‘We can’t change history but can challenge it’ | art and culture | Hindustan Times
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‘We can’t change history but can challenge it’

When it comes to Niall Ferguson, the phrase ‘rewriting history’ acquires a double meaning. For one, the professor at Harvard and the London School of Economics doesn’t trust most of what goes into history books. Rajiv Arora reports.

art and culture Updated: Jan 26, 2010 02:19 IST
Rajiv Arora

When it comes to Niall Ferguson, the phrase ‘rewriting history’ acquires a double meaning. For one, the professor at Harvard and the London School of Economics doesn’t trust most of what goes into history books. So he offers alternative versions of events “we thought had happened the way they had happened”. Secondly, at 45, this dapper gent disproves the theory that one has to be an old man in a tweed jacket to be one of the most well-recognised historians of our times.

The author of books such as Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, and Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power is the champion of ‘counterfactual thinking’. The underlying principle of his works is that “the past was also the future for many. We can’t recreate the past, but we can certainly challenge it,” said Ferguson.

His next project promises to represent the “strong eastern civilisations” of about 1,500 years ago. “I touched upon Indian history in Empire. It fascinates me how just 500 years tilted the balance of power in the West’s favour,” said the Scot.

Ferguson has been working towards ‘fusing’ history with the present and the future. He assisted US-based gaming company Muzzy Lane in their game, ‘Making History’. The project has been about playerstorying all possible combinations with World War II scenarios based on economic and political realities of the period. “One of the players discovered that the Axis powers would have won the war had it lasted till 1942 and if Japan had attacked Russia instead of America,” he said. With Ferguson’s contributions, the new version includes modern conflicts like Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran. Yes, the man’s a virtual historian in a double sense.