Anyone who studies history knows that history classes (and books, and documentaries, etc.) often share myths. This occurs for many reasons. Regardless, if you’re interested in history, you might wonder what you can do to better determine whether a story from history is true or not when you first hear it.
There’s no way to ensure you’ll always be able to tell fact from fiction right away. It’s often important to conduct further research. That said, to spot myths when you hear them, keep the following tips in mind.
What You Need to do to Spot History Myths
Consider the Source
It’s important to understand that the fact a book is categorized as non-fiction doesn’t always mean the information in it is truthful. Many people publish non-fiction books despite not being authorities on the subjects about which they write.
Their intentions aren’t always malicious. Although some people share false information or misrepresent facts to further an agenda, there are instances when well-meaning people include false stories in their history books because they’ve simply fallen prey to misconceptions.
Keep this in mind if you’re reading a book or watching a documentary and you hear a story from history that sounds too good to be true. If the source of the story doesn’t seem to have strong qualifications, the information they’re sharing may not be accurate.
Consider the Time Period
This ties into the above point. Just as you need to consider who is sharing a story from history, so too do you need to consider their time period.
Historians understand that what we know about history is not set in stone. When historians study subjects in greater depth, they often make discoveries that debunk or override earlier assumptions. Thus, if you read a history story that sounds contrary to what most seem to believe, it may be false if the source is very old. It might simply be outdated.
Consider the Purpose
Again, while some people who share false information about history do so innocently enough, there are many who also want to promote their agenda via myths. A common example would be a member of a hate group making up lies about a minority group’s historical actions to make them seem more villainous.
Keep this in mind whenever you learn about history. The fact that someone has an agenda doesn’t necessarily mean what they are telling you is false. That said, if their claims seem untrue, and they also seem to conveniently support a belief the source is trying to spread, there’s a good chance the claims are at the very least misrepresented, if not outright lies.
Do More Digging
This is the most important point here. Learning about history is a lifelong pursuit. To truly understand these complex subjects, you can’t approach them casually. You instead need to learn as much as you can.
Luckily, that’s something you should feel excited about. The more you learn about history, the more you can appreciate the world in which you currently live. Some historical myths may persist, but your skepticism of them could launch you on a rewarding journey of learning.