Alternate, Alternate Histories

I’m tired of what-if stories about the Second World War and the Civil War. Those are allohistories that have been fictionally done to death. I’d like to see something different.

I graduated from university with a degree in history. I did three years of physics, astronomy and mathematics but, in the end, I was too lazy to complete a degree in that so, in order to get out of university as quickly as possible, I chose history because, out all things I had distribution courses in, it was the one subject I disliked the least.

Out of history, I suppose I like nonwestern history better. It’s easy to learn stuff about the US or Europe so, it’s boring to me. Me, I was always interested in the other histories of the world. It’s easy to find a list of all the Popes and Patriarchs in Europe since the founding of Christianity. But try finding a king list for the rulers of Kush. What did the Javanese do before the Dutch showed up? Try to learn what the Mayans where doing while Europe stumbled out of the fall of Rome. It’s damn near impossible.

Another question I’ve always pondered is, why did Europe rise to dominate the world first? Why not Africa? Why not the empires of Islam or, the courts of Asia? How come the Aztecs or Incas didn’t simply drive Cortez or Pizarro into the sea? Why weren’t there huge numbers of native Australians waiting to fend off any European exploiters?

A few months ago, I finished reading Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs and Steel and I think he provides a pretty good explanation as to why Eurasian civilizations rose first. The main point of his complex argument has to do with the location, size, shape and orientation of the continents. It has nothing to do with ethnic or cultural superiority. It’s just that some continents are better for emerging agricultural societies than other continents. Some continents are better for supporting and maintaining those societies in their formative years until a high level of technology arises.

Jared freely admits his theories still aren’t conclusive but I think they go a long way towards explaining how things turned out. It was just luck and geography, not cultural superiority.

I suppose history will never be fully rigorous until we event time travel or we discover an infinite set of nearby universes in which Earth’s history happened differently.

Jared’s arguments aside, I have created an allohistory based on two inflection points in our world’s history: The Battle of Sile in 674 BCE and Mansa Muhammad’s Atlantic voyage circa 1310 CE.

Never heard of these? That’s because they are inflection points in classical and medieval African history. Ancient and medieval African history, aside from Egypt, is hard to find sources on. The history of sub-Saharan Africa is especially hard to find sources on. Some of it is currently untranslatable, like the Merotic inscriptions on stele in the ancient ruins of Kush. Some of it has been lost or destroyed, like the Nubian monuments buried under the lake created by the Aswan High Dam. But most of it has been simply ignored because of racism, like the walled towns of northern South Africa and the city of Great Zimbabwe.

Luckily now, there has been a rebirth in African historical research. Three years ago, you could hardly find anything on the Internet about precolonial African history. Now the sources are proliferating, as evidenced in the links that follow.

Recommended books:

  • Davidson, Basil, The Lost Cities of Africa (Revised Edition, 1987)
  • Kwamena-Poh, M., Tidy, M., Tosh, J. and Waller, R., African History in Maps (1982)
  • McKissack, Patricia and Fredrick, The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhay: Life in Medieval Africa (1994)
  • Shillington, Kevin, History of Africa (Revised Edition, 1995)

Recommended webs:

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