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Critical Thinker's Dictionary

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pseudohistory

Pseudohistory is purported history which

  • treats myths, legends, sagas and similar literature as literal truth

  • is neither critical nor skeptical in its reading of ancient historians, taking their claims at face value and ignoring empirical or logical evidence contrary to the claims of the ancients

  • is on a mission, not a quest, seeking to support some contemporary political or religious agenda rather than find out the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the past

  • often denies that there is such a thing as historical truth, clinging to the extreme skeptical notion that only what is absolutely certain can be called 'true' and nothing is absolutely certain, so nothing is true

  • often maintains that history is nothing but mythmaking and that different histories are not to be compared on such traditional academic standards as accuracy, empirical probability, logical consistency, relevancy, completeness, fairness, honesty, etc., but on moral or political grounds

  • is selective in its use of ancient documents, citing favorably those that fit with its agenda, and ignoring or interpreting away those documents which don't fit

  • considers the possibility of something being true as sufficient to believe it is true if it fits with one's agenda

  • often maintains that there is a conspiracy to suppress its claims because of racism, atheism or ethnocentrism, or because of opposition to its political or religious agenda

Examples of pseudohistory include Afrocentrism, creationism, holocaust revisionism and the catastrophism of Immanuel Velikovsky.

Pseudohistory should be distinguished from the ancient texts it is based on. The sagas, legends, myths and histories which have been passed on orally or in written documents by ancient peoples are sometimes called pseudohistory. Some of it is pseudohistory, some of it is flawed history and some of it isn't history at all.

Pseudohistory should also be distinguished from historical fiction and fantasy. Books such as Terence Flanagan's The Year of the French, The Tenants of Time and The End of the Hunt are not pseudohistories but works of fiction in a historical setting. Despite the fact that historical fiction is often historically accurate, it is not history. Anyone who cites a work of historical fiction as if it were a history text is a practicing pseudohistorian. I suppose one should also refer to writers such as the Abbé Jean Terrasson (1670-175?) as pseudohistorians. These are writers of historical fiction who intentionally falsify and invent ancient history, as Terrasson did in his Sethos, a History or Biography, based on Unpublished Memoirs of Ancient Egypt. This technique of claiming to find an ancient document and publishing it in order to express one's own ideas is still used, e.g., The Celestine Prophecy. A variation on this theme is to claim that one is channeling a book from some ancient being, e.g, The Urantia Book and Bringers of the Dawn.

pseudohistory at the movies

Films seem to present a special challenge for some people; for, they argue endlessly about the duty of filmmakers to be historically accurate. Is Oliver Stone's JFK fiction, fantasy, myth, pseudohistory or what? The film invents fictional characters and events to enhance the story and Stone's personal views, some of which are improbable or known to be false. Unless a film claims to be a documentary, it is fiction or fantasy no matter how accurate or realistic it is. Film makers have no more duty to be historians than do novelists. Anyone who would cite films such as JFK or Michael Collins as if they were historical documents is a pseudohistorian. Rather than demand that filmmakers be responsible historians or citizens, we should demand that filmgoers be critical thinkers. Being "based on a true story" is not a sufficient condition for being non-fiction. Likewise, the X-Files and similar television programs, which may be realistic and or even claim to be based on a true story, are not non-fiction. To site such fantasy programs as evidence for claims about supernatural or paranormal events is to engage in the type of pseudoresearch practiced by pseudohistorians.

See also Afrocentrism, Celestine Prophecy, creationism, Pleiadians, Zecharia Sitchin, Erich von Däniken, Urantia Book, and Immanuel Velikovsky.


further reading

books and articles

Lefkowitz, Mary, Not Out of Africa - How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History (New York: Basic Books, 1996). Reviewed in The Skeptic's Refuge

Shermer, Michael. Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened & Why Do They Say It? (Millennium Press, 1999).

Shermer, Michael. Why People Believe Weird Things : Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time , chs. 13 and 14  (W H Freeman & Co.: 1997).

websites

In the Hall of Ma'at - Weighing the Evidence for Alternative History

The New Atlantis and the Dangers of Pseudohistory by Garrett G. Fagan and Chris Hale

"Giving the Devil His Due: Holocaust Revisionism as a Test Case for Free Speech and the Skeptical Ethic" by Frank Miele

Skeptic ,Volume 2, Number 4 (1994): Pseudohistory Has articles on holocaust revisionism, Afrocentrism, creationism and arkology.

The History of Pseudohistory by Rocky One could not find a better specimen of the principles of relativism, historicism, subjectivism, and extreme skepticism at work.If you want to get inside the mind of a pseudohistorian, Rocky's is accessible to anyone who can read English.

Last updated 22-Dec-2013

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