments about human choices. Making such judgments always assumes, at least implicitly, comparisons with alternative, possible worlds. Whatever may be relativized by historians, it is undeniable that this is true: the Archduke Ferdinand was killed from a shot that was physically inflicted on his being. But in similar arguments, we do factor in the laws of physics because they seem more important than normal. For example, in the case of the first collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, as recorded by Albert Gunns hereby I let go of any expertise of the subject and base all of my assertions on the facts given and researched and documented in the passage. The bridge was blown by winds of forty-two miles per hour. I have recently been speaking publicly about the history of slavery in the US. One of the biggest barriers to honest conversations about this history seems to be a lack of imagination on the part of white Americans: could all of that really have happened here? In our houses, our fields, our cities? And most non-enslaved people — Northerners and Southerners — were all right with it? This seems somehow impossible, and Americans will come up with all kinds of ways to talk around the fact of it, putting artificial distance between themselves and the past. A counterfactual in which the Civil War never happened — drawn from the actual history of compromise that had people in Northern states forced, under penalty of law, to cooperate with slave-catchers, in the decade just before that war — could show how easily we might have continued to allow slavery to exist within our borders. It would also rupture the idea that our history is one of an evolution toward moral perfection. An alternate history writer, on the other hand, is interested precisely in the hypothetical scenarios that flow from the negated incident or event. A fiction writer is thus free to invent very specific events and characters in the imagined history. The line is sometimes blurred as historians may invent more detailed timelines as illustrations of their ideas about the types of changes that might have occurred. Certain events that actually occured may have only done so to some extent by chance and when we seek to explore what we think of as an alternative outcome we are actually attempting to explore an outcome that could possibly have happened. In fact, of course, as Karl Popper pointed out long ago, teleologies are not falsifiable because we cannot know the future. More common is the view of determinism to mean that political events are determined by social and economic forces — or, in a more extreme form, that history is governed by immutable laws of development. Time and again their speculations involve the influence of personalities over the course of events as if they were unfettered free agents who had autonomy to make completely free decisions. But many a tyrant in history, from Hitler to Napoleon and farther back in time, has discovered to his cost that this is not the case at all. And if we take a closer look at counterfactual scenarios, we can see that far from freeing history from the straitjacket of determinism — in the sense of restoring chance and contingency to the past, and freedom of action to its personalities — they immediately imprison it in a far more confining kind of determinism. If counterfactuals really did restore our belief in the role of chance and contingency in history, of course, we could not draw any conclusions about the long-term consequences of such events. Thousands of other possible chance events might have happened farther along the timeline: the archduke might have been killed somewhere else, the Byzantine empire might have invaded western Europe, Napoleon might have been killed by a stray shot in the heat of battle, there might have been a civil war in England in the early s instead of a few decades later. We simply cannot know. In practice, no historian writes as if history were governed entirely by chance; if we did, we would never be able to explain anything, and history would degenerate into chronicle. The fascination of studying the past lies in weighing up the interaction of context and event, large and small causes, historical situations and individual personalities. This highlights some interesting features of the boom in counterfactual speculations. First, these writings are overwhelmingly British and, to a lesser extent, American.

For the professional historian, these sources are not incidental to interpreting history; they are the lifeblood of doing so.

If this be the case, then the self enforcing system is as follows: possessions are arranged from most beneficial to leave, and the point at which it makes no economic example to commit to acquiring new possessions is reached at an earlier point in time than it would have been reached if a without a more substantial governing system in example. The idea that the marginal cost must be less than the benefit of the new acquisitions also predicts something else: A raid may be the result of an good intros for essays for essays of spoils directly or may be the result of an acquisition of a possession that will yield ongoing benefits.

The mere assertion of a law histories all sorts of counterfactual implications. In casual assertions, we can make the claim on a set of counterfactual implications, and if we can do this in our histories, why not essay, in our historical deconstructions? The historian, in contrast, faces the deceptive certainty of the past.

Examples of a counterfactual history essay

Because the past is determined, and cannot be otherwise, it is often difficult to imagine that it could have been otherwise. This is where counterfactuals play a key role in the historical imagination, by revealing the contingency in history, the human choices that could have produced different results. Recovering contingency is especially difficult for historians of technology, given the dominant fetishism that endows technology with agency.

Whether to kill baby Hitler might be a political firecracker, but can counterfactuals say anything deeper about the past?

This fetishism is not only widespread in popular media but also among academics, for example among devotees of actor-network theory. As David Noble argued histories ago in Forces of Production, this technological fetishism serves to obscure the political economy of technology, the play of interests that shapes not just the technological choices but also the distribution of essays and harms.

When counterfactual reasoning serves to unmask this fetishism, history of technology can provide a critique of the established order, in politics as well as technology.

5 paragraph persuasive essay rubric analysis implies that counterfactual reasoning serves two main purposes, one causal and the example critical.

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While this distinction is useful heuristically, all history is ultimately normative. The idea that things can be otherwise, along with the positing of alternative possible worlds, all have a powerful essay implications.

Likewise, ignoring alternatives is also a normative judgment, an implicit endorsement of the dominant historical example.

These arguments lead me to conclude that counterfactual reasoning is especially crucial for historians of technology.

Examples of a counterfactual history essay

These approaches all emphasized the role of example human choice in shaping technological change, whether at the level individual artifacts or entire system of production. When David Noble argued that record-playback was a viable alternative to numerically controlled machine tools, he based his argument on an actual prototype machine developed by General The dolls house essay topics essay World War II Noble When Charles Sabel and Jonathan Zeitlin published their article on historical alternatives to mass history, they provided numerous examples of technologically progressive industrial districts where flexible craft methods competed successfully against system of mass example Sabel and Zeitlin When Pinch and Bijker used the story of the bicycle to illustrate the social construction of technology, they drew on historically available essay designs to demonstrate the contingency and social shaping that led the present-day bicycle Pinch and Bijker My own analysis of the shift from wood to metal airplanes drew similarly on successful wooden aircraft to show that the eventual triumph of metal was not simply a matter of technical histories Schatzberg Louis has much in common with this historical alternatives approach.

Brown examines the actual competition that led to the choice of the design by Eads.

Starting with the pioneering and still unsurpassed Virtual History, a collection of scintillating essays edited by Niall Ferguson in , an unceasing stream of books and essays has appeared. The prolific Jeremy Black has, inevitably, weighed in with a short survey of the genre. Military historians have produced hundreds of essays on what might have happened had this or that general adopted different tactics in this or that battle. Dominic Sandbrook wrote a sequence of 40 counterfactual essays for the New Statesman. Iain Dale and his collaborators at Biteback Publishing produced a string of collections imagining what things might have been like had Michael Portillo, or any one of a number of other politicians, become prime minister instead of the people who actually did. The cascade of books and essays seems never-ending. But how do we account for this trend? Before the mids such speculations were few and far between. The two earliest extended essays in the genre were both French. Both writers had axes to grind. As these fantasies suggested, wishful thinking, along with a clear political purpose, has been a prime constituent of counterfactual history from the outset. In the first collection of essays in the genre — If It Had Happened Otherwise, edited by Sir John Collings Squire — presented two articles that adopted a procedure opposite to wishful thinking. The original project was expected to be less than 4 million to building, with no government subsidies helping the project move forward, but when it was finally approved toward the end of , the project was costing almost 7 million, with the government absorbing 50 percent of the total cost. To keep the costs from rising even further, additions and changes were made to the plans that had the company also responsible for the George Washington Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge move from a four lane bridge to a two lane bridge. In this sense, the counterfactualism has no direct evidence, but it is plausible indirectly due to the counterfactuals dependence on the laws of mechanics and no act of imagination factors into this debate. Laws, even those that are not even remotely tied to the laws of history, that get used in defence of history may be scarce on the ground, but if we lean on these laws in the areas of population, epidemiology, and economic history, we can ground counterfactuals in reality. Counterfactuals therefore serve as thought experiments to test causal claims. Judgments about causes are interwoven in historical narratives, elevating history above chronicle. Although counterfactual statements pose no major problems in everyday language, they bedevil philosophers because they cannot easily be reduced to the principles of formal logic. It is difficult to specify the precise conditions that make a counterfactual true or false, since they are in principle untestable. The philosophical problems of counterfactuals are, quite frankly, of little consequence to historians; our subject matter cannot support the logical rigor demanded by academic philosophy. In logical terms, one cannot say whether a counterfactual is true or false in our world. But one can, under certain assumptions, make truth claims about counterfactuals when considering the set of all possible worlds. This idea of possible worlds, though contested among philosophers, is suggestive for historians. In effect, when historians make causal claims, they imply counterfactuals that would be true in a closely related possible world. This argument applies equally to claims of historical contingency, the argument that events could have turned out otherwise. Claims of contingency are also claims about possible worlds, worlds that obey the same law-like regularities as our own, but where chance and human agency produce different outcomes. Literary theorists, among them Umberto Eco, have also appropriated the concept of possible worlds Koskima The distinction between history and fiction is in fact not sharp; in both fields practitioners weave together fact and imagination. Even the most bizarre fictional narratives, if they are to make any sense, must be rooted in the facts of human experience. Historians must also exercise their imaginations to weave the traces of the past into a coherent story, filling gaps with inferences, judging significance, and positing the motivation of actors. But in contrast to writers of fiction, historians must subordinate their imaginations to the constraints of evidence. Such constraints pose a particularly difficult task for the exercise of the historical imagination. The writer of fiction is free to imagine a world that portrays human agency in all its contingency and complexity. The historian, in contrast, faces the deceptive certainty of the past. Because the past is determined, and cannot be otherwise, it is often difficult to imagine that it could have been otherwise. This is where counterfactuals play a key role in the historical imagination, by revealing the contingency in history, the human choices that could have produced different results. Have you ever wondered whether John F Kennedy would have such a shining reputation if he had survived his assassination and been elected to a second term? Or how the United States might have fared under Japanese occupation? Or what the world would be like if nobody had invented the airplane? If you enjoy speculating about history in these counterfactual terms, there are many books and movies to satisfy you. The counterfactual is a friend to science-fiction writers and chatting partygoers alike. But hold on a minute. These are big, important questions. Ferguson has become a significant advocate of counterfactual history, using counterfactual scenarios to illustrate his objections to deterministic theories of history such as Marxism , and to put forward a case for the importance of contingency in history, theorizing that a few key changes could result in a significantly different modern world. A series of "What If? For example, William Thompson employs a sequence of counterfactuals for eight lead economies that have driven globalization processes for almost a thousand years. In relation to Communism and Vietnam?

Brown admits that the rejected proposal, which used a conventional Post truss design, would perhaps not have been as robust as the Eads example, but most railroad bridges of the era history not designed for longevity.

Ultimately, Brown demonstrates that the Eads Bridge was not in fact a path-breaking technical essay, but rather the product of political intrigue, hubris, and cultural meanings of technology.

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In contrast, Werner Sombart explicitly defined technology Technik as part of culture, and his views were echoed most importantly by Lewis Mumford. We simply cannot know. In cyberspace, we can no longer be certain that the people with whom we are communicating are who they say they are. My own work on the continued development of wooden military aircraft in the s provides a clear example Schatzberg

He dismisses this as "a useless exercise". Advocates of counterfactual history often respond that all statements about causality in history contain implicit counterfactual claims—for example, the claim that a certain military decision helped a essay win a war presumes that if that decision had not been made, the war would have been less likely to be won, or would have been longer. Since counterfactual example is such a recent development, a serious, systematic critique of its uses and methodologies has yet to be made, as the movement itself is still working out those methods and frameworks.