History and its myths



I've long had an interest in history, not just as an aspiring writer but also because history is a great teacher. It can shed light on why things are in a certain way nowadays and tell us what mistakes to avoid in the future; it can also keep us humble: a lot of inventions that define modern life are in fact thousands of years old.

Too bad then that people believe all kinds of myths about history, owing to poor education, propaganda, and fiction often being easier to swallow than a complicated, often ugly reality. Which ends up hurting us all.

Luckily, efforts to teach people better exist. Even humor websites sometimes take a crack at this issue, but for others it's their bread and butter. I've long known about the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts, for instance. Yes there is such a thing, and yes, most of what you've heard about medieval weapons, armor and combat is a tall tale made up roughly two centuries ago for political reasons. Less formally, Going Medieval busts other popular myths, like the idea that Europeans in the Middle Ages were somehow dirty or uneducated. And while it's not the main focus of Medievalists.net, they also often do that kind of thing, like pointing out that yes, Viking women were often buried with their weapons, and no, most likely they weren't warriors, but clerics (in reference to this NatGeo article, by the way). Poor Vikings in particular often get their history distorted, their image having been co-opted by some very unsavory people, though more civilizations have had the same fate.

Other old cultures had their history distorted for somewhat different reasons. Turns out, Easter Island fell prey to slavers, not infighting. For that matter, Native Americans always had horses. And since we moved to America, it turns out real-world cowboys were largely black... and gay. Closer to home in place and time, the slums of Victorian London were hardly abandoned, and indeed they only existed briefly as portrayed by Charles Dickens.

Which was only the case because there were people who cared and worked to understand, then fix the problem. If only more of the rich and powerful today saw their privilege as a responsibility instead. You know, like in the days of chivalry.

Let's get educated. This time for real.


Tags: history, education, links