Carnival of Bad History No 11

So what is the Carnival of Bad History? That is a question I’ve spent a lot of time answering in the past couple of weeks, to thoughts along the lines of “but aren’t carnivals about good things?” So perhaps we should call it “the carnival of good posts about bad history”, but then that’s a bit of a mouthful, so I guess we’re stuck with the current title.

So what are my qualifications for hosting? Well by profession I’m a journalist – which means I belong to the group very often responsible for some of the worst excesses of bad history. I was thinking back to all of the history stories I’ve written over the years; I suspect the worst would have been 250 words on a 100-year-old stuffed armadillo. One of those last-minute things – here was a picture. Write about it. Wouldn’t be that hard now, but this was in the pre-internet age… so I fear what I did was repeat every cliche I’d ever heard about the Victorians. Luckily, however, this WAS the pre-internet age, so the evidence is hidden in yellowing newsprint in the archives.

That doesn’t make me sound like much of the host, so I guess I’d better also tell my “good” bad history story. I made a small mark with people of a kind who (sadly) no longer matter a jot at The Times (London) when I pointed out the problem with some famous columnist’s rhetorical use of Ozymandias, who the writer had building pyramids. But, I said, Ozymandias – or at least the statue that inspired Shelley – was Ramses the Great, who would not even have thought of constructing such – pyramids being about a millennia out of fashion. Yes – it might be an arcane point, but it is the sort of thing that still gets retired professors writing to The Times, or bloggers warming up their fingers.

So, without further ado… the carnival. And since just as the last refuge for a journalist out of ideas is alliteration, the last refuge of a historian out of ideas is chronology, this is roughly arranged by date – but complaints of bad chronology will not be entertained…

So I’ll start with a bit of very early prehistory – otherwise known as paleontology – as thought about in 1807 by Charlotte Smith. She was working her way from very bad history – fossils as freaks of nature, towards a more scientific explanation.

Staying, to be technical, prehistoric – Stonehenge. On Jennie’s Rambles, she reminds readers, and her students, that it “is NOT some giant sundial! “ (But it is a rather funny cartoon… Sorry!)

For Glaukopidos, ancient imperialism is being, it seems repeated. Describing other gods as “equivalents” to certain Greek and Roman gods is seriously inaccurate, she suggests.

I’m not sure that I’d agree with everything in this post, but on The Unknown Islam, Abu Sahajj has some interesting thoughts in The Unknown Islam in America – the bad history lying in the fact the refusal to acknowledge some of it.

On Walking the Berkshires, GreenmanTim tries to tease the good history from the bad in the story of Sarah Bishop, the Hermit of West Mountain, a woman who chose to live for 30 years alone in a small cave in the wilderness in the late 18th and early 19th century.

I’ve rejected several nominations that seemed to me to refer only to contemporary American politics, without historical focus at all, but I had no problems including a submission for Orac’s post on Respectful Insolence about the comparisons between the Iraq War and the American Civil War. Whatever you think about the former, it is clear that the account of the latter is being twisted for political purposes.

Now I’m not sure this post really deserves to be here – it seems rather fun history to me, but it was nominated, so check out on Mark A Rayner’s The Skwib, the The Lost PowerPoint Slides (Henri Bergson Edition). And yes for the literal-minded, I have noticed there was no Powerpoint back then – lucky them!

Bad history about the Jews is not hard to find in history, but Brett D. Hirsch on Sound and Theory has found in a 1938 anti-Semitic children’s book just how antisemites are either “lazy, or just plain unoriginal?”

Some of the controversies here are just going to run and run, and that’s certainly true of the debate about the aims and actions of Arthur “Bomber” Harris in Dresden and other places. Brett Holman on Airminded takes issue with “Orac’s post critiquing Richard Dawkins’ comments”. (Yes I did cut and paste that to make sure I got it right.)

And then there’s that other Bad History Carnival regular – the Hitler comparison. Joerg W has collected a stack of them on Atlantic Review.

Then finally – a post so broad in chronology that I couldn’t place it in the run above: On Westminster Wisdow, Gracchi finds an Anglican Anachronism – a modern-day bishop projecting back his own views on democracy to the past.

I hope you found that a good display of bad history. Now just as when you write a column about grammar you’re bound to get picked up on some such error within, I’m sure I’ll have made an error in here somewhere. Please consider it a further display of bad history, and correct it immediately…


  • November 22, 2006 - 2:22 am | Permalink

    This is a coincidence as I just did a post called about some bad history courtesy of the media, although its badness was soo bad that even I, someone who is not at all a historian spotted just how bad it was. It’s more uninformed speculation about Jack the Ripper – sorry, this is verging on a plug, how gauche!

  • November 22, 2006 - 11:24 am | Permalink

    Cheers for linking to me. Great carnival post- I must have a look round your blog too. (Just to save the Church’s blushes a bit I think it was a proffessor not a bishop- but hey given the Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope are both former Profs- maybe the distinction is evaporating). Good set of posts though looking forward to reading them.

  • Pingback: A Blog Around The Clock

  • Pingback: Carnival of Bad History #11 « Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub

  • Pingback: Tim Worstall

  • November 27, 2006 - 9:30 pm | Permalink

    Great job with this carnival, and thanks for the kind comments. Regarding the Lost PowerPoint Slides: isn’t there something intrinsically bad about reducing history to a series of bullet points? 🙂 m.

  • Pingback: the skwib » Carnival Catch-up

  • Pingback: Barista » Blog Archive » History Carnival XLIV

  • December 2, 2006 - 3:08 pm | Permalink

    That stonehenge joke is hilarious… and anyway, if Stonehenge relates to the sun at all, then the summer time joke is a bit like those gags about curtains and cows being rooned by daylight saving..

    The trouble with great jokes about anachronisms (like the powerpoint idea) is that they don’t work at all if you don’t know your history. Still, in-jokes can be fun. As that last para may well be an in-joke.

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *