I Hate Fake History

I’ve made the point before that the phony, screwball versions of various disciplines actually have a much longer pedigree than their more evidence-based counterparts: astrology is much more venerable than astronomy, chemistry comes from alchemy, quackery is the original medicine and people have been talking self-serving bollocks about the past much longer than they’ve been actually trying to understand it.

One thing I do is write reviews of history-related books for a magazine that covers not only history but also the paranormal, the esoteric and the generally weird. Sometimes this means that I get to review books that are about quirky and odd history, which I enjoy, and sometimes it means that I get to read books about how the folk tale of the Green Children of Woolpit (a local tale about people finding some green children) is clearly about how genetically-engineered photosynthetic human space colonists came to earth in the middle ages. Barmy as it is, that’s reasonably entertaining, but somehow the ones about how all of ancient history was really a sophisticated network of megalith-centred trade networks are even more frustrating, because … I can’t explain why. I think it’s the fact that they’re structured in such a way that it’s easy to knock down the premise (to wit — there is no evidence for this whatsoever, and it’s highly suspicious that you haven’t demonstrated this idea with any actual stone circles) but you know it won’t make any difference; there’s an infinite amount of special pleading in the Special Pleading Bin.

There are those who take great joy in the whackjob theory of the “alternative” historian or archaeologist, and in theeeeeeory I can enjoy them. I often do in the abstract. But the process of actually reading one of these goddamn things borders on the painful for me.

It might be that I’m in the wrong business.

I Hate Fake History

2 thoughts on “I Hate Fake History

  1. I totally understand that frustration. At least some of them are pretty harmless… it’s when it gets political & people twist the past around to make themselves look better that it really pisses me off.

  2. I agree that they are often pretty harmless, but that’s not really what bothers me about them. It’s an epistemological thing — because they *sound* like history but they’re either crackpottery or bullshit, you have this terrible urge to engage in a debate that’s going to end up going nowhere.

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