A smart man once said, "What is history but a fable agreed upon?" The idea is that history reflects the ideals and beliefs of the one who's teaching it and not necessarily what happened. Repeat a lie a thousand times and someone might actually start believing it.
Last week, Redditor u/throwaway000689 decided to find out which of these myths are the most popular and asked other platform users: "History buffs, what is a commonly held misconception that drives you up the wall every time you hear it?" People immediately started submitting their answers and provided valuable insights into our collective ignorance.
That the further back in time you go the more sexually suppressed everything was or the more racist everyone was or the more misogynistic everyone was - basically any perception that the entirety of history can be charted as a steady progression. All of these things fluctuate. Women in Medieval Europe had more rights than women in 18th century Europe, our concept of racial superiority based on skin color would have come off as insane in many other eras, and I want to tear my hair out every time I hear someone claiming that it would have been scandalous to show an ankle in 19th century Europe. Hell, even in living memory none of these claims are accurate. The 70's were more sexually liberal than the 80's, and you would have to be dumber than a bag of sh*t to not see how much we're backsliding on human rights right now, especially women's rights - and yet people still overwhelmingly cling to the delusion that we're constantly marching ever and ever forward on all of these issues, each day more progressive than the last. It's just not true.
The person who ignited the discussion, u/throwaway000689, came up with the idea for it quite spontaneously. "I was thinking about the conversation I had with my friend where he said that the reason for the downfall of the Roman empire was because of the rampant hedonism," the Redditor told Bored Panda, adding that they find this assessment completely wrong.
One might think that such talks are of little importance. After all, people live in the present, they plan for and worry about the future, but history is the study of the past. Why bother with what has been?
Peter N. Stearns, a professor at George Mason University, where he had been provost for 14 years, said the reason is quite simple: there's much to learn from the bygone days.
"In the first place, history offers a storehouse of information about how people and societies behave," Stearns wrote. "Understanding the operations of people and societies is difficult, though a number of disciplines make the attempt. An exclusive reliance on current data would needlessly handicap our efforts. How can we evaluate war if the nation is at peace—unless we use historical materials? How can we understand genius, the influence of technological innovation, or the role that beliefs play in shaping family life, if we don't use what we know about experiences in the past?"
u/throwaway000689 agrees. "History [not only teaches us about the] mistakes of the past, [but it] also allows us to learn more about the world we live in which helps expand the mind of the average individual."
That people from the past were just less intelligent than modern people. Fact is, humans from even 15,000 years ago were just as intelligent as modern humans (intelligence being the ability to learn and apply knowledge). They just had different things to worry about and had not discovered everything that we know today.
The whole of modern civilization is built on discovers made thousands or tens of thousands of years ago. Our ancestors, starting with nothing but stone tools and basic survival skills, created agriculture, writing, mathematics, standardized language, the wheel, metallurgy, ship building, architecture, trade routes spanning all of afro-eurasia, currency, banking, cross breeding of animals and plants to create better strains, the list goes on.
If I plucked a human baby from thousands of years ago, properly immunized it to modern diseases, and raised it as any other child today, you would be unable to tell the difference between them or any other child.
Fact is the only difference between us and our ancient ancestors is the discoveries, philosophies, technology and effort performed, created and understood by the hundreds of generations between us.
Our ancient ancestors were simply smart in different ways because we only really learn what we have to. Ancient Polynesians literally memorized the night sky for navigating the innumerable islands of the Indo-Pacific and Oceania, Norse people's built ships capable of sailing from Europe to America using only hand tools, wood, linen, nails and rope. Ancient east Asian cultures built massive temples out of wood using only precisely crafted wood joints and no nails. Rome built, well, Rome, with hand tools and hand calculated math. Same can be said of the wonders of Egypt, India and mesopotamia.
Then there is Göbekli Tepe, an amazing structure of precisely placed monoliths, engraved walls and cobblestone paths built nearly 12,000 years ago. Which is nearly 6000 years prior to our earliest records of advanced civilizations.
We stand on the backs of thousands of years of knowledge painstakingly collected and handed down for millennia to us who have taken it and created wonders our ancestors would attribute to gods.
Yet we ignore the gargantuan effort that our long dead kin have contributed to our success and even view them with distain. Calling them savages, ignorant and fools. Truly we are the ungrateful child looking down on the gracious teacher that our ancestors were.
We are the summation of all of humanity, just another step in a long history of advancement, not a separate holy being above it or separate from it.
That white people were the only ones that traded in slavery. Forgetting about north and east africa where natives sold others mostly to the middle east. White women brought high prices and were often shipped great distances. Women in russia were also traded to the middle east.
However, the prevalence of these misconceptions can be indicative of the fact that history is losing in the academic popularity contest.
According to statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 34,642 history majors in 2008. Fast forward to 2017, the count was just 24,266. Most of that decline occurred after 2012, with a notable single-year drop of more than 1,500 between 2016 and 2017.
However, maybe it's not yet time to be ringing any alarm bells. Northeastern University’s Benjamin M. Schmidt pointed out that the history major has had low points before. The discipline weathered a significant decline from 1969 and 1985, when the major dropped by 66 percent.
However, those numbers were linked to higher education’s boom in the ’60s that saw the discipline’s rapid expansion and subsequent bust when higher education growth slowed in the ’70s.
This drop is especially pronounced at private, not-for-profit institutions. While all demographic groups are impacted, the highest drops in the field have been seen among Asian-Americans and women.
That Rosa Parks was just some nice old lady who wouldn't give up a bus seat.
She was a political activist who meticulously planned that specific instance of civil protest.
Cowboys were not cool white guys with endless independence!!! Cowboys were in fact largely black, Mexican, and Native American men who were in need of money and were seen on the low end of social hierarchy. Originally they used whips and dogs to control their herd. Eventually the lazo became the lasso, chaparajos became chaps, and the sombrero turned into the ten gallon cowboy hat we know today. Herding cattle was hard work and was beneath “respectable white folk”. Cowboys worked in groups of 12 or so to herd thousands of cattle over hundreds of miles, and they too had a leader called the trail boss. Cowboys were in fact not rugged icons of independence, but took orders like everyone else and made wages lower than skilled factory pay. Cowboys could also come as young as 12 years old.
That Jewish people and other victims of the Holocaust went willingly to their death and no one fought back. While it’s true that a lot of victims did not believe the genocide was occurring and they were simply being relocated (Nazis/Hitler were very persuasive and no one could imagine a genocide), plenty fought back. There were resistance groups all over the place as well as people fighting from their homes when they were being taken for deportation. Guns were used, makeshift bombs, stolen bombs, etc. Not everyone was going to go to the concentration camps/death camps/detention centres without a fight.
Been studying the Holocaust since 2008.
People didn't die at 30-40. The high infant mortality rate skews the average. If you could survive into your teen years you had a pretty good chance of living into your senior years. Obviously there are a lot of factors to consider(eg class, gender, occupation, where you lived, etc.)
It’s petty, but I hate it when people say that Marilyn Monroe was a size 12/14/16. This may have been true in the 1950s, but clothes sizes have changed A LOT since then. Reports of Marilyn’s measurements by her costumers noted that she was 5 ft. 5.5 inches tall; 35 inch bust; 22 inch waist; and 35 inch hips and 118 pounds. Of course her weight fluctuated, but it is simply dishonest to think that in modern times, she would have been considered “plus size.”
In today’s sizing, depending on where she’d shop at, she would be a size 00-4.
The United States spent the majority of its time and resources in WWII fighting the Nazi’s to free the Jews.
The majority of US fighting was in the Pacific theatre against Japan, because they bombed the sh*t out of us. We weren’t even going to join the war at first, only assist Britain.
Knights weren't exactly chivalrous. It was a concept designed to make them appear magnanimous, and to justify their brutality among the common folk of their enemies when they weren't at war.
Knights could even pay their respective kings to chicken out of fighting in a war if they were summoned to do so, which many did to keep on pillaging hovels full of bumpkins because it was easy sport.
In short, a lot of Knights were rich, murderous bullies with too much free time on their hands.
“Medieval peasant food was bland”
People seem to think peasants only ate bread and potatoes with no seasoning. In reality, while salt was indeed a luxury they often couldn’t afford, they had access to plenty of herbs to flavor their food. They also had access to things like fish and other meats, so they weren’t just eating bread, though it was an important staple of their diet.
If you’re interested in how a bunch of civilizations ate throughout history, check out Tasting History on YouTube. It’s a great source of historical information and entertainment.
"Even Einstein was bad at math"
No, his grades were disclosed multiple times and showed very high marks in math.
That Napoleon was short. Dude was 5"6'. Making him downright average for the European standard at the time. A brief investigation shows this was a rumor that his enemies spread in order to deminish his reputation and how serious his subjects took him. Funny error, but still an error
That Neanderthals were monosyllabic brutes. There's no evidence of that whatsoever. Their brains were bigger than ours and casts of the inside of their skulls show that they had all the same structures our brains had. Their tool making was comparable to any Homo sapiens' took making (at least before the Great Leap Forward) and they lived in communities just like we did.
We also regularly mated with them and had kids, which I really don't think we would if they were little more than quasi-gorillas.
Only around 40% of colonists supported the American Revolution. Another 40% was indifferent, and about 20% sided with the British. Most Americans think that it was the vast majority who wanted Independence.
That witches could only be women. There were plenty of male ‘witches’ over hundreds of years. In fact there are lot of misconceptions about witchcraft in general
I've mentioned this before but the Earth was mathematically proven to be spherical by the Ancient Greeks in the 3rd Century BC. Literate people, at very least, wouldn't have believed the Earth to be flat in the Medieval era.
Furthermore, the Dark Ages weren't the Dark Ages because the Church allegedly suppressed science that they disagreed with. Many important discoveries were sponsored by the Church, and scientists/clergy were not mutually exclusive.
That carrots magically make your eyesight better. I still hear people say this to this day. Carrots are good for you, but not any better for your eyes than any other vegetable.
In World War 2 when the Nazis were bombing Great Britain, they couldn't figure out how the Brits were able to shoot their planes down at night. British propaganda stated that their gunners and pilots ate a lot of carrots to improve their eyesight.
In actuality they were covering up the fact that they'd invented RADAR and didn't want the Jerrys to know about it.
Oh, so many.
Native Americans were just as capable of ecological destruction as any other humans. My favorite example of this was from my archeology professor who does excavations of Native American sites in Baja. In excavating a midden (trash heap) he found at the bottom were bones from the local land mammals, that got smaller and smaller as the locals over-hunted. Then was a level of fish and sea mammals -- again, starting with bone from large fish and mammals and getting smaller and smaller until they practically disappeared from over hunting and over fishing. Then on the top were the shellfish -- and again, the same pattern. Until apparently there was nothing left at this site to eat, and the Natives moved on.
Native peoples used every bit of the animal when they had to, when said animals were tough to kill. North America didn't have horses between last ice age and Columbus. In fact, the favorite method for killing bison was to chase a herd off a cliff. And we know where this was done because the Natives left a whole lotta bones in the kill zone. Which we obviously couldn't find if they really used every part of the animal.
Native Americans understood property rights. Various systems between tribes, from quasi-socialist bands of multiple families where all produce was held in common (but very explicitly belonged to the band and would be defended against outsiders), to land assigned to different families for use and periodically reapportioned, to land that was held by families and inheritable. My theory is that this myth was first started by colonists to justify stealing the land and then perpetuated as Rousseauian "look at how much better the primitives are!" nonsense.
The myth about the Vomitorium
The story goes that Roman nobility would go there to eat so much till they puked and would then continue eating.
It was just the name for the Colosseum entrance.
That if you were a Peasant you could marry who ever you wanted for love and if you were a noble, royal or the like you could only marry for power During the Medieval period.
Higher class people could and did (though it wasn't common) marry for love and most of the time Peasant marriages were arranged for the same reason as noble ones were, to link two families together, you very rarely got to marry who you liked it was usually who your parents liked.
Also Prima nocta has, as far as I know was never actually being recorded as a thing.
The belief that Anastasia did not die with the rest of her family
I have had way too many of my university students tell me that Lincoln owned slaves.
There is no record of Queen Victoria ever saying "We are not amused".
And Roman gladiator fights usually weren't just pointless, bloody, fights to the death for scumbag convicts. The gladiators themselves were very highly trained celebrities who were very well looked after. It was entertainment done for show, much like WWE or similar today.
French revolution storming of the Bastille freeing hundreds of political prisoners.
When in actual fact there were only 7 prisoners. (4 cheques forgers, a lunatic, a sexual deviant and a man who tried to assassinate King Louis XV 30 years ago).
I've been studying the Titanic disaster for over three decades. Titanic comes up on reddit a lot, which I love because how cool that my nerdy hobby interests so many people, but the amount of misconceptions is large. This is no ones fault, nor is it ignorance, Titanic had the (un)lucky fortune to become a symbol very quickly, so very often what we think of as history is really folklore. That being said, here are the ones I see often.
There is enough evidence, good evidence, where we can say that William Murdoch most likely did shoot himself. The scene James Cameron shot is a direct recreation of witness testimony- multiple witnesses actually. There is a huge amount of first hand and second hand evidence that this happened. Why it's thought to be a myth and why James Cameron had to apologize is actually another interesting part of the story but for the main question- in all my research, I've yet to see a fact based reason why we should think Will Murdoch was not a victim of suicide.
2)On the same note- yes Charles Lightoller lowered early boats without filling them- as he should have. It wasn't incompetence or ignorance, there were many reasons why this was the best course of action and it was practiced throughout the night. To add- Titanic's crew weren't incompetent or unprepared, they were, quite literally, the best of the best.
3)There were lifeboat drills. Multiple. Every night at 6pm.
4)The 4th funnel wasn't fake- it just served a slightly different purpose than the first three.
5) Titanic. was. not. speeding.
6) Boats were not filled by class.
7)Third Class was not locked below- but some of them thought they were. This is actually pretty interesting in that every view of this situation is the correct one. To refer to Cameron again- his portrayal of this is correct- depending on who you ask. It was miscommunication, not classism.
9) Coal fire damage- not a thing and the "evidence" is just ... wrong.
10) The switch theory not only makes no sense, it is literally impossible.
11) Titanic wasn't a cruise ship. She was an ocean liner :)
The fact that Shah Jahan cut off hands of his workers after they completed Taj Mahal.
There's literally no evidence except for tell tales.
Many monuments were built after Taj Mahal under reign of Shah Jahan. Just think, who would work for you knowing that they're going to lose their hands if they did a good job.
Louis-Michel le Peletier cast the single vote that sentenced Louis XVI
Actually the vote was a pretty clear majority in favor of execution
That corsets were uncomfortable and prevented free movement and breathing, so were a way of physically subjugating women.
Firstly, this is often asserted by people who don't know the difference between bodies, stays and corsets, proving that they're waaaaay out of their lane.
It's pretty obvious even just from contemporary art that women were perfectly capable of getting through physical labour including farm work in that kind of supportive garment whether stiffened with interfacing/stitching or "boning" (not necessarily made of bone). And if you've ever worn one, you'll know how great they are for supporting your back and core.
They're much more comfortable than bras, in my opinion.
Oh and they didn't leave red marks all over your skin because unlike a bra you'd never have worn one against your skin (too difficult to wash) but over a shift/chemise/combination garment of some kind. Try putting your bra OVER a tank top or similar, and note (1) no loss of support, (2) much kinder to the skin, and (3) bra needs much less frequent washing.
Note: this post originally had 49 images. It’s been shortened to the top 30 images based on user votes.