I frequently think that alternative or counterfactual histories are a good teaching tool to explain the significance of real history. When students study the methods of professional historians, thoroughly research events and offer carefully reasoned speculations on "what might have happened if...," this can be a fun way to learn. If you really understand an event or series of events in their full context, you can explain probable outcomes if the event did not occur, without resorting to absurdities.
I note that several academic courses on alternative history have been proposed;
- Dr. Judy Ann Ford at Texas A&M proposed a summer course in which a student would write an alternative history or counter-factual, including an historiographical essay and/or annotated bibliography.
- Latvijas University in Germany proposed a course for doctoral students on alternative history, with this description:
Alternative history is relatively recent direction in history that nowadays has obtained more and more supporters. The big question of alternative history “What might have been, if…” secretly had always been the most favourite question for historians. Alternative history provides an opportunity to discover real turning points in history, to a certain extent it has a role of hypothesis.
Doctoral students has to understand main functions of alternative history and to digest its methods in order to discover new possibilities and solutions in their relevant problem of dissertation.
1.Concept of alternative history and ways of its understanding. 4 h.
2.The most significant research in alternative history in modern history of Europe and USA. 4 h.
3.Alternative in history: levels of detection. 4 h.
4.Theory of synergetic and alternative history. 4 h.
5.The arguments of opponents of alternative history: critical analysis. 4 h.
6.The most significant research in alternative history in contemporary history of Europe and USA. 4 h.
7.Breaking points in historical process and possible alternatives for development in different periods.40 h.
- Georgetown University offers a course in alternative Russian history. Faculty:In this course, we will read several works of fiction dating from Russia's 20th century, and a little of the 21st, which attempt to rewrite history, contemporaneous, or nearly so, with the time the works were written. Paradoxically, the way historical facts are distorted in these works seems to reveal something about their true nature or implications. A Midterm essay and a Final paper are required, plus also a framework for class participation, to be discussed during the first class.
- Background on counter-factual history and whether it meets serious academic tests.