Shown here is a scene (via Chris Sims’ Invincible Super-Blog) from a fine historical adventure comic called Tales From the Bully Pulpit: Abe Lincoln wallops Robot Hitler as Teddy Roosevelt and the ghost of Thomas Edison look on.
But wait, you say! Yes, I know what you’re thinking: As Doris Kearns Goodwin’s uncredited research assistants have clearly undocumented, the ghost of Thomas Edison was not in fact present on this occasion. Which is why this slightly inaccurate picture is a perfect lead in to the
750th 13th Carnival of Bad History!
The Bad History Carnival, I was surprised to find, is actually harder to host than the regular vanilla History Carnival. “Is this history?” is one of those “is it art because we hang it on a wall” questions that only the most miserable eggheads get excited about, but “is this bad history?” is a question that immediately plunges you into all manner of sticky political, aesthetic, and academic wickets. I took the Carnival’s guidelines under advisement–bad history includes “bad presentations of history,” “bad uses of history,” and everybody’s favorite, “historians behaving badly”–but in the end I found no more rigorous criteria for inclusion than Potter Stewart’s “I know it when I see it,” or Monty Burns’ “I don’t know art, but I know what I hate.” Without further ado:
In honor of Presidents Day, we’ll start with the railsplitter president. Kevin Murphy’s Ghost in the Machine linked to video of Congressman Don Young trotting out a fabricated Lincoln quote to bash the Democrats on Iraq. Progressive Historians offered the full story of what Lincoln really said. Meanwhile, Another History Blog reduced the already rather small number of things Millard Filmore is remembered for by one, debunking a quote attributed to him, and debunking another false Lincoln quote for good measure.
Looking back into antiquity, Dennis at Campus Mawrtius debunked a story about Alexander the Great propagated by the Alan Rickman character in Die Hard. That does it: I will no longer allow my students to cite Bruce Willis movies as historical sources. (Also James Franco movies, but I think I knew that already.)
Going way, way back, Primordial Blog declared the ancient Egyptians had the most disgusting creation story ever. I try to be less judgmental. Neb-er-tcher’s kink is not my cup of tea either, but a declaration like that–most disgusting ever?–almost demands competition. And that’s a fight nobody can win.
At Cliopatria, the tireless Ralph Luker did his best to debunk the legend of antebellum quilts carrying coded messages about the underground railroad. (Oscar Chamberlain replied with a nice post about why the story persists.) Ralph also took on Tom Reeves on the question of how many millions died under Mao Zedong, kicked up another ant hill by listing more than a dozen doctoral programs in history he thinks ought to be shut down, and collected nominations for the worst historical analogy ever. [Edited to add: I can’t believe I missed this: At Mostly Harmless, the Constructivist really is collecting nominations for the worst (or “least harmless”) historical analogy of 2007. The contest is open all year: append your noms as comments to that post.]
Mea culpa: It’s a sign of how desperately late this edition of the Carnival is that I have Christmas-themed submissions to include. Way back in December of ought-six, Will Chen at Wise Bread dug up the FBI files on George Bailey: was It’s a Wonderful Life Commie propaganda?
Right after the holidays came the annual meeting of the AHA, which gave us a priceless tale of at least one historian behaving badly. I refer, of course, to the somewhat violent arrest and incarceration of eminent British historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto for the high crime of jaywalking across Peachtree Street to get from the Hyatt to the Mariott. Everything about this story amused me, I’m sorry to say. The roles were straight out of central casting, but all involved played their parts so wonderfully: the belligerent Southern cop, the absent-minded upper-crust Oxford dandy, the clucking convention attendees. And how can you top the unrepentant Fernandez-Armesto’s alibi: he didn’t realize he was being arrested because the police officer’s jacket was “rather louche.”
North of the border, my colleague Alan MacEachern (his blog is eponymous, so his name gets italicized) surveyed the history war’s Canadian front–a kerfluffle over museums and civilian bombing that will seem awfully familiar to anyone who remembers the words “Enola Gay”–and lamented the onset of patriotic correctness in Canadian historical discourse. Meanwhile, Bryan Alexander’s Infocult had the scoop on fears that we Canucks are listening in on American pants pockets through tiny radio transmitters embedded in that pesky Canadian change.
Here’s a cherry-flavored conundrum for you. The Rad Geek at Geekery Today says that offhand references to “drinking the Kool-Aid” are in bad taste and definitely not kool–er, cool. But debate followed: does the phrase refer to the mass suicide at Jonestown or to Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters and their Kool-Aid acid tests? (Tangent: I myself used the standard Kool-Aid line in a post about GTD, David Allen’s gee whiz productivity system, and my use of the somewhat hackneyed phrase was cited by an anti-cult education group as evidence that Allen really is a cult leader. People take this stuff seriously! I’ll be sticking to Tang jokes from now on.)
What would Genghis Khan do? Jonathan Dresner at Frog in a Well doesn’t think much of Jack Weatherford’s urging U.S. policy makers in Iraq to learn from the Mongol invasion of Persia. In other war news, Scott McLemee wondered if George W. Bush is, like Genghis, one of the Great Men of History. And Jon Swift of, um, Jon Swift, may have jumped the gun in reporting that Michael Ledeen is dead.
At Respectful Insolence, the skeptical Orac took on Dr. Lorraine Day, purveyor of woo, homophobia, and Holocaust denial. “Woo,” I was disappointed to learn, is Orac’s word for pseudoscience, not romance, but the post is worth a read nonetheless.
My corky college chum Joey “Accordion Guy” DeVilla linked to a reputable sounding publication called Modern Drunkard Magazine, and its tale of how a drinking binge may have changed the course of U.S. history.
Some of the most endearing bad history I read about
this month in the last two-and-a-half months was at Paul Collins’ Weekend Stubble: first, he introduced me to William Anthony’s War Is Swell: A Kid’s Idiotic Vision of World War II. Then he mentioned the great 1835 Moon Hoax, which convinced New Yorkers that a race of man-bats lived in ruby pyramids on the moon.
It’s a madhouse, a madhouse! At Revise and Dissent, Alun Salt gave HBO’s Rome a passing grade, but Miland Brown at World History Blog was shocked, shocked! to find dubious history on the History Channel: that well-known historical docudrama, The Planet of the Apes.
At Patahistory, my man Dave Davisson took on religious revisionism and reminded us of, um, Orson Welles’ (?) famous dictum: “Those who control the present control the past.”
Finally, statistics clearly show that Rob is the most awesome.
That does it for this edition of the Bad History Carnival. Thanks to all those who submitted entries, and extra thanks for your patience in waiting for it to come out. My apologies to those who didn’t make the (admittedly arbitrary) cut. (I’m going to toss a few links in comments to submissions that didn’t quite strike me as bad enough, history enough, or both.) The Carnival is always looking for future hosts–contact the Bad History Masters via that website or email them at badhistory at aol dot com. You can submit bad history to the next edition of the Carnival by using the Blog Carnival form, and find past posts and future hosts at either the Carnival of Bad History site or the Blog Carnival metasite.