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Niall Ferguson, Virtual History: Language and Sources

Language

Ferguson deliberately adopts the tone and language of a dispassionate historian giving a genuine narrative picture of events. Instead of saying these events could have happened, he narrates them as if they did happen; he even imagines other historical controversies about them. He also slips on one or two mischievous touches: Britain is now part of ‘Anglo-America’ and Hitler has united Europe into a ‘European Union’, an obvious joke at the expense of the real European Union, of which Ferguson does not approve.

Sources

It might be thought that one could hardly have sources for a fictional historical account, but in fact the essays in the book carry long and impressive bibliographies: they have to keep their speculations within reasonable and plausible bounds. However, Ferguson’s own contribution, the spoof narrative history from which this passage comes, does not have footnotes. He is taking his contributors essays and weaving them together into this ‘alternative’ history of the 1930s-40s. He certainly does weave them together; how plausible the end result is, remains open to discussion.

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