Talk:Counterfactual history

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Counter-factual History Vs Alternative History Fiction[edit]

This entry states that there is a difference between the works of Ferguson etc and, say, The Man in the High Castle or Bring The Jubilee. Yet there is no difference as contingency dissolves all counter-factuals rendering all counter-factual speculation meaningless (this isn't my conclusion its JCD Clark's conclusion from his very poor Our Shadowed Present, which is a pro-counter-factual work). In fact in many ways the utter fictions posses more meaning and greater explanatory/analytical power because they are better metaphors (see F. Ankersmit on historical explanation). This entry also begins by stating that this meaningless parlour game is a recent form of historiography and then goes on to show that its been kicking around since the 1930s. Its not historiography either but that's a separate debate.Rykalski (talk) 17:32, 18 November 2007 (UTC)


Brion, there are certain correlations but the purpose and intent of the two disciplines is entirely different; I am also concerned that the title of Alternative history is something of a misnomer for what is being described by the article. I think we will have to disambiguate this somehow. user:sjc

Er, Virtual history is also called alternate history. We need to rename the sf article so that there is no confusion in this respect. Maybe something like [Alternate history (science fiction)]? user:sjc
Would it make more sense to treat both (alternate history that knows it's fiction, and alternate history that passes itself off as scholarly work) under one topic? The historical speculation is already is mentioned in Alternate history. --Brion
This is potentially a very difficult subject. There are schools of historical study which are forming which actually argue that counterfactual history is more significant than traditional factually based history. I think the last thing we want to do is antagonise either group, provide ammunition for one or the other, etc. We need to draw a very clear division between material which is entertainment and stuff which is designed to explore a historical outcome. I'm going to cite (big size) from an article on Virtual Salamis since it exposes the pros and the cons:

BEGIN QUOTE

This method of historical study has traditionally been approved by academia: the judgement of the past based on evidence, despite the possibility of resentment that the new image may present, as in the case of the latter example. It is, nonetheless natural to ask what benefit comes from counterfactual history as it clearly goes against historical fact and therefore enters the world of fantasy. The aim of this essay is to assert the opinion that history can be studied using other approaches than the traditional analytical methods of the academic.
Traditional methods have also not proven to give unanimous conclusions, and this is no more the case than in the field of the ancient economy. Economic historians have the problem that there simply is not enough evidence to make conclusive arguments, however much they claim to do so, so academic thought on the topic is clearly divided into the primitivist and modernist school of thought, each disagreeing on the scale of economic activity. So alternative approaches to historical research may shed new light on difficult areas.
One approach to the study of history is the use of counterfactual history. This essay also intends to approach counterfactual history from an alternate angle; instead of just asking ‘what if…’ the question asked is what are the implications of an action. At first glance, the difference is not obvious. The essence is not only provision of alternative realities; it is an analysis of the value of the past reality. I used the word realities because historical events have impact on historical-future realities, by which I mean that if X happened then Y would be different. The point being that there are so many differences in what Y could be if X did not happen, there is often a variety of alternatives to explore

END QUOTE

You see why I am so keen to clearly delineate here? user:sjc
Well, "alternate history" is well-established as the name of the fictional genre. For 'serious' speculative history, we've got "virtual history", "counterfactual history", and 'also' "alternate history". How often is the latter term used thus? (I assume it was an oversight that you left it out of this article.) If the term "alternate history" overwhelmingly refers to the fictional genre, it makes more sense for that title to hold the fictional genre, with a disambiguation note at the top pointing here. --Brion

OK, that seems like a sanguinary and pragmatic solution which requires zero effort. I have a feeling that this one may run and run, though. I sincerely hope not. user:sjc

Great, I've put a disamb block at the top of alternate history until whatsoever time as we think of something better. --Brion

Cool. I'll put both the pages on my watch list. user:sjc

Does anyone remeber the "What if?" TV series?[edit]

I was doing a bunch a research and link hopping (as usual) here on Wiki, and found the Virtual history page here. I read it and remebered there was a TV series called "What If?" that was on the SciFi channel. It was about taking a certain senerio or topic that hasn't happened yet, treat it as if it has happened (or as if the opposite had happened), and kind of make a mini documetary about it. I found the IMDB section on it, but its very sparce([1]). I remeber the first three episodes only. The first was about nuclear war breaking out, the second was successful contact of alien lifeforms, and the third was if Martin Luther King had survived assasination. That's all I remeber and thought thi would contribute, and if anyone else remebered this show and had more info on it. Thanks

--Ttcfcl 18:17, 15 November 2005 (UTC)

A standard or common term?[edit]

"Virtual history" in this sense seems to be pretty much limited to Niall Ferguson's work--certainly the first several pages of relevant Google hits point to Ferguson or this page or pages derived from it. I'd think for the term to get a Wiki article, it should be in more general use than among Ferguson's readership. Any citations that go beyond Ferguson and discussions of his work would help make a case for this term. Is it used by Uchronians, for example? RLetson 04:25, 17 October 2006 (UTC)

Personally, I think it would be better if the main article were called "Counterfactual history" and "Virtual history" just worked as a redirect--"counterfactual history" is fairly widely-used, but I can't find anyone except for Niall Ferguson using virtual history. Hypnosifl 17:54, 30 October 2006 (UTC)
OK, I went back and read over Ferguson's "virtual history", and even he uses the term "counterfactuals", "virtual history" only seems to be used as a catchy title for the book and in one of the chapter titles. Since I've found lots of other academic authors referring to counterfactual history (see the last few external links, for example), but none using virtual history, I'm going to go ahead and change the title of the article. Hypnosifl 17:18, 3 November 2006 (UTC)

Criticism section[edit]

Can someone find some sources for the criticism section, or else it will probably have to be removed. Zombie Hunter Smurf (talk) 14:12, 1 December 2008 (UTC)

Aviezer Tucker has been critical of the 'counter-factualism' in his review of Virtual History in History & Theory 28.2 1999 & in his Our knowledge of the past: a philosophy of historiography.Rykalski (talk) 12:44, 9 March 2011 (UTC)

External links on this article[edit]

Aside from the recently added (and reverted) link to the Gore paper, I see that the external links listed on this article are about counterfactual history itself and not about any particular counterfactual historical hypothesis. I have seen a few other links to particular hypotheses pop up here from time to time (such as the Kalmar Union link that I moved here from the Kalmar Union article at the behest of a new user) but they don't seem to stay here long. In short, the unspoken consensus I see here is that external links on this article should be about counterfactual history as an exercise and not about any particular exercise in counterfactual history. If this consensus is borne out in this discussion, then the Gore link should be removed. If this is refuted, then the Gore link should be discussed on its own merits. Either way, let's go ahead and state an editorial consensus on external links on this article. Wilhelm_meis (talk) 03:57, 19 April 2009 (UTC)

If I may, I'd like to offer a few points explaining why the paper satisfies the standards outlined in the post by Wilhelm_meis. In addition to exploring one of the more important counterfactual questions in decades (a question for which almost everyone mistakenly believes they have the obvious answer), the paper introduces an important and novel methodological tool -- comparative counterfactual analysis (CCA). CCA recommends simultaneous assessment of competing (mutually exclusive) counterfactual claims processed through the same historical period and, therefore, constitutes an important evaluative technique not included in standard references. Moreover, the paper has been positively reviewed by several counterfactual scholars, including many of the experts listed in "Further Readings" (e.g., Lebow, Tetlock, Levy, Goertz). This is a paper on how to do counterfactual analysis well that applies the very techniques recommended by the authors listed in the article. I believe the paper constitutes an important external link for those interested in the subject and should be evaluated on its own merits. I am happy to discuss this further and would like to thank you for taking the time to read a small part of the case for retaining the link. FPHDal (talk) 11:03, 19 April 2009 (UTC)

I think you would be better off writing this up as a discussion of this topic, as a section of this article, perhaps as a "case study". As Wilhelm meis notes, external links are generally about the topic in general. This one in particular is polemical and political, and seems inappropriate for a general link here. --Pete Tillman (talk) 19:57, 19 April 2009 (UTC)
What specific point, historical assertion, counterfactual argument, piece (or collection) of evidence, logical interpretation, theoretical assertion or application of counterfactual methodology would lead you to conclude that this paper is polemical or political? I understand the conclusion is counterintuitive and, for many, quite provocative but it is not polemical. You need to read beyond the title of the paper to explain and defend your assertions, hopefully (for the benefit of those reading this discussion) with specific references to the content of the paper and the quality of the analysis. Now, if you want to reject the paper because you find its well-reasoned counterfactual conclusion so difficult to accept (despite the careful analysis) then there is nothing much I can do or write to change your mind. But that decision would say more about your political biases -- it would have nothing at all to do with the quality of the paper or its suitability as an external link in a Wikipedia article on counterfactual thought. I'm not sure this is the best message you want to send those interested in (and fascinated by) counterfactual reasoning and I hope other editors will agree. At least one has already suggested it belongs in External Links. FPHDal (talk) 22:13, 19 April 2009 (UTC)
I think you may be referring to me, and I specifically said "may" when I mentioned external links. Looking at it now the article is too specific to be a posted as an external link for Counterfactual history. There are a lot of topics that people will write counterfactuals about (WWII and the American Civil War remain two of the more popular ones in the English language). I don't see this article as notable enough to be added. Also it appears you are the author of this article which may be a violation of Wikipedia:Conflict of interest, though I can only base this off the fact that your username is similar to the author's name. Zombie Hunter Smurf (talk) 01:35, 20 April 2009 (UTC)
I believe this is the illustrious Dr. Frank Harvey of Dalhousie University that we are speaking with. That would explain the username, and it would explain why FPHDal is so defensive of the paper's content while no one else is even discussing its content. We are talking about the appropriateness of its topic as an external link on this article. While the paper may contain some procedural novelties, it does not address counterfactual arguments as a class, rather, it discusses counterfactual arguments based around one very specific question (i.e. if Gore were president, would the US have still gone to war in Iraq?). That is the central theme of the paper, and I'm not delving any deeper than that into the paper's content. This is a discussion about the link, not a review of the paper, and we are not discussing the merits of the paper itself, only whether it should be linked to from here. I think the consensus here is that we can't go through this whole process for each and every counterfactual argument anyone comes up with to write a paper about. We need to make a decision here about specific criteria for inclusion of any external links in this article, not just about this one. Wilhelm_meis (talk) 03:11, 20 April 2009 (UTC)
Your right Wilhelm, though it was never my intention to review the article when I chimed in. If we look at WP:ELNO #13, links to a specific topic should not be added to the External link section of an article covering a general topic. I think if we follow this guideline then the article cannot be added. Zombie Hunter Smurf (talk) 03:36, 20 April 2009 (UTC)
Right. If we had an article that was specifically about the argument that Gore would have gone to war too (setting aside for the moment that any such article would have major POV and notability problems), then that might be a more appropriate place to put this link. But aside from WP:ELNO there is also WP:COI, as this is clearly a case of someone just trying to use WP to interject their claims into a public discussion. Thank you for answering my initial question, though, that this is indeed how we are interpreting ELNO #13 for the purposes of this article. Also, I didn't mean to suggest anyone other than FPHDal was attempting to discuss the paper's content, sorry if I did. I just don't want it getting spun into a discussion of the paper and not the link. Maybe we can put a note somewhere regarding inclusion criteria for external links and be done with this discussion. Wilhelm_meis (talk) 09:03, 20 April 2009 (UTC)


Thanks, Wilhelm_meis and Zombie Hunter Smurf, for taking the time to clarify your policy on External Links. Like you (and others who contribute to this and related articles) I am passionate about the careful application of counterfactual methodology, and assumed others who share the same passion would be interested in the approach I used in this paper. If linking to a specific CF topic is inappropriate, or if the link raises any COI concerns, then it should not be listed (I was obviously not trying to hide my identity). But please understand -- I am not "just trying to use WP to interject (my) claims into a public discussion." My objective was to interject my approach to CF analysis into a public discussion of two competing counterfactual claims. The case study I selected (a pretty important one to explore, all things considered) was and remains secondary, which explains why I was a little surprised by Tillman's description of the paper as polemical and political. Characterizing a paper as "polemical and political" is clearly a comment on the paper's content and quality. In any case, thanks! This has been an interesting experience, to say the least. Good luck with the site. FPHDal (talk) 11:29, 20 April 2009 (UTC)