Counterfactual

Since 2009, the Seine-Saint-Denis County Council has been backing “la Culture et l’Art au Collège (CAC)”. This project is based to a large extent on the presence in class for several weeks (40 hours) of an artist or scientist whose mission is to engage the students in a process of research and creation.

 

Contributors:
historians

Project Manager:
Mathieu Marion

 

Objectives:
“What would have happened if…?” Although this question often crops up in discussions, fiction and literature, what is it doing in today’s historical research? Some would answer that it makes it possible to reconsider the links between causality and truth, history and fiction, determinism and chance… Using selected examples (“a world without the slave trade”, “Louis 16th ran away”), the students are invited to take stock of this approach: what does it mean to study the possibilities of the past? How can this be tested tangibly? And, ultimately, how should we understand history, its definition and its role?

Workshops:
Uchronia
Counterfactually-inspired cultural productions are now very much in fashion. To address the concept, the contributor presents the class with several examples from fiction: novels, feature films and video games. Moving sideways, the group unravels the mechanisms of this reasoning before applying it to a historical perspective.

Delving into the archives, seeking out the possibilities of the past
The starting point of every counterfactual experiment is what historians call the “turning point”, the moment in history in which various possible scenarios arise. The contributor gives the group a series of archives and a series of themes to work on, asking, for example, the question “What if Napoleon had won the battle of Waterloo?” How do you find conquest projects drawn up by Napoleon in the archives to update alternative scenarios? Using these possibilities, the group then measures or debates the impact and the historic scope of an event, imagining turning points in a more complex and more open, but equally rigorous perspective. 

Imagining a counter-history together
In this area that lies between facts, beyond facts, and possibilities, the researcher’s position can be less omniscient and this is the key issue in this final phase of the project – to make the counterfactual terrain a shared place. Based on the historical context, each student is invited to put forward hypotheses that differ from actual history. Together, students and contributors discuss the political, moral and scientific implications of these futures that did not happen.

 

Participating Schools: 
- Lucie Aubrac, Livry Gargan
- Albert Camus, Neuilly-sur-Marne

 

Photos: DAMIEN DELDICQUE, JÉRÔME AUBRY & ALEXANDRE SCHUBNEL, LABORATOIRE DE GÉOLOGIE DE L’ENS PARIS. 

Counterfactual
Counterfactual
Counterfactual