Recognize the warning signs

Ed Darrell has posted an item well worth reading over at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub.  It’s a list of warning signs for what he terms “voodoo history,” or bogus pseudo-scholarship, adapted from a similar list originally proposed for recognizing bad science:

  1. The author pitches the claim directly to the media or to organizations of non-historians, sometimes for pay.
  2. The author says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.  Bogus history relies more on invective than investigation; anyone with an opposing view is an “idiot,” or evil.
  3. The sources that verify the new interpretation of history are obscure, or unavailable; if they involve a famous person, the sources are not those usually relied on by historians.
  4. Evidence for the history is anecdotal.
  5. The author says a belief is credible because it has endured for some time, or because many people believe it to be true.
  6. The author has worked in isolation, and fails to incorporate or explain other, mainstream versions of the history of the incident, and especially the author fails to explain why they are in error.
  7. The author must propose a new interpretation of history to explain an observation.
If you’re familiar with arguments regarding orthodox Christianity among the Founders and statements about legions of black Confederate soldiers, some of these criteria probably ring a bell.
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1 Comment

Filed under History and Memory, History on the Web

One response to “Recognize the warning signs

  1. Thanks for the plug. We have a lot of voodoo history cropping up recently — a sibling of voodoo science, and probably closely related to voodoo economics — and I hope more people will be alert this year.

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