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Telling It Like It Wasn'tThe Counterfactual Imagination in History and Fiction$
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Catherine Gallagher

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226512389

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226512556.001.0001

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Historical Activism and the Alternate-America Novels

Historical Activism and the Alternate-America Novels

(p.147) Chapter Four Historical Activism and the Alternate-America Novels
Telling It Like It Wasn't

Catherine Gallagher

University of Chicago Press

This chapter analyzes American alternate-history novels published in the last half of the twentieth century (beginning with Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee and ending with Harry Turtledove’s Guns of the South) that use historical counterfactual premises to imagine alternative Americas, where the changes in our history lead to significantly different interracial arrangements. Thematically and formally, these novels vary widely; among them we find utopias and dystopias, nexus and aftermath settings, social satires and hero glorifications, war stories, murder mysteries, spy thrillers, and backward time-travel adventures. The chapter explores the interconnections between these novels and various kinds of historical activism in the period - social reform and national self-determination movements, civil rights and affirmative action programs, and international justice undertakings--which attempted to amend past wrongs and mitigate their present effects, viewing history as a reparable process in which we might consciously intervene to undo or reverse some regretted course of events. The chapter demonstrates how the novels’ formal devises, especially backward time travel - refracted this shifting legal-political landscape, revealing aspects of it that are not otherwise apparent.

Keywords:   alternate-history novel, backward time travel, grandfather paradox, historical activism, Ward Moore, Harry Turtledove

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