The Current of History Runs Surest in the Mainstream
The last two posters above me give examples of historical errors that became accepted as folklore and even incorporated into the official story
(taught in schools, etc.) Of course, this has happened many times.
Their examples also show that often, in time, these errors come to be corrected. For example, we know now that Columbus did not 'discover' the New
World but was preceded on its shores by many others, from Asiatics who crossed the Bering Straits some time in prehistory to the Norsemen who tried
unsuccessfully to settle 'Vinland' a few centuries before Christopher.
How is it that we know better? We know because there exists a study of history in which scholars seek to reconstruct 'what really
from fragmentary original sources. It is very hard work and the results are endlessly controversial, but over time a consensus emerges. This, for
better or worse, becomes the current account of history. At all times, it is susceptible to alteration by new discoveries and new studies.
It is this core of (relatively) trustworthy historical knowledge that is our touchstone of reality, our talisman against the baleful influences of
propaganda and myth.
We need not fear that it is slanted, except by the prejudices of our age (which we cannot help). It is true that many historians are funded by groups
that have an interest in their findings, but there are so many such groups, all with conflicting interests, and such a large number of independent
researchers besides, that they cancel one another out and keep one another honest. Above all, they correct each other's errors. I wonder whether
future scholars will concur that the Chinese discovered America; I suspect not.
I understand that I am arguing for the orthodoxy here, but then I love reading history.
And speaking of historical errors, here's one:
Actually, the Romans invented the science of history. Then it was forgotten until the early 1800's when it became a science again and was
headed by morons who thought that anyone who came before them were idiots.
It is generally agreed that the first book of history in the western tradition - that is, an account of the past in which the writer took pains to
find out what really happened, as best he could, from available sources, rather than relying only on tradition and myth - was written around 430BC by
the Ionian Greek gentleman traveller Herodotus
. Other Greeks wrote historical works of one
kind or another; Xenophon's
memoirs and accounts of the history of his times are justly famed,
though not always very reliable. The doyen of Greek historians was Thucidydes
of Athens, whose
, published around 395BC, is often called the first 'scientific' work of history.
It is true that the Romans were very keen on history. I believe they invented the writing of
. And while the study of history may have been, as the poster says,
forgotten in the West, it was alive and well in the Islamic world
, thanks to the
tradition of hadith
, and it developed, by the fourteenth century, into a truly scientific approach to historiography and sociology. The
Chinese historiographical tradition
is also quite substantial.
Even in the West, histories of a sort kept being written, even through the Dark Ages - histories of the Church, mostly, like
Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People
, published around 730AD.