Boston area professor with alternative history interest?
November 6, 2009 8:23 AM   Subscribe

Are there any professors in the Boston area (especially Harvard) that have an avowed interest in alternate history or have authored books (fiction or non) on the subject?
posted by UMDirector to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
That would be Niall Ferguson.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:29 AM on November 6, 2009


Just two clarifications that might help you get a better response: first, I assume by "alternate history" you mean "what if" historical scenarios (e.g. what if we lost WWII?) rather than alternate takes on real history (e.g. Howard Zinn who I think is in Boston) or "secret"/cryptic history like the Da Vinci code?

Second, assuming I've got that right ...are you looking for historians with an interest in alternate histories, or literature/english types with an interest in that kind of fiction?
posted by pete_22 at 9:13 AM on November 6, 2009


Response by poster: Pete - You are correct..."What if we lost WW2 type" type, not lizards run the world type.

Looking for historians with an interest in alternate histories, although literature types might be interesting as well. Essentially people who can credibly speak to the topic, I just assumed history professors would be the easiest.
posted by UMDirector at 9:45 AM on November 6, 2009


Celeste Wallander, in Harvard's government department, used to teach a course on political science fiction (including a substantial segment on alternative history). That was a decade ago, though, and I don't know if she's still affiliated with the university.
posted by tavegyl at 9:59 AM on November 6, 2009


This is probably a little too far (geographically and thematically) but Kenneth Feder at CCSU (~100k from Boston) is the leading critic of pseudoarchaeology (Atlantis, von Daniken, Norse in Minnesota, that kind of thing)
posted by Rumple at 9:59 AM on November 6, 2009


Celeste Wallander is at American University now.

the leading critic of pseudoarchaeology

That isn't actually connected to "alternate history" as a field, counterintuitive though that might seem. "Alternate history" (also known as "counterfactual history") is a term of art for the literary and philosophical discussion (and writing) about what might have happened if certain real-world events had gone differently. "What if Hitler had won World War II?" is a huge topic, inspiring novels like Fatherland by Robert Harris, SS-GB by Len Deighton, and Farthing, Ha'Penny, and Half a Crown by Jo Walton (all of which everyone should read!)
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:10 AM on November 6, 2009


One thing is that you've written "alternative history" rather than "alternate history", which might be dogging your Googling a bit.

"Alternative history" means Howard Zinn, the 'Lies Your Teacher Taught You' guy, et al.--real history, but presenting underrepresented points of view. Counterfactual history is "alternate history."

Oh, heavens. In the "What if Hitler..." category, I somehow forgot Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. Forty lashes with a Benzedrine for me.

In addition to Niall Ferguson, who's the big wheel on this in the Boston area, you might also hit up Alvin Kibel at MIT and Jay Cantor at Tufts.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:19 AM on November 6, 2009


Thanks Sidhevil. I was also confused by the David Irving-type history, and also by what sounds like actually "fiction", not history (in my books).
posted by Rumple at 10:26 AM on November 6, 2009


Thanks Sidhevil. I was also confused by the David Irving-type history, and also by what sounds like actually "fiction", not history (in my books).

It's a genre of fiction (and there's a giant debate as to whether it is part of "science fiction" or part of the larger "speculative fiction" meta-genre).

It's also, more rarely, a topic for philosophers' thought-experiments and essays.

It's definitely not history. Alternative history is history; alternate history is either fiction or philosophy.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:57 AM on November 6, 2009


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