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 If you could send one thing back through time ...

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nordmann
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PostSubject: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Mon 29 Feb 2016, 13:32

... which would change the course of history, what would it be and why would you do it?

This question is not just another "what if" type proposition but apparently one very popular in the teaching and study of historiography, the study of history itself and the processes which cumulatively comprise that which we understand to be the historical narrative and the logic of the causal sequences which contribute to that flow.

It's not as simple a proposition as it might first appear either. Unless a device is battery powered, for example, there wouldn't be that much point in sending anything dependent on electricity back to someone without the means to operate it. Likewise things that depend on a vast modern infrastructure to make any sense at all would be rather pointless. Sending an ICBM to Hannibal, for instance, would hardly have assisted his plans for conquest of Rome, but might well have confused him enough to allow the Romans some extra advantage in defeating him all the earlier. A good paper ordnance survey fold-up map of the Alps region however, even a modern one, might have assisted him tremendously had he understood what he held.

It seems in a historiographical sense the simpler the object and the more readily understood it would be by the recipient then the more likely it is to have a profound effect on the course of history, at least in this little conceit of ours where such transport through time is hypothetically possible.

So you have one chance to use this apparatus and can zero in on any individual anywhere at any time in the past. Personally I have a hankering to send Eratosthenes a telescope, but I have to admit my motive is more to reward the little bugger because he deduced so much that was right, even without it, than to greatly change anything. In fact I reckon he'd just use it to confirm everything he'd already worked out. What would yours be?
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Mon 29 Feb 2016, 14:12

I should like to send Henry VIII a copy of the dispatch sent by Giovanni Gritti, Venetian Ambassador in Rome, the one addressed to the Doge and Senate on 19 March, 1588. He quoted Pope Sixtus V. The Pope stated that he had heard from Spain that the Armada was ready. His Holiness exclaimed that the English were ready also, giving credit to Queen Elizabeth: “She certainly is a great Queen, and were she only a Catholic she would be our dearly beloved. Just look how well she governs; she is only a woman, only mistress of half an island, and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by the Empire, by all” (Brown VIII 641).


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Gilgamesh of Uruk
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Mon 29 Feb 2016, 15:13

Mine's a little different, in that it could, arguably should, have been available to the recipient at the time. Scheer's request at Jutland for airship recce off Horns Reef at dawn. If Jellicoe had known that, who knows?
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Mon 29 Feb 2016, 16:17

Gilgamesh of Uruk wrote:
Mine's a little different, in that it could, arguably should, have been available to the recipient at the time. Scheer's request at Jutland for airship recce off Horns Reef at dawn. If Jellicoe had known that, who knows?

Gil,send back a copy of this, to land in Jellicoe's cabin on the evening of the 30th May;

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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Mon 29 Feb 2016, 17:26

I would send one of these back to a Neanderthal about 5000 years before those bossy Saps turned up to gatecrash their party




One of these would have been useful too, some cosy, well fitting thermals might have helped him/her cope with it being a mite parky and those cheeky immigrants wouldn't have pointed and laughed quite so much.
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Mon 29 Feb 2016, 21:24

The letter Emperor Franz Joseph commanding Archduke Franz Ferdinand to observe military manoeuvres in Bosnia 1914.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Tue 01 Mar 2016, 08:22

This is also what happens with students learning historiography - when presented with the proposition and the rules of the hypothesis they cannot resist sending something to a recipient which would undoubtedly change the course of history. However they also rarely volunteer any motive for their action, even when it was requested as part of the same proposition.
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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Tue 01 Mar 2016, 10:09

Well this isn't an easy assignment - I was thinking about this all last night. I considered sending John Cabot a globe of the Earth to give him some confidence that there was something to be found out there and so at least he'd know any westward voyages were feasible and with a reasonable chance of return. My thought was that this would lead to England getting early establishment in the New World (and espcially if the globe supplied was a 16th century Spanish world map showing all the riches to be found in central and south America) it might forestall Spanish control there. But to what end? Would Henry VII and VIII treat the local inhabitants any better? And what would England do with all the riches, wealth and bounty? Perhaps it might be strong enough to not have a protestant reformation, and very probably also suffer the same massive inflation, and consequent destruction of local invention and industry, that beset the Spanish? So on consideration I decided against sending the globe.

I also considered ways to try and avert various catastophes, such as the Black Death, and both the First and Second World Wars ... but it's difficult to find any item that would do the trick. Even say a modern history book, spelling out quite what a really bad idea global war is, would probably in the hands of those influential statesmen of the time, have been taken as a message to increase their war preparedness and speed up the arms race! So again I soon abandoned any great ideas of "trying to put the world right".

But on slightly more ambivalent level I think I might send a copy of Leonardo Fibonacci's book 'Liber Abaci' to Archimedes. Fibonacci's book, conveniently written in Latin, introduced Hindu/Arabic mathematical ideas, including: arabic numerals; the use of zero; positional notation; and decimal fractions to Europe where such ideas found fertile new soil. I wonder what an enquiring mathematical mind like Archimedes would have made of that, especially when presented with it as a fully evolved mathematical system. The knowledge would greatly simplify mathematical calculation (over the existing Greek methods) and make advanced precise mathematics possible. I wonder what great strides forward in science and technology might this have prompted? Who knows whether he, or another classical scholar, might not have devised differential and integral calculus a thousand years or more before Newton and Leibnitz, possibly establishing, say, the laws of motion along the way, and then the basics of thermodynamics too. I accept there would probably be some changes to subsequent world history, at least if Archimedes successfully lived up to my expectations (and managed to stay alive long enough too), but it would be interesting just to see what he, and his successors, made of it. I would have preferred to send Fibonacci's text to Pythagoras or Euclid ... but I'm not sure they'd be able to read the Latin.


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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Tue 01 Mar 2016, 10:24

I've been mulling it over too, MM, but it is difficult in that my motive is mostly the what if that we are not allowed and whatever outcome we might hope for or predict will almost certainly not be the one which would have resulted. My neanderthals might have used their bows and arrows to kill each other off rather than improve their survival chances and then we would have none of their DNA sloshing about inside of us at all.

I thought of this for Leonardo but who knows what he might have done with it. Given he would need funding and resources to exploit the technology and that would come from either some power hungry duke or other or, possibly even worse, the church, a Rennaisance industrial revolution might have been extremely nasty. On the other hand Steam-Baroque would have been worth seeing!

Oh, and electrical devices could be solar-powered obviating the need for electricity.

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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Tue 01 Mar 2016, 10:58

Yes along with the Mamod engine I thought Leonado da Vinci, amongst others, might also appreciate one of these:



Some years ago one could buy a junior science kit all about photography ... it included all the bits to make a pinhole camera, and then fit a lens, plus the chemicals to make light-sensitive papers, and then to treat them to develop a photograph. All these materials (like for the hot-air ballon) were available in the 16th century. So I wonder if one piqued the interest of a scientist/artist like da Vinci, might he have gone on to develop photography? And so would we have access today to actual photographs of people and places that we now know only through paintings?


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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Tue 01 Mar 2016, 11:08

ferval wrote:
My neanderthals might have used their bows and arrows to kill each other off rather than improve their survival chances and then we would have none of their DNA sloshing about inside of us at all.

Or of course it is possible that your neanderthals might have killed the pesky, weakling, sapiens off ... so that "we" would continue to exist only as a bit of DNA sloshing around in them.
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Tue 01 Mar 2016, 11:24

That's the problem, we might send these things back with all good intentions but with no control of how they were in fact used or into whose hands they could ultimately fall. I'll bet that even nordmann's telescope would soon have been used for targeting weapons or even spying on the neighbour's wife getting dressed.
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Tue 01 Mar 2016, 12:10

I was thinking about this last night as well, and decided the best thing to do, would be to send my Breedon's Football Records back in time to myself circa 1970;



No great changes to history, except that I would be rich.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Tue 01 Mar 2016, 13:17

That is in fact the most frequent response to the proposition, Trike. Not always the Breedon Book of Football Records, mind you, but variations of same right enough.

I think the point of the exercise is to get students to assess causality in the context of history. We take it for granted that one thing leads to another and that this sequence of events constitutes "history", but we are very inept at understanding how exactly this works in reality - we therefore tend to automatically assume that the way things worked out was the only possible outcome in any given case (which of course we know cannot be true), or quite oppositely to assume a randomness to outcome (which of course cannot be true either). When invited to make a realistic intrusion into the process we are forced to examine where, in the spectrum of possibility as defined within these two extremes, exact cause and effect can be placed in a given case. When several cases are examined in this way we find a huge variation in possibilities which defy any reasonable attempt to detect trends and patterns, something which in fact is the opposite to what most historians tend to believe. They are more inclined to impose causal categorisation on past events which the evidence actually doesn't support much at all.

You're right about the telescope, ferval. For all we know Eratosthenes was addicted to frying ants, and though we might have made him a very happy man by sending him one, the course of history might hardly have been tweaked at all (except for some less ants of course).
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Tue 01 Mar 2016, 14:09

nordmann wrote:
I think the point of the exercise is to get students to assess causality in the context of history. We take it for granted that one thing leads to another and that this sequence of events constitutes "history", but we are very inept at understanding how exactly this works in reality ......

Speak for yourself!

But what was the point in asking the original question knowing that it was essentially unanswerable?
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Tue 01 Mar 2016, 14:19

It's not unanswerable as you're free to answer it any way you like, so long as you're not sending something incomprehensible to the recipient - but the "why" part of it means that it's certainly unanswerable without some critical assessment of causality being used along the way.

Another one by the same author was to imagine you could go back and whisper just one sentence in someone's ear. Who would you pick and what would you say, and of course why would you say it?
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Tue 01 Mar 2016, 14:35

Oh, I don't know what nordmann is talking about. This game makes me feel really stupid. And I thought my example was rather good.


 Mad at PC
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Tue 01 Mar 2016, 14:38

Well it's a bit like the Hitler dilemma question ... if you could go back and kill Adolf Hitler at birth, would you do so? A fairly unconsequential act on its own, albeit it could remove forever the potential for WW2/Nazism/Jewish genocide etc etc. ... or would it? On one hand one can say, perhaps invoking chaos theory (wrongly), that a little effect can lead to big unforseen effects and the absence of baby Adolf from the world might have immediately started to have increasingly awful, or increasingly "good", consequences. On the other, there's plenty of supporting information and plausible alternative scenarios, to say that even without an adult Herr Hitler, a first world war, followed by punative reparations on Germany, plus latent anti-sematism, plus ... well a host of other issues ... a second European war, with all it's horrors, was almost inevitable.

Should one ever be actually faced with the Hitler dilemma (whether to expunge him at birth) one can only try and weigh up the certain immense bad (of letting him live), against all the far from certain uncertainties (of killing him) ... as well as possibly considering all the actual "good" that did happen from letting him live (radar, the EU, anti-biotics, the UN, space exploration, nuclear power ... or whatever), aalong with the even more unknown "benefits" that might have followed if he'd, say conquered all Europe and lived to a ripe old age. History is a chain of events that have occurred ... but lets never presume that the way they did actually happen to turn out was anything remotely like "destiny".


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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Tue 01 Mar 2016, 14:43

I liked your example too, Temp. You didn't say it, but I reckoned it would have been best delivered just before July 1st 1536, when he had parliament declare all three of his children bastards, even the one who was a bastard anyway. Mind you, knowing Henry as we do, he'd probably just humph and wipe his arse with it, or get his groom of the stool to do it for him.

sorry, MM - crossed posts
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Tue 01 Mar 2016, 15:13

Meles meles wrote:
Well it's a bit like the Hitler dilemma question ... if you could go back and kill Adolf Hitler at birth, would you do so? A fairly unconsequential act on its own, albeit it could remove forever the potential for WW2/Nazism/Jewish genocide etc etc. ... or would it? On one hand one can say, perhaps invoking chaos theory (wrongly), that a little effect can lead to big unforseen effects and the absence of baby Adolf from the world might have immediately started to have increasingly awful, or increasingly "good", consequences. On the other, there's plenty of supporting information and plausible alternative scenarios, to say that even without an adult Herr Hitler, a first world war, followed by punative reparations on Germany, plus latent anti-sematism, plus ... well a host of other issues ... a second European war, with all it's horrors, was almost inevitable.

Should one ever be actually faced with the Hitler dilemma (whether to expunge him at birth) one can only try and weigh up the certain immense bad (of letting him live), against all the far from certain uncertainties (of killing him) ... as well as possibly considering all the actual "good" that did happen from letting him live (radar, the EU, anti-biotics, the UN, space exploration, nuclear power ... or whatever), aalong with the even more unknown "benefits" that might have followed if he'd, say conquered all Europe and lived to a ripe old age. History is a chain of events that have occurred ... but lets never presume that the way they did actually happen to turn out was anything remotely like "destiny".


A dilemma indeed but thankfully we have guidance.............


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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Tue 01 Mar 2016, 20:10

nordmann wrote:
This is also what happens with students learning historiography - when presented with the proposition and the rules of the hypothesis they cannot resist sending something to a recipient which would undoubtedly change the course of history. However they also rarely volunteer any motive for their action, even when it was requested as part of the same proposition.


Norman,

 Yes , I admit I should have explained my point of returning that letter /message from Franz Joseph to Franz Ferdinand.

Franz Joseph and his wife went in accordance with the wishes of Franz Joseph to Bosnia in June 1914to observe the military maneuvers and then went on to visit Sarajevo where both of them were assassinated on June 28, 1914.

As we all know that assassination was the cause of World War 1.

In other words if that letter would NOT have been sent history could have taken a different path.
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Tue 01 Mar 2016, 20:39

Dirk Marinus wrote:
nordmann wrote:
This is also what happens with students learning historiography - when presented with the proposition and the rules of the hypothesis they cannot resist sending something to a recipient which would undoubtedly change the course of history. However they also rarely volunteer any motive for their action, even when it was requested as part of the same proposition.


Norman,

 Yes , I admit I should have explained my point of returning that letter /message from Franz Joseph to Franz Ferdinand.

Franz Joseph and his wife went in accordance with the wishes of Franz Joseph to Bosnia in June 1914to observe the military maneuvers and then went on to visit Sarajevo where both of them were assassinated on June 28, 1914.

As we all know that assassination was the cause of World War 1.

In other words if that letter would NOT have been sent history could have taken a different path.
Perhaps a similar result could have been achieved by sending his chauffeur a street map of Sarajevo? Then his cavalcade would perhaps not have stopped where Princip could shoot him.
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Wed 02 Mar 2016, 08:57

Dirk Marinus wrote:


 Yes , I admit I should have explained my point of returning that letter /message from Franz Joseph to Franz Ferdinand.

Franz Joseph and his wife went in accordance with the wishes of Franz Joseph to Bosnia in June 1914to observe the military maneuvers and then went on to visit Sarajevo where both of them were assassinated on June 28, 1914.

As we all know that assassination was the cause of World War 1.

In other words if that letter would NOT have been sent history could have taken a different path.


But the assassination wasn't really the cause of the war, it was just the trigger that actually occurred first. History would have taken another path but the war may well still have happened, initiated by some other event. Or would it?

Everything might have blown over ... and we might be sitting here today congratulating ourselves and celebrating over 100 years of universal peace in Europe, blithely ignorant at how close the continent came to war in 1914 through the long-forgotten actions of a long-forgotten driver who once wasn't quite sure of the route. Sometimes I suspect the course of events can turn on the very smallest of details, some of course being things that didn't happen, such as say, Franz Joseph's driver not taking the wrong turn, or say, the fatal Spanish flu infection that Adolf Hitler didn't contract in 1918.
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Wed 02 Mar 2016, 12:36

nordmann wrote:
I liked your example too, Temp. You didn't say it, but I reckoned it would have been best delivered just before July 1st 1536, when he had parliament declare all three of his children bastards, even the one who was a bastard anyway. Mind you, knowing Henry as we do, he'd probably just humph and wipe his arse with it, or get his groom of the stool to do it for him.


This has been driving me nuts.

I had rather hoped that I could save Anne Boleyn: I wanted to hand the missive to Henry as he sat straining at stool on that disastrous day in September 1533. He had just cancelled the jousts and was experiencing a massive Tudor fit of pique. Would the realisation that the unwanted little daughter who had just been born would, one day, be a monarch as great - or greater - than himself, have made a difference? Would he, perhaps, have abandoned his relentless pursuit of a male heir?

Ah, but then the thought of the possible ramifications begin. What might have happened makes one dizzy. Think of all the historical novels that would never have been written for a start. And then it must be considered - would Elizabeth have become a great ruler had her mother survived; would Elizabeth have been Elizabeth without having experienced the terrible lessons life threw at her, lessons that prepared her so well for what lay ahead? She had inherited the political intelligence of both her mother and of her great-grandmother, but would that have been enough? What she went through as a child, an adolescent and as a young woman made her strong, as well as wily and cautious - and aware.

And, had she inherited the throne as a thirteen-year-old in 1547, what would have been her - and her mother's - chances of survival? Would her mother have been made Regent? Would Spanish Mary have sat by and done nothing? Would Cromwell - there having been no Anne of Cleves fiasco - still have been alive? If so, who would he have backed? He always rather favoured Spain after all - trade links and all that. Would there have been civil war, with the Boleyns (and Uncle Norfolk) emerging victorious only after a terrible and bloody struggle?

The Seymour brothers presumably would have little power or influence, their sister never having become queen, but would Dudley have shown his hand sooner, wheeling and dealing with the Regent Anne to get one of his sons married to the young queen? Robert Dudley was still unmarried in 1547; he did not marry poor Amy Robsart until 1550 - now there's a thought! But then if Cromwell was still alive and had backed Anne, would he have eliminated Dudley at once?

And Jane Grey - perhaps she would have been left in peace to read her Plato with John Aylmer, while silly little Katherine Howard would have been allowed to giggle and romp her way through life, free to love whomsoever she wished.

Cranmer at least would have been safe - that's a plus; with no Mary Tudor inheriting, he would have been spared a terrible death - as would all those others who died in the flames.

Gosh, this speculation could go on forever. Still don't know if it's what nordmann had in mind, but I've enjoyed the rambling.

Meanwhile, we leave Henry snorting in disbelief and contemptuously handing the dispatch to Norris who applies it gently to the royal backside.


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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Wed 02 Mar 2016, 15:58

Deleted original message; I was being silly. Just something somebody suggested that made me laugh.

And this sent back would ruin the famous line: "A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!"
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PostSubject: Re: If you could send one thing back through time ...   Thu 03 Mar 2016, 08:10

This is much more difficult that I first imagined - I had some really good thoughts until the laws of unintended consequences came to mind.  What a great topic.
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