ENGL 1924: Reimagining the Past in Literature: Alternate Histories and the Politics of Historical Imagination

3 CreditsFreshman Seminar

Alternate histories have long been a popular subgenre of science fiction. Alternate historical novels are set in the \"real\" world, but imagine the real world to be shaped by different historical outcomes and events. Typically, they are set in a fictional historical timeline prompted by \"what if\" questions: what if Nazi Germany and Japan had won World War II? What if John Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry had succeeded? Authors use alternate historical settings to cast new perspectives on factual history, as well as to make claims about the nature of history, historical memory, historical records, and historical consciousness themselves. While such works tend to be seen as genre fiction, major literary writers like Philip Roth and Michael Chabon have also penned their own alternate histories. In addition, political figures as diverse as Winston Chamberlain and Newt Gingrich have speculated about alternate historical timelines. Not surprisingly, alternate histories tend to bring up questions about historical knowledge itself. Thinkers have long debated this subject, asking questions like: how do we know what we \"know\" about the past? How does the act of constructing non-fictional narratives of the past shape or influence our perception of past events? And what or who makes historical change happen; Great individuals? Ideological conflicts and influential ideas? Economic changes? In this course, we'll read a selection of alternate historical fiction, as well as examine some influential theories of history as an object of study and analysis. We'll ask what kinds of cultural, social, and political values motivate writers to construct hypothetical historical realities. Finally, you will experiment with writing your own alternate historical short fiction or essay, crafting a fictional or non-fictional narrative set in/about an alternate historical timeline, and justifying your own decisions in reimagining the past.

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B+ Average (3.400)Most Common: A- (47%)

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15 students
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