Advice on Alternative History Assignment


By Sunday evening, I expect to receive 4-5 double-spaced pages that present an alternative history of one of the revolutions we have covered in this module. Since students have asked numerous questions on the nature of the assignment, I thought I would explain this in more detail here on the blog.

  • The task at hand is to present an alternative history. To do this properly, you need to demonstrate that you have a solid working knowledge of whatever revolution you want to discuss and its relationship to music. In Monday’s class, I recommended spending more or less a page explaining what actually happened. If you want to spread out this knowledge throughout your 4-5 pages, you may do so.
  • By their very nature, speculative assignments require a creative approach to history. There are satisfying ways to do this (in class, I cited Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds) as well as horrific (c.f. films on what would have happened if the South had won the Civil War). In general, there is a purpose to alternative histories that can be easily gleaned. In Tarantino’s case, a revenge fantasy is at work. You will not be judged on how creative or imaginative (or violent…) you can be, but rather on how you present the case for what your alternative would mean for the society in question. (FYI: There is a whole sci-fi subgenre dedicated to alternate history.)
  • Somehow, you need to talk about music. In class I described the general spectrum of approaches to talking about music and context. Overall, I would like you to push yourself towards a balance between sounds and context.

I know college courses tend to dissuade this kind of creativity. I’m hoping that the format allows you to experiment and think of what might have been, and further, what the consequences of that might be for the revolution at your focus.