Historians Can Be Incredibly Stupid

William Dean Howells, Mark Twain’s mentor and friend, once observed that to be a novelist or a poet requires a certain level of talent, but to be a historian reguires only leisure and means.

He’s so right. It’s great to read the works of historians, but remember, they’re people and they make dumb mistakes. I’ve read a preeminent historian of the Roman Empire who suggested that perhaps the Christians did actually set fire to Rome, and another historian who suggested that Augustus Caesar’s wife Livia did indeed poison him, but with his implicit consent.

There is a tablet from the Mycenaean era (1600-1400 BCE) that is preserved to us only because the palace it was in burned down. The Mycenaeans used clay tablets that they smoothed over and used again the next year. The only hardened clay tablets we have are from palaces that got burned down.

Anyway, this tablet reads, “The watchers are watching the coast.” And then there is a symbol for a man and a woman and a bunch of other stuff. Some scholars believe this is a record of human sacrifice to ward what was obviously imminent doom. As I mentioned, this was from a palace that got burned down.

Another “scholar” said these other guys were morons, that the tablet was obviously the work of an apprentice scribe practicing his letters. Fine, except nowhere else in this palace or any other from the Mycenaean Era are there any other practice tablets of any kind. Practice tablets obviously did not make their way into palace archives. So this guy was not only stupid; he thought other people were morons because they didn’t accept his stupid conclusions.

Then there’s the preeminent Hitler scholar, perhaps the stupidest of all, who says the reports of Hitler’s grandmother receiving child support payments from a Jewish family where she had worked as a domestic servant are not credible because no record of this family can be found.

Duh! Hitler sent his most trusted henchmen to expunge all mention of this family and clearly they succeeded, relying on the stupidity of future historians. If you want the true account, read Conrad Heiden’s book Der Fuehrer, written before WWII. There is no doubt about it; Hitler would himself have been sent to a concentration camp for being one eighth Jewish.