An equally true history of the world?
February 4, 2014 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Is there a list of important historical events which are now regarded (by at least a majority of historians) as true/accurate, which are or were recently regarded as fringe theories, hoaxes, or legends, or which are viewed as unimportant and given short shrift in US / western public school curricula and popular narratives? Links to lists or individual items appreciated. Thanks!
posted by Chris4d to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Here's a question from Reddit's /r/AskHistorians along those lines, although it's not comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:50 AM on February 4, 2014

Best answer: The fine folks here at metafilter have aggregated a bunch of this sort of thing before!

What did history books get wrong?
Common misconceptions in general.

Historical science misconceptions.
Common occupation misconceptions.
Common health misconceptions.

Then of course there's Lies My Teacher Told Me, which I haven't read myself but is basically the same sort of thing.
posted by phunniemee at 10:50 AM on February 4, 2014

A lot of conspiracy theories and sheer creepy government experiments might count

A bazillion weird attempts to assassinate (!) Castro.

CIA control of the media?

I think some of the utter insanity Scientology allegedly gets up to/away with counts.

I believe there was some halfway formed plots to overthrow both US and UK major politicians.

The Japanese military made a coup attempt at the end of WW2 after we atom bombed them twice.

The Gulf of Tonkin indecent may have been faked to some or all extent.

Snowden's NSA/Patriot Act stuff is being made a huge (justifiable) deal of now, but 9/11 to... a few years ago-ish it might not have been getting as much attention as it should.

And, of course, various CIA et al invasions, drug and arms running scandals, assassination plans, break ins, manipulations,and wacky hijinks are numerous.

(and now I'm on a list, again. great. :( )
posted by Jacen at 11:01 AM on February 4, 2014

posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:19 AM on February 4, 2014

Response by poster: won't threadsit, some great answers already, looking for more:
- evidence-based/strong consensus of veracity, not "allegedly" / "may have been" / "?"
- older historical and broadly important events, not just recent USA-centric conspiracies
- historical occurrences, not biological/geological processes/theories

posted by Chris4d at 11:44 AM on February 4, 2014

Best answer: IIRC, people didn't believe that Troy was a real place until Heinrich Schliemann found it.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:54 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This isn't super recent, but the Roman Regal Period used to be called the Legendary Period (as in, totally fictional, no way that ever happened) until the Lapis Niger cippus, which refers to a king, was found in the Forum Romanum. The details of the stories told by Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus are still seen as more or less legendary, but the existence of a monarchy before the republic is now generally accepted.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:17 PM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm not really sure you understand the kind of question you're asking. History is. . . well asking what history is is kind of a complicated question. Today most practicing historians consider it to be something of an art. But 150 years ago, history was considered a science--like just about everything else--leading to some very, very silly history being written. A few centuries before that, history wasn't really at all about numeric, chronological "accuracy" as much as it was telling stories with a politically/culturally/sociologically/religiously useful point.

What modern historians do now can be viewed as something of a mixture of that and modernist "scientific" history, i.e., there is definitely some concern for telling stories that accurately reflect what facts we can objectively ascertain, but there is a strong consciousness that the stories historians tell are necessarily constructed, not objective. Different historians can use the same set of evidence to tell entirely different stories, that that diversity is basically recognized as a fundamental aspect of the discipline.

Further, the majority view of historical events can and does change significantly over time. Someone has already mentioned Troy, which was widely considered to be entirely mythical until Schliemann went and found the damned thing. Nineteenth- and early twentieth-century historians tended to view the period between about AD 500 and AD 1500 as the "Dark Ages," and the majority consensus was basically that nothing of real interest occurred between the fall of Rome and the advent of the modern period in the Renaissance. Contemporary historians tend to view the period as a time of incredible diversity, progress, and change, and there is increasingly intense interest in the period by the current generation of historians. Lots of original research to be done. There's also been a significant shift away from the traditional "Great Men" perspective, which focused almost exclusively on political and military events, and towards a more cultural and social perspective focusing on the way historical cultures actually operated on a daily basis. And we haven't even gotten to the insights of feminist and Marxist historians, who have successfully recast, or at least reinvigorated, the prevailing views about almost everything they've taken hold of.

So I think your question can't really be answered in the way you're looking for, because the prevailing view of history changes. A lot. Sometimes very quickly. And it sometimes includes diversity of opinion. There are things which were viewed as legends which are now considered to be more-or-less factual, and there are things which were considered to be more-or-less factual which are now widely discarded as self-serving hagiography. It all depends on who you ask, and when.

I think what you want to do is read about historiography, i.e., the study of the methodology and development of history as a discipline. It's a fascinating study. But I think one thing that all historians today would agree on is the idea that there will likely never come a time when a particular historical event or series of events can considered to be "finished" in terms of historical study. Someone can always look at things from a different perspective.
posted by valkyryn at 12:17 PM on February 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: For a long time (say, up to 150 years ago) it was thought that the Iliad was total mythology, but as time has gone on the archeological evidence has accumulated to confirm a lot of the events that didn't involve gods.

I think the historical consensus now is that there really was a Troy, and it really was sacked by a Greek force. The Iliad, in turn, was an epic poem based on (and exaggerated on) a real event.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:16 PM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not sure if this counts as "history" but continental drift was considered a crackpot theory pretty much from when Wegener proposed it in 1912 until the mid '50s - and was not fully accepted by many geologists until years later.
posted by mr vino at 2:21 PM on February 4, 2014

Response by poster: Valkyryn - my (layman's) awareness of the constructedness of any historical narrative is the precise reason for this question. I want to know about potentially important (far-reaching, revolutionary, etc.) events that run counter to or outside the popular narrative we learn in K-12 school, or events for which the majority interpretation has changed among experts while an outdated idea persists among the general population. Accepting that there are many interpretations of history, I want to learn about lesser-known interpretations for which there is evidentiary support and majority acceptance among domain experts.
posted by Chris4d at 2:38 PM on February 4, 2014

Best answer: Off the top of my head, I believe that the following were theories or legends when I was in school (1980's), and are accepted as fact now:

Viking voyages to North America

The Bronze Age Invasion of the Sea Peoples is now surprisingly well documented.

Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson had a baby. Or, to be precise, six babies.

How far back do you want to go? Everyone used to know that Dinosaurs were giant, cold-blooded reptiles. We were so wrong.
posted by kanewai at 6:20 PM on February 4, 2014

Best answer: On a more general note, pre-Columbian Native American trade routes were significant and wide-spread, and have been well documented. Our history books dealt with them as tribes who existed in isolation.
posted by kanewai at 6:23 PM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

posted by aniola at 9:56 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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