“Prior to 1960, we can identify perhaps 20 [alternate history novels] through the extent of Western literature,” writes Catherine Gallagher, a professor of English literature at Berkeley.
“Since 1960, almost 300 have been published in English alone, more than half of those appearing since 1990.”
The written record of regret for lost opportunities begins in the early 1800s, with British writer Isaac D’Israeli penning an essay titled, “Of a History of Events Which Have Not Happened.” Though not a work of fiction, D’Israeli did formally examine counterfactuals to understand how we conceive of and record history.
This examination of the discipline was part of a broader wave of secularization in the humanities. Until this period, theologians used counterfactuals only as a way to prove God’s goodness, and Divine Providence—the deity as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all goodness.