On the spot

Sideways in Time : Alternate History Conference, University of Liverpool in association with Lancaster University (UK), March 30th – 31st, 2015

In the modern form, the concept of “alternate history” emerged in France (uchronia) in the early 19th century before crossing into English at the latter half of the century.

Uchronia” is a neologism from the word utopia (Greek u-topos = no-place), replacing topos with  chronos (time). It was coined by the frenchman Charles Renouvier as the title of his 1876 novel “Uchronie. L’Utopie dans l’histoire, esquisse historique apocryphe du développement de la civilisation européenne tel qu’il n’a pas été, tel qu’il aurait pu être” (“Uchronia (Utopia in History), an Apocryphal Sketch of the Development of European Civilization Not as It Was But as It Might Have Been”, reprinted 1988.

Sideways in Time is an Alternate History Conference held at the University of Liverpool – in association with Lancaster University. This interdisciplinary conferences bringed together scholarship in science fiction, fantasy, historical and literary fictions, as well as historians and counterfactual thought-experiments, to discuss those fictional narratives that deals with alternate histories and parallel worlds.

Karen Hellekson, Adam Roberts, and Stephen Baxter were the keynote speakers.

Karen Hellekson (US) is a leading authority on alternate history fiction (The Alternate History: Refiguring Historical Time, 2001).

Professor Adam Roberts (UK) is a leading science fiction critic and also an award-winning author who employs alternate history elements into some of his fiction (most notably Swiftly, shortlisted for the 2009 Sidewise Award).

Stephen Baxter (UK) is currently a judge of the Sidewise Award for Alternate History, as well as being one of the former winners (“Brigantia’s Angels”, “Voyage“).

Why Alternate History ?

Alternate History has a long and international pedigree. Whilst most cultures and literary traditions can trace their own heritage of alternate history, Alternate History arguments in the Western Canon can be traced into antiquity with Livy’s meditations on Alexander the Great.

In the modern form, the concept emerged in France (uchronia) in the early 19th century before crossing into English at the latter half of the century.

The form also become popular with historians and essayists, a notable early history collection being If It Had Happened Otherwise (1931) edited by John Squire which included counterfactual essays by, among others, Hilaire Belloc, Andre Maurois and Winston Churchill. It was not until H.G. Wells’s late novel Men Like Gods that the form crossed into the territory of science fiction, and was not truly popularised until Murray Leinster’s crucial story “Sidewise in Time” published in Astounding in 1934.

Since 1934, the form has become a staple of science fiction and fantasy story-telling, sometimes including time travel or magic as a means of explaining the cause of the alternate history. However, the form has also been adopted by the literary mainstream with writers who chose not to relate their alternate world to our own, instead taking the lead from conventions of historical fiction. As such, Alternate History has attracted such non-genre writers as Nabakov, Kingsley Amis, Robert Harris, Philip Roth, Michael Chabon and many more.

Despite a long and diverse history, alternate history has attracted surprisingly little scholarship. This conference attempted to establish lines of communication which will rectify this deficit. It is hoped a selection of the essays presented at the conference will be made available as part of a published collection.

Papers analysing specific alternate history texts from all mediums including novels, cinema, comics and beyond were presented, also broader papers on the various periods, subgenres, movements and modes of alternate history including steampunk, retro-futurism and more, based on, amongst other things, theory, texts, cultural surveys, philosophy, and media studies.

Sunday, March 29th 2015

5.00pm    Free Pre-Conference Social: Stephen Baxter and Adam Roberts discuss their fiction at Waterstones Liverpool One

Monday, March 30th 2015

8:30am – 9:30am      Registration

9:30am – 10:30am    Keynote: Karen Hellekson, “Agency and Contingency in Televisual Alternate History Texts”

10:30am – 12:00pm  Panel 1 – Examining Female Perspectives of Alternate History

12:00pm – 1:00pm    Panel 2 – Responses to the Enlightenment

1:00pm – 1:45pm      Lunch

1:45pm – 2:45pm      Keynote: Stephen Baxter, “Alternate Cosmologies”

2:45pm – 4:15pm      Panel 3 – Moments and People of Power

4:15pm – 4:30pm      Break

4:30pm – 6:00pm      Panel 4 – Alternate History in Europe

Tuesday, March 31st 2015

8:30am – 9:00am      Registration

9:00am – 10:30am    Panel 5 – Examining the Place of Alternate History

10:30am – 12:00pm Panel 6 – Blurring the Boundaries of Alternate History

12:00pm – 1:00pm    Keynote: Adam Roberts, “Geoffroy, Tolstoy and the Fragile Solidity of History”

1:00pm – 1:45pm      Lunch

1:45pm – 2:45pm      Panel 7 – Different Landscapes

2:45pm – 3:45pm      Panel 8 – Alternate History after 9/11

3:45pm – 4:00pm      Break

4:00pm – 5:30pm      Panel 9 – How Do We Know?

5:30pm – 6:30pm      Wine Reception

The wine reception was followed by a post-conference meal.

Day 1

Panel 1 – Examining Female Perspectives of Alternate History

Amanda Dillon, University of East Anglia (UK), “Speaking Unspoken Timelines: Feminist Time Travel and Alternate Histories in Kage Baker’s The Company

Rosie M. Lewis, Durham University (UK), “Re-envisioning Female Subjectivity, Aesthetics and Collective Resistance in Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames

Sarah Lohmann, Durham University (UK), “On the Edge of Time: Feminist Utopias, Complexity Theory and Parallel Future Histories

Panel 2 – Responses to the Enlightenment

Alex Broadhead, University of Liverpool (UK), “The Romantics in Alternate History from Hawthorne to Card: Beyond Enlightenment Historiography

Jim Clarke, Coventry University (UK), “Unwriting the Reformation: Anti-Catholic uchronias in Science Fiction

Panel 3 – Moments and People of Power

Francis Gene-Rowe, Birkbeck College (UK), “Blasting Open the Historical Continuum: Antihistoricism in Benjamin, Dick & Le Guin

Fred Smoler, Sarah Lawrence College (USA), “Refiguring the Heroic in Two Alternate Histories: Stephen Vincent Benét and Harry Turtledove

Jonathan Rayner, University of Sheffield (UK), “‘Forever being Yamato’: Alternative Pacific War Histories in Japanese Film and Anime

Panel 4 – Alternate History in Europe

Mikhaylo Nazarenko, Taras Shevchenko Kyiv National University (Ukraine), “Post-colonial alternate history: the case of Ukrainian literature

Marzena Sokołowska-Paryż, University of Warsaw (Poland) “Ideological (Mis)Uses of Genre: Dystopian Visions of the ‘Past-Present’ in Daniel Quinn’s and Stephen Fry’s Alternate Histories

Chris Pak, Lancaster University, (UK), “‘It Is One Story’: Writing a Global Alternative History in Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt

Day 2

Panel 5 – Examining the Place of Alternate History

Daniel Dohrn, Humboldt University of Berlin (Germany), “Counterfactuals in Historiography – A Philosophical Assessment

Matt Mitrovich, (USA), “Warping History: An Overview of Fans and Creators of Alternate History in the Internet Age

Ursula Troche, (UK), “Alternate History as re-imagining/re-writing: with particular reference to Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ and Evaristo’s ‘Blonde Routes’”

Panel 6 – Blurring the Boundaries of Alternate History

Pascal Lemaire (Belgium), “Our world, really ? Techno Thrillers and Alternate History

Andrew M. Butler, Canterbury Christ Church University (UK), “Quest for Love: A Cosy Uchronia?

Leimar Garcia-Siino, University of Liverpool (UK), “Alternate [un]Realities: The Possibility and Impossibility of the Fantasy Alternate History

Panel 7 – Different Landscapes

Alan Gregory and Dawn Stobart, Lancaster University (UK), “The Survival of a President: Rewritten American Histories and the Failed Assassination of John F. Kennedy in Stephen King’s 11/22/63

Laura Ettenfield, Leeds Beckett University (UK), “‘The alternate reality of aquatic space in Victor Hugo’s fiction

Panel 8 – Alternate History after 9/11

Anna McFarlane, University of St. Andrews (UK), “Lavie Tidhar’s Osama (2011) and Alternate History After 9/11

Rachel Mizsei Ward (UK), “Impotent in the face of history – How superhero narratives (didn’t) engage with 9/11

 Panel 9 – How Do We Know?: Subjective Epistemologies

Chloe Alexandra Germaine Buckley, Lancaster University (UK), “Cthulhu versus Sherlock Holmes: Shadows over Baker Street, epistemological disruption and the ‘willing surrender of disbelief’ in postmillennial alternative-history Weird fiction

Hellen Giblin-Jowett, (UK), “A ‘whiff of printer’s shrapnel’: HG Wells and the nostrils of divergence

Molly Cobb, University of Liverpool (UK), “‘Time is a private matter’: Identity and the subjective nature of time in Alfred Bester’s ‘The Men Who Murdered Mohammed‘”



Uchronia, the Alternate History List is a bibliography of over 3200 novels, stories, essays and other printed material involving the “what ifs” of history : http://www.uchronia.net/

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