Counterfactual History. Fake History or Methodological Innovation?

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An event of the Gerda Henkel Foundation in cooperation with the Sächsische
Akademie der Wissenschaften

Moderation: Charlotte Lerg (Munich), Georgios Chatzoudis

Dan Diner (Jerusalem)
Kathrin Klausmeier (Leipzig)
Anna Lux (Freiburg)
Eva-Maria Schnurr (Hamburg)
Pirmin Stekeler-Weithöfer (Leipzig)

"What if ....?" Counterfactual history actually does not have a good reputation in the historical guild. In times of fragile facts and fake history, it seems an almost dangerous game. But even if they don't always admit it to themselves, historians are always asking, in very different contexts, "What if?" This question helps to take contingency seriously and to think about the past in an open-ended way, to question supposed causalities and, last but not least, to sound out the eternal field of tension between structure, event and individual. At the same time, we find the mind game in history didactics, journalism and not least in science fiction literature, films and radio plays. In the face of conspiracy theories and popular narratives that seem to blur between fact and fiction, this poses particular challenges. With the guests on our panel, we discuss the possibilities and limits of the method of counterfactual questioning in history. Connected to this are very fundamental considerations about the nature of facts and their importance for gaining knowledge, about telos, probabilities and possibilities in history, as well as a reflection on how we understand historical knowledge and how we communicate it.


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