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Bad History

How We Got The Past Wrong

Emma Marriot.

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"History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren't there." (George Santayana)

Old West was never as violent as Hollywood films make it out to be. Dodge City had its worst year for murders in 1978 - 5. Cowboys could rarely afford a gun - a Colt pistol cost about 9 months wages. Most wagon trains crossed unmolested - about half a million people crossed the plains between 1840 and 1860, and estimated 362 died from Indian attacks.

But between 1835 and 1895, the numbers of Plains Indians fell from about 2 million to 90,000, while 70 million buffalo (the Indians main livelihood) were slaughtered. (And they never said 'How' or 'paleface' or 'Great White Father' or sent coded messages by smoke signals).

Columbus never set foot on America - nearest he got was Cuba. Also he didn't bring back syphilis to Europe - skeletons showing unmistakeable damage fro syphilitic lesions have been found in C13 English graveyards (including monks) and in Pompei's ruins.

Mussolini didn't "make the trains run on time" - most of the improvements had been instituted by the previous govt - M just took credit for them. And only the main trunk that ran reasonably well - the decrepit branch lines were notoriously unreliable.

Scott of the Antarctic was just a poor planner. Whereas Amundsen used skis and ski champs, over 200 dogs and sledges with experienced drivers, Scott had just 35 dogs, useless ponies and man-hauling sledges which he somehow believed was more noble. Amundsen used experience of Eskimos to outfit his men with fur lined clothing and loose fitting inner garments to create air pockets. Scott deemed it unacceptable to use fur bc it was associated with primitive peoples. The contrast is between an experienced professional explorer and a plucky but misguided amateur.

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Dr Guillotin didn't invent the eponymous executor - it had been in use throughout Europe for centuries - he just suggested that it should be France's sole method of execution, largely bc it was seen as being more humane.

Galileo wasn't persecuted by the Catholic Church. He was attacked by his (many) enemies who accused him of heresy and of breaking an injunction. In the end he agreed to plead to charge of 'suspicion of heresy' and to house arrest in a variety of grand houses in and around Rome. (Rules forbad use of torture on elderly or the sick, and G was both). G also improved, rather than invented the telescope - he made it powerful enough to see the moons orbiting Jupiter, thus demolishing the accepted earth-centred cosmology.

St Patrick was not Irish, he was either Welsh or English, and there never were snakes in Ireland. Ireland had strong trading links with Rome long before St P arrived, so most unlikely that he was first Catholic missionary.

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