?

Log in

No account? Create an account
A college course in alternate history - Input Junkie
November 18th, 2014
12:13 am

[Link]

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
A college course in alternate history
https://blogs.swarthmore.edu/burke/blog/2014/11/13/counterfactual-history-a-course-update/#comments

The class is exploring six scenarios.

1. The Internet does not come into existence between 1970-1990.
2. Mary Wollstonecraft does not die after the birth of her daughter but in fact lives into old age.
3. There is no “new imperialism” in the second half of the 19th Century, no rivalrous claims of colonial dominion by European nation-states over Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Oceania.
4. Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton never duel.
5. Native American societies have robust resistance to Old World diseases at the time of contact with Europeans in the 15th Century.
6. There is no Balfour Declaration nor a Sykes-Picot Agreement and shared Arab-Jewish councils are successfully formed under the Mandate government in the 1920s.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1056102.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

(16 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
[User Picture]
From:olifhar
Date:November 17th, 2014 06:49 pm (UTC)
(Link)
While reading these scenarios, I felt overcome with sadness about the way things have gone with the relevant issues. I think this is a good tool to explore the heaviness of neglected counterfactuals.
[User Picture]
From:whswhs
Date:November 17th, 2014 06:55 pm (UTC)
(Link)
That's an interesting selection, more interesting than the usual AH premises about Southern independence and Nazi victory. Some of the departure points are fairly subtle. I'm not sure I believe the one about Native American resistance to Old World diseases, though; I'd need to have a plausible mechanism for their acquiring it, and it's not clear what that would be.

There's something of a present-centered (or near-past-centered) flavor to this, though, with nothing older than 1492. I might have liked to see a couple of more ancient departures. Alexander not dying young is a classic one, perhaps too much explored; but how about Qin Shihuangdi failing in his effort to unify China, or the Muslims defeating the Franks and taking over Europe, or ancient Roman experiments with pneumatic artillery working out and inspiring further pneumatic inventions? Or for a big one, Pilate letting Jesus go with a full pardon?
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:November 17th, 2014 09:22 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I'd need to have a plausible mechanism for their acquiring it, and it's not clear what that would be.

It's actually relatively easy - prior contact with people from Eurasia, where they were already introduced to the diseases. That countact would need to be quite a while in the past to avoid massive changes in the 15th century, but it's far from impossible that disease immunity would last 1,500 years to 2,000 years - the Polynesian islanders had roughly the same immunity to Eurasian diseases as the people who contacted them, despite some of them having been cut off from Eurasia for that long. For example, roughly 1/6 of the Maori died when the British introduced Eurasian diseases, rather than the 90-95% mortality found in the Americas.
[User Picture]
From:whswhs
Date:November 17th, 2014 10:03 pm (UTC)
(Link)
That's a bit of epidemiological history I didn't know. Thanks! Of course, now we need to have a contact period that went on long enough to confer immunity (longer than the Viking episode, for example) but was essentially forgotten by 1492.
[User Picture]
From:marycatelli
Date:November 18th, 2014 12:52 am (UTC)
(Link)
the Chinese at one point were faring far over the seas. And getting to the Americas is much easier for them -- up the shore, across the Strait, down the shore.

Poul Anderson had a story where the Time Patrol was stopping the Mongols from heading that way. Or rather, preventing the first Mongol group from returning.
[User Picture]
From:whswhs
Date:November 18th, 2014 01:56 am (UTC)
(Link)
Are you looking at having Zheng He's ventures followed up? That's a cool alternate history, but I think it would be a bigger change than just "the indigenous American populations has enhanced resistance."

For one thing, if the Chinese were crossing the Pacific, they could likely have gotten into the Indian Ocean as well (as historically they did). And that would have had a big impact on the Portuguese voyages to India.

For another, it seems as if Chinese contact with the Americas would have caused massive dieback from plagues a century or two earlier.
[User Picture]
From:kalimac
Date:November 18th, 2014 01:36 am (UTC)
(Link)
I don't have any trouble simply imagining a counterfactual in which those diseases are simply not any more deadly to the Americans than to the Europeans.
[User Picture]
From:whswhs
Date:November 18th, 2014 01:52 am (UTC)
(Link)
I find that hard to believe epidemiologically if there hasn't been contact. Deadliness of diseases isn't just a random variable. When a new disease shows up, it's initially quite lethal, and then the population evolves resistance to it; but populations don't maintain the ability to resist diseases that don't actually exist, because there's a metabolic cost to immunity, and unused immunity will be selected away. At least, that's my understanding of the process; I'm not an immunologist and I may have misunderstood how it works.
[User Picture]
From:marycatelli
Date:November 18th, 2014 02:48 am (UTC)
(Link)
the disease also evolves less lethal strains. Killing all your hosts is not a long term survival strategy.
[User Picture]
From:whswhs
Date:November 18th, 2014 03:03 am (UTC)
(Link)
Certainly. But it rather seems that early Chinese contact would have introduced a bunch of diseases that hadn't adapted to the vulnerabilities of the American populations, either.
[User Picture]
From:wcg
Date:November 17th, 2014 11:29 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I'd be interested to see what they come up with. I'd also like to know how they get to 3 without considering the revolutions of 1848, and if they postulate that those revolutions didn't happen, what then? 6 seems almost utopian in its possibilities, though I feel sure someone would have figured a way to ruin it anyway.
[User Picture]
From:marycatelli
Date:November 18th, 2014 12:54 am (UTC)
(Link)
Hamilton and Burr does not strike me as a rich example. It was not likely Hamilton had much more influence in him.
[User Picture]
From:kalimac
Date:November 18th, 2014 01:37 am (UTC)
(Link)
On what grounds? That Hamilton was getting worn out (but he was still under 50), or that the Federalists were becoming politically impotent (but Hamilton was a crafty politician), or what?
From:paulshandy
Date:November 23rd, 2014 07:21 am (UTC)
(Link)
I'd say because by the time Hamilton died, he had already won. His economic policies shaped the entire way we look at the Federal government. There was resistance of course, in the form of Jefferson and Jackson, but in the end the North went with Hamiltonian policies which is why they became industrial and commercial, eventually surpassing the South in economic power.
[User Picture]
From:marycatelli
Date:November 18th, 2014 01:02 am (UTC)
(Link)
1 and 3 strike me as things that would require a whole mass of changes, which in my experience is less than fun
[User Picture]
From:dr_zrfq
Date:November 23rd, 2014 06:18 am (UTC)
(Link)
#1 might not require as much change as one may think. Postponing the development of the Internet by 20 years might only need a handful of people to die prematurely, postponing the Computer Age in general. To get more than 20-odd years setback *would* require a lot more changes though.
nancybuttons.com Powered by LiveJournal.com