Who is Professor Buzzkill?

Professor Buzzkill sometimes goes by the alias Joseph Coohill, a historian of modern Britain and Ireland. While studying for his doctorate in modern history at Oxford, Coohill hosted The History Show on Oxford Student radio, which had the memorable tagline, “listen to doctoral students talk about dead people.” Lasting almost four episodes, The History Show was an instant failure and Coohill feels shame. In addition to his Oxford doctorate, Coohill has an MA in history from the University of Melbourne (where he was a big fan of Essendon Aussie Rules Football Club) and a BA from Humboldt State University in California (where was the only non-stoner). He is the author of Ideas of the Liberal Party and Ireland: a Short History (4 editions), as well as many articles and internet pieces on history. Do not try to contact him at info@professorbuzzkill.com

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.