History is Not Boring discussion

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Mythbusters...

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message 1: by Old-Barbarossa (new)

Old-Barbarossa Folks, anyone got any favorite Hx myths?
Truths that are held by many, but on examination (or looking at more than one source) are not actually what appears to have happened?
Describe the myth then reference the mythbusters.
Shall I start? OK...
Among some daftys it is assumed that William Wallace was a protestant...but since he lived prior to the reformation this is obviously not the case. Difficult to ref the proof as it is self evident.


message 2: by James (new)

James Nevius | 157 comments When we started thinking about how to shape our book Inside the Apple A Streetwise History of New York City,* the early draft of the proposal was focused on NYC myths, starting with the city's myth of founding: that Peter Minuit bought the island for $24 worth of beads and trinkets from the local natives. Now, there is some truth to the story, but the mythos surrounding the cunning Europeans and the land-loving Native Americans has, to many people, erased what kernels of truth are there.

* shameless plug -- the book comes out March 24th from Free Press/Simon & Schuster -- available now on Amazon, etc.


message 3: by Duntay (new)

Duntay That people were much shorter in the past..


message 4: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments Im still wrapping my brain around William Wallace being a protestant. First time I've heard that one.

We have several myths in this country regarding George Washington.
1. Cutting down the cherry tree, and when confronted by his father, he uttered "I can not tell a lie"
2. being able to throw a silver dollar across the Potomac.

several others regarding Lincoln, as well as the pilgrims at Plymouth rock


message 5: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (SusannaG) | 988 comments Mod
There's one, that is STILL TAUGHT IN SCHOOLS! in the U.S., that Ferdinand and Isabella's advisers were against Columbus sailing far out into the Atlantic because... they thought the world was flat and that he would fall off the edge!

Hardly! They were against his sailing because they knew his geography was rubbish (which it was), not because they thought the world was flat. They were well aware it was round. (Columbus's geography, by the way, doubled the size of Asia and shrank the size of the world. If the Americas, whose existence he wasn't predicting, and in which he never believed, hadn't been there, he'd have been in very dire straits indeed.)

I am under the impression that this canard goes back to a biography of Columbus written in the 19th century.

This one has been "myth-busted" repeatedly for at least fifty years, apparently without much result. It is a very persistent myth.


message 6: by James (new)

James Nevius | 157 comments Susanna,

I think it was Washington Irving -- New York's biggest myth-maker -- who created the world is flat myth as part of his Columbus hagiography.



message 7: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (SusannaG) | 988 comments Mod
Yeah, that was the name that came to my mind, too. But I wasn't sure of it offhand, so I didn't say so.

He wrote a life of Mohammed as well - wonder how many inaccuracies are in that one?!


message 8: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments I forgot about the Columbus
world flat myth.
I was taught that one too.


message 9: by Tom (last edited Feb 18, 2009 10:05AM) (new)

Tom  Foolery (TomFoolery) | 89 comments Another, more subtle side to that Columbus myth, is brought up in one of the biographies that came out on the 500th anniversary of the "discovery." Can't remember which book it was, but the author wondered if Columbus was trying to reach Asia why he didn't make any attempt to have translators aboard...and if he was trying to trade with powerful Chinese and Japanese empires, why did he immediately start claiming land for Spain? The author suggests the possibility that he knew the Americas were here all along, but admits the evidence isn't conclusive.


message 10: by Jenna (new)

Jenna | 14 comments I am not sure if this is totally a myth, but the one about archduke Franz Ferdinand dying because he was so vain that he was sewed up in a corset so they couldn't get him out in time to save him. I've always read this in rather questioning sources, or someone says to me, "Did I hear that he...?" I've never had the impression from the biographies I've read that Franz Ferdinand was that vain; arrogant about lots of things, sure, but not necessarily his looks. He was shot in the neck, as I recall.


message 11: by Will (last edited Feb 20, 2009 07:49AM) (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments How about the myth that America was founded as a Chistian nation or that the founders believed in freedom for all?

Isaac Newton "discovered gravity" when an apple fell on his head?

The three volume book, "Principia," wasn't the result of a falling apple; it was the culmination of years of study, applied math, and theoretical conjecture. Yet who is to say it didn't begin with a falling apple on a warm summer afternoon in the shade of an apple tree? How did the myth begin?

I'm with Manuel. I never heard Wallace was Protestant.

People were shorter? I think it may have been somewhat true, but not by much. The explanation for doorways being shorter that people were shorter is incorrect. Doorways were short for defense, from common usage, minimizing drafts with poor doors (often just hides over the opening), etc.; not because people were short--they ducked as they entered, just as we would, now.


message 12: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 847 comments Poor diet was another reason for smaller people. Did you ever check out old armor? All of the pieces I've seen that were real (few) were pretty small. Must have been tough guys though. Heavy.


message 13: by Duntay (last edited Feb 20, 2009 02:29PM) (new)

Duntay People really haven't been much shorter since the Neolithic, though it went down a bit in Victorian times among the poor because of diet. The small clothes and armour we see in museums is usually because that stuff that is preserved - ie not worn - is the stuff no one else could use. Some beds look shorter because people actually slept sitting up. Low doors and ceilings hold in warmth, as Will says

There is an interesting article here:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life...



message 14: by Will (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments The beds were small. Kings, then, slept in smaller beds than ordinary people do, now. It's easy to find ways to feed our misperceptions--not just in history.

Actually, even with low doors they often had high ceilings.

We discussed "the world was flat" but they did believe in sea monsters, I think. Anyone care to refute that? Maybe not by the time of Columbus and Isabella.






message 15: by Tom (new)

Tom  Foolery (TomFoolery) | 89 comments I think it may be safe to classify the "people were shorter" thing as contested, rather than myth. I seem to remember reading that people became shorter after the agricultural revolution -- less varied diet, more focus on cereals and less on fruits and vegetables-- and that through most of history poorer people have tended to be short by modern standards. Of course there have been exceptions (i believe Charlemagne and Henry VIII were both quite tall) in the upper classes. There's a story of Benjamin Franklin at a dinner in France, being quizzed about the American Colonies. When asked about the unhealthiness of the environment, he had everyone stand... and pointed out that every American present was taller than any of the Europeans....which might correlate well with the idea of a more varied "frontier" diet.


message 16: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments How ironic, because statistics show that the French are now taller than Americans. Probably due to the same reasons of diet. Unfortunately its the Americans with the poorer quality diet these days.

I also seem to remember an old Life Magazine article showcasing the differences in draft age men between WWI and WWII. The WWII recruits were several inches taller and heavier than their dads in the first war.




message 17: by Will (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments The draft AGE may have something to do with the statistics; many signed up before they'd finished growing.

The French are taller? I'd love to find that statistic; I don't believe it. Not the French I've seen.


message 18: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments I thought it was suspect too. I would have thought other Europeans would have that distinction, but supposedly Americans are not the tallest country anymore. If I remember correctly, I learned that watching ABC's Night Line a few months ago.

They said Americans were getting fatter not taller.


message 19: by James (new)

James I don't remember the source, but I read years ago that World War I killed so many French men, ironically the youngest and healthiest, that after the war the average height of adult French males was four inches shorter than before the war. I also remember reading that people in Japan tended to be small due to limited diet, and that after the country opened up to trade with the rest of the world and people's diet got more varied and included more protein, they started gaining an average of a few inches per generation. They still averaged a lot smaller than Americans when I was there in 1977 and 1978, though. A friend named Dale (who was a body builder and martial artist) and I were on a train from one city to another, and a little gang of teenage wannabe hoodlums (complete with greased duck's-ass hairdos, bad skin, and faux leather jackets with red balls painted on the backs) came swaggering into the car we were on, shoving people just to be shoving them. We were leaning on the wall on both sides of the doors, having given up our seats to some elderly folks, so they walked past us without seeing us - their leader heard Dale snicker, whirled around and found himself staring into the center of my friend's chest a few inches away. It looked as if he wrenched his neck jerking his head back to look up from there to Dale's face. They left.

Americans are definitely getting fatter; for the last few years it hasn't been unusual to look around in an elevator or in line at the grocery store and realize that nearly everyone in sight is obese. Another sign is the rising incidence of early-onset diabetes in American children and adolescents.


Looking at things like old suits of armor, clothing, weapons, tools and so on, it seems as if people really were smaller in some places but not in others. There were a lot of Vikings who would stand out as unusually tall and robust even today.


message 20: by Will (last edited Feb 22, 2009 05:23AM) (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments How about the legends (myths) built from dime novels about the Western "heroes": Wyatt Earp, Bufallo Bill, Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Hickock?


message 21: by Tom (new)

Tom  Foolery (TomFoolery) | 89 comments How about the legends (myths) built from dime novels about the Western "heroes": Wyatt Earp, Bufallo Bill, Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Hickock?

Those lead me to think of Robin Hood legends. The oldest surviving stories about him place him in Barkesdale and Yorkshire and not in Nottingham, in the time of king Edward (which Edward not specified) and not of Richard or John. Maid Marion is apparently a later addition to the stories, becoming associated with Robin Hood through (if i recall correctly) May festivals. Friar Tuck, incidentally, was an historical figure about whom historical records (and not songs or stories) exist, and lived long after the first Robin Hood stories were circulating. Yes, i wrote a college term paper on the subject.


message 22: by Will (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments ...and King Arthur is an historical figure. Talk about Legends and Myths!

Anyone interested in the myth that Roosevelt's socialist policies brought us out of the Great Depression? WWII did? War creates wealth?


message 23: by James (new)

James In a documentary about J.R.R. Tolkien we were watching last week, they said that Tolkien believed that the King Arthur story was not really English but was a transplant from France.

He apparently didn't like French culture much. Maybe an aftereffect of his devastating experiences in France in WWI - he got there just in time for the battle of the Somme, and to be there when just about all his close boyhood friends were killed in a fairly short span of time.


message 24: by Duntay (last edited Feb 22, 2009 01:29PM) (new)

Duntay James wrote: "In a documentary about J.R.R. Tolkien we were watching last week, they said that Tolkien believed that the King Arthur story was not really English but was a transplant from France.

He apparentl..."


Arthur as a character does first appear in British literature, ie the writings of Gildas, Geoffrey of Momouth and Wace poems like Y Gododdin. Some of the characters and stories were take up by the the 12th century French court and turned into romances by poets like Chretien de Troyes. There some of the most well known themes and characters were added, ie Lancelot and his romance with Guenevere, the holy grail, etc and then it all gets re-exported back into Britain..




message 25: by Will (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments I forget so many authors' names and books' titles, but...one author...(she) wrote that King Arthur was of noble Roman blood. I love reading Arthurian legends; I just read them as fantasy, though, not history. Wyatt Earp was a real person but the legends (myths) are often inaccurate.




message 26: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (SusannaG) | 988 comments Mod
Will, I think I remember reading a historian's essay on the Wyatt Earp movies (and there have been a number of them over the years) saying that they were all inaccurate, so you might as well just see the John Ford version! If you can't get accuracy, you can at least get a great movie western, was his reasoning, I think.


message 27: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 847 comments The whole quick-draw/show down thing of the west is pretty much out of proportion, isn't it? Leather holsters that would keep a pistol secure while horseback riding are not going to be conducive to a quick draw. All the ones I've seen on Antiques Road Show & places like that were made of pretty thin leather & quite long. Took a bit to work them out.

The whole idea of fanning the hammer to shoot multiple people was another dime novel dream. Not happening with any kind of accuracy. You'd sure make everyone nervous, though.

There's at least one authenticated account of 4 men shooting it up in a bar & emptying their guns without anyone getting killed. I read it years ago & I'm not even sure anyone got hurt, but at least a couple were known gunmen.

One fact that the dime novelists forget is that the old powder that was used then made a LOT of smoke. One or two shots, even outside on a still day, & you couldn't see much unless you moved or waited. Inside, you'd feel like you were in a chimney with tear gas.


message 28: by Will (last edited Feb 23, 2009 01:54PM) (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments I won't swear to its authenticity, but years ago I read that "sharp-shooters", "gun-slingers" would show off by tacking a playing card to a saloon wall and shooting it. The article said the playing cards were larger, then, and the shooter stood about six to eight feet from the wall. I'm just repeating something I read long ago. We do that, often, don't we?

My father used to wear a pistol and holster on horseback riding the ranch. I used to sneak-try quick-draw (empty revolver) and got "not bad" but not great. The strap that held it in the holster had to be flipped off and out of the way, first. I've fanned a pistol hammer but never ground off the ridges; it hurts to do it. Can't hit squat, though, that way.

Ron White , the comedian, does a routine from the news where police and crooks shot point-blank until guns were empty at each other and both drove away unharmed.

I still like western movies and tv shows from my youth. "Return with us to those days of...."


message 29: by Thomas (last edited Feb 23, 2009 03:00PM) (new)

Thomas | 44 comments Regarding height, everything I've read in the last few years has cited the Dutch as the world's currently tallest people. Not the greatest source of national pride, but I'm sure it gratifies. Better than being in the top ten fattest countries (America, Kuwait, and 8 different Polynesian nations.)

One of my favorite falsehoods is that of horned viking helmets. (Yes, early ceremonial caps featured wings, horns, or other doodads, but battle horns were and are fairly improbable.)


message 30: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments I recently saw the Oliver Stone movie about Alexander the Great.
Interesting visuals though the movie didnt really engage me.
I grew up reading books saying that Alexander was gay or at least very Bi.

When the movie came out in Greece, I remember the Greeks being very upset at the whole notion of Alexander being anything other than straight.


message 31: by James (new)

James Yes, those quick-draw duels in the street were actually rare enough that when one did take place it was big news - there were a lot of shootings (and stabbings, and beatings, etc.) in some places, but the shooters typically sneaked up on their victims. A lot of them weren't very good shots, so they often fired from close enough to touch the other person.

I have read of people performing trick shots so accurate they seem impossible, and I saw a documentary on the History Channel recently in which several professional stunt shooters did some astonishing things on camera. One guy repeatedly tossed aspirin tablets into the air and hit them - the high-speed camera playback followed the aspirin and clearly showed the bullet hitting it.

It wasn't in that league, but one of my brothers won a long-range event in the annual all-Marine Corps matches in 1989 or 1990, I don't remember which year. With an M14 with iron sights, no scope, he had to start in a standing position; down at the target line someone stuck a head-and-torso sized cardboard silhouette stapled to a pine 2x2 up above the berm and started walking - the shooters didn't know where on the line the target would come up or which way it would go. The person holding the target went about 50 feet at normal walking speed - about ten seconds - and then pulled it down. During that time the shooter had to go from standing to prone, adjust his sling on his arm and adjust the windage on the rear sight, and hit the silhouette before it dropped out of sight. The part that impresses me is that they were shooting from 1,000 yards. The standard USMC rifle course only involves shooting at 200, 300, and 500 yards - a lot of people can put ten out of ten rounds into that torso silhouette from 500 yards (you get ten minutes) but that 1,000 yard line is well over half a mile from the target, the target is moving, and you have ten seconds.

I've read that Alexander was bisexual too - in his time and culture, that wasn't unusual. Funny that they'd get upset about that, but then I've never understood that whole thing of glorying (or feeling embarrassed) at what one's ancestors were or did. I used to know a guy who was really enthused about the Vikings - loved to build scratch wooden models of their ships and so on; he would talk about how his people were Vikings - another friend would always laugh and say, "Paul, your people are a bunch of dairy farmers."

Best summation of that whole thing I've run across was a quip by Robert Heinlein, saying he'd once met a little lizard who boasted of being a brontosaurus on his mother's side.


message 32: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 847 comments I saw those trick shooters on TV, too. Amazing!!! I'm sure their equipment is a bit better than the average pistol was back in the 1880's or so.

I remember & love the Heinlein quote, James. Perfect!

I just read in Napoleon's Privates 2,500 Years of History Unzipped that Alexander was notorious for his sexual activities. It was OK & expected for an older man to have a young man as a lover, but the affair stopped when the young man became an adult, which Alexander didn't do with his childhood friend. Two adult males just didn't do it. Also, he had a eunuch as a lover. That was akin to bestiality according to the current mores.


message 33: by James (new)

James Their firearms, and maybe even more important their ammunition, are definitely manufactured to a higher standard - quality control with ammunition has improved immensely just in the last couple of decades, to the point where basic factory cartridges now are more consistent than the best premium stuff made not that long ago. These days a rifle is not considered accurate unless it can keep a group of five shots (fired when it's clamped in a rest) within one minute of angle (M.O.A.) or better, which is basically within an inch of spread per 100 yards, and a lot of factory rifle-and-cartridge combos will routinely shoot within 1/2 to 1/4 M.O.A. The trick shooters on that TV special were all doing extreme precision stuff at short range, but some shooters are also producing five-shot groups as small as 6 inches at 1000 yards. Of course, that's with massive rifles that weight 30-40 pounds and high-magnification scopes; still, the wind changes back and forth a lot over that kind of distance.

Funny how arbritrary, and how different, standards of sexual behavior are between different societies and eras, and how sure the people who hold each set of views are that they're right because that's just what's natural and moral. Also how much difference there often is between what is publicly professed and privately practiced - for example, Victorian society was so prissy that they put little skirts around the legs of furniture (which they referred to as "limbs" because the very word "legs" was considered so obscene) but behind the scenes, prostitution including child prostitution and pornography were endemic. People are crazy.


message 34: by Will (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments "People are crazy." No point; just thought it was worth repeating. It explains so many things.

I wish I could remember where I read these things: the myth of the Loche Ness monster. I read that the currents run in opposite directions--top and bottom. Logs, with moss handging from broken limbs, will upturn on their ends and rear their "heads", creating the illusion of a monster. It sounded credible.


message 35: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments Best summation of that whole thing I've run across was a quip by Robert Heinlein, saying he'd once met a little lizard who boasted of being a brontosaurus on his mother's side.


Thanks James,
I must remember that one. Couldnt stop laughing when I read it.


message 36: by Old-Barbarossa (new)

Old-Barbarossa Horned helmets...aye, that'll be right...and a ball gown too.
Anyone involved in any close quarters fighting wants as little for the enemy to get a grip on as possible.
On that note it was usual for highlanders to remove the plaid before a charge...why run into musket fire with several extra pounds of, probably wet (Scottish weather, you know), tweedy fabric getting in the way.


message 37: by Will (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments Historical myths? The orders of King Herrod to kill the Hebrew boys? Any records to support that? (other than the Bible)

The Exodus from Egypt? Any records to support that? (other than the Bible)

Just a thought; not attacking the Bible.


message 38: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 847 comments I read somewhere that the Scottish Tartans were a bit of a myth. Clans didn't really have specific tartans until some English man came around in the mid 1800's to do a book on it. Then it became the rage & they all set up specific tartans. Until then, they were done somewhat by area/clan patterns, but often it was whatever was available. I never got around to double checking that, though.

I know my family is absurdly proud of their Tartan & Scottish heritage. Seems kind of silly since we're all mutts with a lot more German in us than Scottish. Maybe it's just that I don't have the legs for it... ;-)


message 39: by Marian (new)

Marian (gramma) | 98 comments Will, do you mean that you never saw the film of Charleton Heston parting the Red Sea?


message 40: by James (new)

James Three Bible items that are often repeated but that many Biblical scholars think are errors of translation:
1. That parting of the Red Sea thing. The pre-translation phrase was "Yam Suph" - it has often been translated as "Red Sea", but at the time also referred to the "Reed Sea" or "Sea of Reeds", a shallow lake near the Red Sea that was still there until they dug the Suez Canal.
2. The quote attributed to Jesus about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. Aramaic had far fewer words than modern languages and words often had multiple unrelated meanings - the listener could figure out which one was meant from the context. The word meaning "camel" was also used to mean "rope". That would make a lot more sense paired with a needle in an analogy than a camel.
3. The repetition of the number forty - forty days and nights of rain, the Israelites spending forty years wandering in the wilderness, Jesus spending forty days alone in the desert. At that time it was common to use "forty" units of time as a metaphor for a very long time.


message 41: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 847 comments I heard the translation of 'witch' as in 'thou shalt not suffer a witch to live' or something was incorrectly translated too.


message 42: by Will (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments The Reed Sea was a marsh. The Isrialites could make their way across it but the chariots would become bogged in the mud. Makes sense, but there are no records of a mass exodus of slaves from Egypt. Egyptians recorded everything; they surely would have recorded that. There was a recorded period of plagues, but not followed by slaves leaving en masse.

The needles eye was a gate where merchants were forced to remove their goods from the camels and the camels to essentially crawl through the gateway into the common area. It was for protection from invaders/thieves to prevent assaults on the town; much like the short doorways discussed earlier. A rich merchant had to remove all his earthly posessions to get through the eye of the needle. I won't swear to its accuracy; just read it years ago.

I quit smoking for forty days and trust me, it was a very long time. My ex-wife was a real witch and-- believe me--I suffered. It could have been mistranslated; should have been spelled with a 'b'.






message 43: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments Being that we just entered Lent, and many Catholics and other Christians give up something they like for 40 days. Im reminded of something that happened last year.

My brother-in-law's brother decided to give up sex.
He didnt tell his partner though. Those 40 days seemed like 40 years, according to them.


message 44: by James (new)

James Oh... maybe that qualifies for the "it wasn't funny when it happened" string too!

Has anyone ever decided to give up their faith for Lent?


message 45: by Will (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments I used to give up sex for Lent. My friends would ask, "What does your wife think of that?" She doesn't know, I'd answer.


message 46: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (SusannaG) | 988 comments Mod
I gave up giving up things for Lent once.


message 47: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments Susanna,
the "once" at the end of your sentence, prompts me to ask what it was you gave up?
Just curious.


message 48: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (SusannaG) | 988 comments Mod
I "gave up for Lent" giving things up for Lent!


message 49: by James (new)

James If you turn something over to someone else for safekeeping so you won't use it during Lent, would you say you lent it for Lent?


message 50: by James (new)

James Nevius | 157 comments I had to give up Lent because I was admonished to "neither a borrower or a Lent-er be."


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Books mentioned in this topic

Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City (other topics)
Napoleon's Privates: 2,500 Years of History Unzipped (other topics)
James the Brother of Jesus (other topics)
Friday (other topics)
Lies My Teacher Told Me (other topics)
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Authors mentioned in this topic

Robert A. Heinlein (other topics)
Isaac Asimov (other topics)