Alternate History

Selena H. Cao

What is Alternate History?

Alternate History is a genre of speculative fiction literature. It generally uses well known historical events and slightly alter the event, the circumstances, or the world it is set in.

History of Alternate History

Alternate History works can date back to 100 BCE in Ancient Rome. However, this genre rose in popularity in the mid-late 20th century. This was due to a number of history-defining moments happening in real life for authors to question and re-imagine.


One notable Alternate History title is The Man In The High Castle, which envisions a dark future with the Axis Powers conquering the US (and the world) in WWII.

A more modern Alternate History title is His Majesty's Dragon, taking place during the Napoleonic Wars, except everyone fights on dragons. No big deal, really.

Characteristics of Alternate History

Alternate History is about re-imagining history. Common changes made to the historical event or time period are social, geopolitical, or industrial circumstances. The time period and events are rather obvious and usually the author directly states the basis of the story.

For example, there could be fictional characters playing an important part in a historical event, or there's fantasy/supernatural elements mixed in, or could even be an allegory (I'm not sure about that, though)

Similar Genres:

Historical Fiction/Mystery/Romance: Involves people, places, or events from the past, except this is 100% rooted in the history of that time.


Time Travel: This involves changing the past (or future) as well, and seeing how that would affect events or circumstances in this world.


Dystopian: These stories can use an alternate history as a "prologue'", but mainly focus on what happened after the major event.