Pseudohistory is produced by the application of the research techniques of the historical method (primary sources and evidence) characteristic of legitimate history; yet, in itself, the work of pseudohistory is intellectually inconsistent with the historical record and with the common-sense understanding held in the collective memory of society. In practice, a pseudohistory presents a big lie—sensational claims—about historical fact that would require the revision (re-writing) of the historical record. The term pseudohistory is applied to works of historical revision that are based upon or derived from a theory or upon a re-interpretation or both; moreover, the related term cryptohistory applied to a pseudohistory based upon or derived from the superstitions inherent to occultism.
Definition and etymology
The term pseudohistory was coined in the early 19th century; a usage older than the term pseudo-scholarship and earlier than pseudo-science. Similarly, in an 1815 attestation, it is used to refer to Certamen Homeri et Hesiodi, a fictional contest between two historical poets. The pejorative sense of the term, labelling a flawed or disingenuous work of historiography, is found in another 1815 attestation. Pseudohistory is akin to pseudoscience in that both forms of falsification are achieved using the methodology that purports to, but does not, adhere to the established standards of research for the given field of intellectual enquiry to which the pseudoscience claims to be a part, and which offers little or no supporting evidence for its plausibility.
Historian of science Douglas Allchin contends that when history in science discovery is presented in a simplified way, with drama exaggerated and scientists romanticized, this creates wrong stereotypes about how science works, and in fact constitutes pseudohistory, despite being based on real facts.
Writers Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman see pseudohistory as "the rewriting of the past for present personal or political purposes".
Robert Todd Carroll has developed a list of criteria to identify pseudo historic works. He states that: "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"
Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke prefers the term "cryptohistory." He identifies two necessary elements as "A complete ignorance of the primary sources" and the repetition of "inaccuracies and wild claims".
Other common characteristics of pseudohistory are:The arbitrary linking of disparate events so as to form – in the theorist's opinion – a pattern. This is typically then developed into a conspiracy theory postulating a hidden agent responsible for creating and maintaining the pattern. For example, the pseudohistorical The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail links the Knights Templar, the medieval Grail Romances, the Merovingian Frankish dynasty and the artist Nicolas Poussin in an attempt to identify lineal descendants of Jesus.
Hypothesising the consequences of unlikely events that "could" have happened, thereby assuming tacitly that they did.
Sensationalism, or shock value
Categories and examples
The following are some common categories of pseudohistorical theory, with examples. Note that not all theories in a listed category are necessarily pseudohistorical; they are rather categories which seem to attract pseudohistorians. Caution should be exercised with lists of theories, as proponents of any historical theory, or any ideology, may assert that theories with which they disagree are pseudohistorical, in order to discredit them and their promoters.Ancient astronauts, Archaeoastronomy and Lost lands (see also Atlantis location hypotheses)
Alternative chronologies – revised sequences of events or other alterations to the timeline of ancient history.
Anatoly Fomenko's theory New Chronology
Immanuel Velikovsky's book Worlds in Collision
Confederate revisionists (AKA "Civil War revisionists"), Lost Cause of the Confederacy, and Neo-Confederates argue that the Confederate States of America's prime motivation was the maintenance of states rights and limited government rather than the preservation and expansion of slavery.
Ethnocentric pseudo-history (see also National mysticism)
Most Afrocentric (i.e. Pre-Columbian Africa-Americas contact theories, see Ancient Egyptian race controversy) ideas have been identified as pseudohistorical
The Indigenous Aryans theories published in Hindu nationalism during the 1990s and 2000s.
The "crypto-history" of Germanic mysticism and Nazi occultism. Among leading Nazis, Heinrich Himmler is believed to have been influenced by occultism and according to one theory, developed the SS base at Wewelsburg to an esoteric plan
Ten Lost Tribes of ancient Israel
The "Ancient Macedonia continuity theory" that postulates demographic, cultural and linguistic continuity between Macedonians of antiquity and the main ethnic group in Republic of Macedonia.
antisemitism inspired (see also Blood libel)
The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a fraudulent work purporting to show a historical conspiracy for world domination by Jews.
The Khazar theory, an academic fringe theory which postulates that the bulk of European Jewry are of Central Asian (Turkic) origin. In spite of mainstream academic consensus, this theory has been promoted in Anti-Semitic and Anti-Zionist circles alike, arguing that Jews are an alien element both in Europe and in Palestine.
Holocaust denial and genocide denial in general: claims of such writers as David Irving that the Holocaust, Holodomor, Armenian genocide, or other genocides did not occur, or were exaggerated greatly.
Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact excluding the Norse colonization of the Americas and other reputable scholarship
Arab or Islamic discovery of the Americas.
Gavin Menzies's book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, which argues for the idea that Chinese sailors discovered America.
Psychohistory, the ill-fated attempt to merge psychology with history, replacing historical method. Notably Lloyd deMause, the founder of The Journal of Psychohistory.
Religious speculation (see also scientific foreknowledge in sacred texts)
works such as The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which purports to show that certain historical figures, such as Godfrey of Bouillon, and contemporary aristocrats are the lineal descendants of Jesus Christ, using genealogical tables that are now known to be spurious:
The writings of author David Barton and others postulating that the United States of America was founded as an exclusively Christian nation.
See also Searches for Noah's Ark
The theory of Lemuria and Kumari Kandam.
Chariots of the Gods? and other books by Erich von Däniken, which claim ancient visitors from outer space constructed the pyramids and other monuments.
Publications by Christopher Knight, such as Uriel's Machine (2000), claiming ancient technological civilizations.
Visits to Earth by spacefaring aliens
The Shakespeare authorship question, which claims that someone other than William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the works traditionally attributed to him.