What is a History Myth?
A history myth is a story about the past which isn’t true, nevertheless, gets lots of attention. Many people believe what they hear without thinking critically about it, or checking to see whether it’s true. That’s how urban legends start — you know, the ones like Mikey from the Life Cerel commercials died while eating PopRocks and at the same time as drinking Coke. A history myth is just an urban myth about days gone by.
Serious historians, however, are careful about saying categorically that something is “true” or “not true.” In fact, rather than saying something “happened” or “is true,” most historians prefer to say, “there is good evidence for that.” And rather than saying something “didn’t happen,” they prefer to say “there is no good evidence for that.”
What is good evidence? Usually, good historical evidence is material that:
- not forged
- was recorded at or very near the time of the event
- the author of the material does not have a specific axe to grind and seems to be recording the event fairly and dispassionately (this is often very difficult to determine)
- corroborates other evidence about the same event
These are the minimal requirements for good historical evidence, and historians argue relentlessly over the more subtle aspects of what makes a piece of evidence good.
You can rest assured, Buzzkillers, that anything we determine is a myth has not passed the minimal evidence test above. So it’s not even close to being historical truth.