The second assignment for this class focused on speculating about alternate history.
What if Charles Babbage had completed his Difference Engine in the 1830’s, and the engines were then mass-produced, spreading outward into all areas of calculation?
Students each selected a key event from the period 1830 to 1880 and discussed how it might have been altered by the availability of Difference Engine technology. These events included political, scientific, technological, and financial happenings that together provide an eclectic view of the time period:
- Charles Darwin’s journey on the HMS Beagle (1831)
- The Kowloon Incident and China’s Opium Wars (1839)
- The discovery of Neptune (1846)
- Italian revolutions from Austrian control; Austrian hot-air balloon attacks (1848)
- The collision of the S.S. Arctic and the Vesta (1854)
- The use of cryptography in the American Civil War (1860’s)
- The recovery of Lee’s Special Order 191 in the American Civil War (1862)
- Building the U.S. Transcontinental Railroad (1863-1869)
- William Shanks’s calculation of pi to 707 digits (1873)
- The Vienna Stock Exchange collapse (1873)
The alternate histories make for fascinating readings. Links are provided above to submissions the students have shared publicly. Read on!