What historical event would you change?

What I wanted to do was to make cowpox endemic among the human population of North America in, say, around 1500. They wouldn’t like it; but they’d probably mostly survive, and would get smallpox immunity out of it.

However, cowpox apparently doesn’t transmit human to human, and never became all that common even among humans who were exposed to species that do transmit to humans. So that ain’t gonna work. And while the strictures of the OP would allow me access to smallpox vaccine, vaccination doesn’t spread through a population, and I’d be limited to one historical moment; so I’d only be able to save a limited number of people, probably not enough to prevent the invasion to succeed in close to its actual form.

How about I introduce modern horses (hardy breeds) to North America about 1300, along with instructions in their use for both riding and draft purposes? I don’t know what all the repurcussions from that would be; I think there’s be quite a few, both within the continent (which is why I want to make it well before Columbus so those will have some time to shake out) and in the ability to respond to the European invasion.

I don’t expect, in either case, that the “changed world” I’d supposedly return to would have me in it. My parents, presuming they’d existed, would be unlikely to have met, let alone to have conceived with the same gametes.

Point of order, am I obliged to change something? Am I allowed to just go back to a certain point and gather data (within the constraints of what a single person can do within a reasonable time) and bring the information back to the present? Because I think if that passive approach is allowed, that might be my preference.

It would probably be easier to stop Giteau than trying convince 19th century doctors to adopt antiseptic techniques

This plan most likely.

So what are we talking about here? Are we just interested in seeing what would have happened if an event turned out differently, or we actually changing something, and going back and living the rest of our lives in the world that creates?

If we are just interested then then there is loads of stuff I’d like to see. What if the Cathaginians win the Punic wars? (convince Hannibal to bring some siege engines to Rome) What if Britain didn’t join WW1? What if Julian the Apostate hadn’t been killed in Persia?

If we are actually living with the results I’d be much more cautious. Even apparent no-brainers (like the ol’ Kill Hitler trick) aren’t when you think about it, there is a pretty good chance you end up with another militaristic authoritarian Mussolini admirer getting Europe into another world war, and what if this one isn’t crap at strategic decision making?

So one thing I’d definitely consider is going back 3000 years with a suitably translated medical textbook*, and getting it into the right (probably rich, male, aristocractic) hands to make sure it is accepted as truth. It would profoundly change society but I can’t believe it would not be generally for the better (probably?)

    • In the sci fi short story (whose name I forget) that uses this storyline the result is huge over population, But I an not sure that would be the case, sections on birth control would be in the book too! (not to mention, as a previous thread on this discussed, most of the mortality historically is from lack of food or diseases that can’t be easily cured without modern science even if you do know they are caused by microbes)

I remember reading about how the introduction of the potato into European agriculture after Columbus drastically altered European society --allowing the peasants in northern Europe to feed themselves during war and famines(well at least until blight struck in the early 1800s). (This was mentioned in the book 1493 by Charles C. Mann.)

So I would bring potatoes and maize from the New World back to the 400s BC northern Europe and see how it would alter the development of history.

None. The reality I know is great. The reality I know sucks. There’s no way for me to know what would, on the balance, make the future better than what we have now. And what would seem “better” might end up being much worse in the long run. So I’d leave shit the fuck alone.

I think I’d go to Australia September 4, 2006 to ask Steve Irwin for an autograph and a photo to delay him just a few minutes before he headed out on his boat.