March 10th, 2014

Touchpoints for and thoughts on somewhat nonspecific alternate history?

I'm toying with a story idea, and rather than either set it in an entirely fictional world, or set it in the real world and pretend the presence of magic wouldn't alter history in a lot of different ways, I figure I'd kind of aim for "obviously this world, but different"--for example, I was thinking of having the major language and dominant country of the British Isles be named after the Saxons instead of the Angles (that is, Saxon and Saxony instead of English and England)

A lot of this isn't so much "little details" as "please make suggestions of what things I should search for/poke at"

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The story will probably be set somewhere in the neighborhood of the Enlightenment or the early industrial revolution, in part because I didn't want to do Yet Another Vaguely Medieval Fantasy Story.

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The questions:
1. Do you think it's plausible for European history to have about the same "shape" even without the overwhelming influence from Christianity?

2. Any thoughts for specific little things that might plausibly be different between this world and our own at the same point in history? I'm thinking things like different (but recognizable) names for the nations/regions/cities/etc (a la my England/Saxony example), differences in national/empiric boundaries (for example, might Scotland still be a separate country?), and the like. Also, any that you think might be "attractive" to me but strike you as completely improbable would be good, so I know what to avoid. I don't want to throw my readers out of the story...

3. Any good sources you can recommend to get enough of an overview of the relevant bits of history that I don't do anything completely silly in constructing my alternate history, and/or my alternate 17th/18th century England?

As a side note, this isn't a "true" alternate history, since the point of departure is basically "There is this specific kind of magic, and it's been there since about as long as there have been humans". But I figured that, with the same physical geography and otherwise similar natural laws, etc, there might have been the same kinds of forces of history, et cetera, leading to a similar-ish world.
Think of this as a little like the Victorian-empire-with-werewolves in Soulless, or Europa-with-Sparks in the Girl Genius comics. Less "here is the point at which history diverged", more "here is a world a lot like our own, except..."

son of edit:
I think 1 has pretty much been covered (as per my comment currently at the bottom). Any thoughts on 2? Basically, I'm looking for alternate names, etc. that would make you go "Oh, she's talking about (place)", or "Oh, in this world, I guess (event) happened differently", but would not leave you thinking that this world is absolutely nothing like our own.