(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘alternative history

“We look at this as the best of all possible worlds; but the French know it isn’t, because most people speak English.”*…

 

“I was wrassling some general. Some general with a beard.” James Thurber’s drawing for “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox.”

At the end of 1930 Scribner’s Magazine began publishing what would prove to be a short-lived series of “alternative history” pieces. The first installment, in the November issue, was “If Booth Had Missed Lincoln.” This was followed by a contribution from none other than Winston Churchill, who turned the concept on its head. It was bafflingly titled “If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg”—but, as we all know, Lee didn’t win the Battle of Gettysburg. Instead, Churchill’s essay purported to be written by a historian in a world in which Lee had won not only the battle but also the entire war. This fictional historian, in turn, speculates what might have happened if Lee had not won the battle. This type of dizzying zaniness brought out the parodist in Thurber, who published “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox” in The New Yorker in December. The next month Scribner’s published a third essay (“If Napoleon Had Escaped to America”) before bring the series to an end. All three pieces were soon forgotten, but Thurber’s parody became one of his most famous and beloved works…

Enjoy it (online or in PDF or Google Doc form) at “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox.” Find more of the Library of America’s “Story of the Week” offerings here (where you can also sign up for their nifty weekly email drop of stories from their archive).

* Mark Olson at the “Histories: The Way We Weren’t” panel at Boskone 28.

###

As we retreat to the High Castle, we might spare a thought for Oliver Wendell Holmes (Sr.); he died on this date in 1894.   A physician, poet, and polymath based in Boston, he was a member of the Fireside Poets, acclaimed by his peers (his friends included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Russell Lowell) as one of the best writers of the day.  His most famous prose works are the humorous “Breakfast-Table” series, which began with The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858).  Many of his works were published in The Atlantic Monthly, a magazine that he named; he popularized several terms, including “Boston Brahmin” and “anesthesia.”

Holmes was also an important medical reformer.  In addition to his work as an author and poet, Holmes also served as a physician, professor, lecturer, and inventor, and although he never practiced it, he received formal training in law… an enthusiasm he passed on to his eldest son, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1902 to 1932, and as Acting Chief Justice of the United States from January–February 1930.

 source

 

“No other continent has endured such an unspeakably bizarre combination of foreign thievery and foreign goodwill”*…

 

What if the Black Plague had killed off almost all Europeans? Then the Reconquista never happens. Spain and Portugal don’t kickstart Europe’s colonization of other continents. And this is what Africa might have looked like.

The map – upside down, to skew our traditional Eurocentric point of view – shows an Africa dominated by Islamic states, and native kingdoms and federations. All have at least some basis in history, linguistics or ethnography. None of their borders is concurrent with any of the straight lines imposed on the continent by European powers, during the 1884-85 Berlin Conference and in the subsequent Scramble for Africa. By 1914, Europeans controlled 90% of Africa’s land mass. Only the Abyssinian Empire (modern-day Ethiopia) and Liberia (founded in 1847 as a haven for freed African-American slaves) remained independent…

More alternative– but instructive– history at “Africa, Uncolonized: A Detailed Look at an Alternate Continent.”

* Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

###

As we explore, we might send an elegantly-filmed birthday greeting to Sidney Poitier; he was born on this date in 1927 (to Bahamian parents visiting Miami).  An acclaimed actor, he became the first Bahamian and first African-American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor (in 1964, for his role in Lilies of the Field). Then in 1967, he starred in three successful films, To Sir, with Love, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, making him the top box-office star of that year.  Poitier went on to direct a number of films, and in 2010 was awarded another Oscar, the Academy Honorary Award, in recognition of his “remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being.”  Poitier led a active life off-stage as well: he served as Bahamian ambassador to both Japan and UNESCO, and served as a director of the Walt Disney Company.  He was knighted in 1974, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, in 2009.

 source

 

Written by LW

February 21, 2016 at 1:01 am

Redistricting on the grandest scale…

 click here for larger version

Dr. Andrew Shears is a geographer by both vocation and avocation.  Fascinated by American history, and by what might have been, he created the map above…

I discovered a list that really intrigued me like none other: the List of U.S. State Partition Proposals. For a geographer/cartographer who’s a U.S.-specialist and who’s interested in alternate history, this was Kryptonite for my productivity. From this list, I stumbled onto listings for U.S. Territories that Failed to Become States and the listing for the hypothetical 51st State. I even came across a nice little book called Lost States, a humorous account from Michael Trinklein that briefly explores a number of random states that never quite happened.

After reading all of these things, and all of the linked pages connected — that’s where Wikipedia really sucks you in — I, of course, allowed my own mind to wander and I came up with the beginnings of a historical geography narrative for the United States of my own, drawing on each of these sources. How could I spell this out? Well, I’m no novelist, because I just really don’t have the imagination or skills necessary to put together a story in that format. However, I can make maps here and there, and I firmly believe that maps can do a pretty good job telling a story.

What did I end up with? My own alternate history U.S. map of 124 states…

As one watches the U.S. government congeal into an unappetizing mess– as representatives, “serving” districts and states shaped though decades and decades of gerrymandering, vote narrow interests in search of advantage in elections-to-come– we might ponder Dr. Shear’s reminder of how differently it might all have looked…  if only for the reminder that it didn’t have to be– nor does it have in the future to be– this way.

###

As we wonder what in the world became of Mr. Smith, we might recall that it was on this date in 1861 that President James Buchanan signed into law the Congressional Act creating the “organized incorporated Territory of Colorado.”  The land had come to the U.S. in 1848 as part of the  spoils of the Mexican-American War.  Then populated virtually exclusively by Native Americans, white settlers flooded in with the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush in 1858.  Pressure from those new arrivals, along with a different kind of pressure felt by Washington as Southern states were seceding in the run-up to the Civil War (this was the period immediately before Lincoln’s inauguration), spurred the action– which expanded the Union and gave it access to the gold and other minerals in the Southern Rockies.

 source

Written by LW

February 28, 2013 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: