Pseudohistory is a pejorative term applied to a type of historical revisionism, often involving sensational claims whose acceptance would require rewriting a significant amount of commonly accepted history, and based on methods that depart from standard historiographical conventions. Cryptohistory is a related term, applied to pseudo-historical publications based on occult notions.


Definition and etymology

The term pseudo-history was coined in the early 19th century, which makes it somewhat older than pseudo-scholarship, and somewhat younger than pseudo-science (although New Latin pseudo-historia had been in use since at least the 1650s). It is attested in 1823 as referring to an early example of a historical novel.[1] Similarly, in a 1815 attestation, it is used to refer to Certamen Homeri et Hesiodi, a fictional contest between two historical poets.[2] The current pejorative sense, referring to a flawed or disingenuous work of historiography, is found in another 1815 attestation.[3]

Pseudohistory can be compared with pseudoscience in that they both consist of a methodology, belief, or practice that is claimed to be historic, but which does not adhere to an appropriate historic methodology, and lacks supporting evidence or plausibility.[4]

The definition of pseudohistory can be extended to varying contexts. Historian Douglas Allchin[5] contends that history in science education can not only be false or anecdotal, but misleading ideologically, and that this constitutes pseudohistory.

According to Michael Shermer, Alex Grobman, Pseudohistory is "the rewriting of the past for present personal or political purposes".[6]


Philosopher Robert Todd Carroll suggests the following criteria for a topic to warrant the term pseudohistory:

  • That the work uncritically accepts myths and anecdotal evidence without skepticism.
  • That the work has a political, religious, or other ideological agenda.
  • That a work is not published in an academic journal or is otherwise not adequately peer reviewed.
  • That the evidence for key facts supporting the work's thesis is:
    • selective and ignores contrary evidence or explains it away; or
    • speculative; or
    • controversial; or
    • not correctly or adequately sourced; or
    • interpreted in an unjustifiable way; or
    • given undue weight; or
    • taken out of context; or
    • distorted, either innocently, accidentally, or fraudulently.
  • That competing (and simpler) explanations or interpretations for the same set of facts, which have been peer reviewed and have been adequately sourced, have not been addressed.
  • That the work relies on one or more conspiracy theories or hidden-hand explanations, when the principle of Occam's razor would recommend a simpler, more prosaic and more plausible explanation of the same fact pattern.[7]

Goodrick-Clarke's description of cryptohistory

One narrow description of 'cryptohistory' can be found in The Occult Roots of Nazism (1985) by the historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. This book examines the field of Ariosophy, an esoteric movement in Germany and Austria 1890-1930, that Goodrick-Clarke himself describes as occult. The doctrines of Ariosophy strongly resemble Nazism in important points (e.g. racism), however, the only cases of direct influences that Goodrick-Clarke could find were the ones of Rudolf von Sebottendorf (and the Thule society) and Karl Maria Wiligut. While these cases did exist, they are often exaggerated strongly by the modern mythology of Nazi occultism. Goodrick-Clarke defines this genre as crypto-history, since its "final point of explanatory reference is an agent which has remained concealed to previous historians."[8] When he debunks several crypto-historic books in Appendix E of The Occult Roots of Nazism, he states, that these "were typically sensational and under-researched. A complete ignorance of the primary sources was common to most authors and inaccuracies and wild claims were repeated by each newcomer to the genre until an abundant literature existed, based on wholly spurious 'facts' concerning the powerful Thule Society, the Nazi links with the East, and Hitler's occult initiation."[9] Here Goodrick-Clarke brings down the description of cryptohistory to two elements: "A complete ignorance of the primary sources" and the repetition of "inaccuracies and wild claims". [10]


The following are some commonly cited examples of pseudohistory:

See also


  1. ^ Monthly magazine and British register, Volume 55 (February 1823), p. 449, in reference to John Galt, Ringan Gilhaize: Or, The Covenanters, Oliver & Boyd, 1823.[1]
  2. ^ C. A. Elton, Remains of Hesiod the Ascraean 1815, p. xix.
  3. ^ The Critical review: or, Annals of literature, Volume 1 ed. Tobias George Smollett, 1815, p. 152
  4. ^ Fritze, Ronald H,. (2009). Invented knowledge: false history, fake science and pseudo-religions. Reaktion Books. pp 7-18. ISBN 978-1861894304
  5. ^ Allchin, D. 2004. Pseudohistory and pseudoscience Science & Education 13:179-195.
  6. ^ Michael Shermer, Alex Grobman: Denying history: who says the Holocaust never happened and why do they say it?, University of California Press, 2009, ISBN 9780520260986, p.2
  7. ^ Carroll, Robert Todd. The skeptic’s dictionary. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons (2003), p. 305.
  8. ^ Goodrick-Clarke 1985: 218
  9. ^ Goodrick-Clarke 1985: 224,225
  10. ^ Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, The Occult Roots of Nazism, page 225 (Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2005 edition). ISBN 1-86064-973-8
  11. ^ Fritze, Ronald H,. (2009). Invented knowledge: false history, fake science and pseudo-religions. Reaktion Books. p. 169. ISBN 978-1861894304. 
  12. ^ Novikov, S. P. (2000). "Pseudohistory and pseudomathematics: fantasy in our life". Russian Mathematical Surveys 55. 
  13. ^ Fritze, Ronald H,. (2009). Invented knowledge: false history, fake science and pseudo-religions. Reaktion Books. p. 11.ISBN 978-1861894304.
  14. ^ Laura Miller (2006). Dan Burstein. ed. Secrets of the Code. Vanguard Press. p. 405. ISBN 978-1593152734. 
  15. ^ Specter, Arlen (Spring 1995). "Defending the wall: Maintaining church/state separation in America". Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy 18 (2): 575–590. 
  16. ^ House Passes, Considers Evangelical Resolutions, Baltimore Chronicle
  17. ^ David Barton - Propaganda Masquerading as History, People for the American Way
  18. ^ Boston Theological Institute Newsletter Volume XXXIV, No. 17, Richard V. Pierard, January 25, 2005
  19. ^ Dietz, Robert S. "Ark-Eology: A Frightening Example of Pseudo-Science" in Geotimes 38:9 (Sept. 1993) p. 4.
  20. ^ Sherwin, Elisabeth. "Clarence Walker encourages black Americans to discard Afrocentrism". Davis Community Network. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  21. ^ Ortiz de Montellano, Bernardo & Gabriel Haslip Viera & Warren Barbour (1997). "They were NOT here before Columbus: Afrocentric hyper-diffusionism in the 1990s". Ethnohistory (Duke University Press) 44 (2): 199–234. doi:10.2307/483368. JSTOR 483368. 
  22. ^ Nanda, Meera (January - March, 2005). "Response to my critics" (PDF). Social Epistemology 19 (1): 147–191. doi:10.1080/02691720500084358.  Sokal, Alan (2006). "Pseudoscience and Postmodernism: Antagonists or Fellow-Travelers?". In Fagan, Garrett. Archaeolological Fantasies: How pseudoarchaeology misrepresents the past and misleads the public. Routledge. ISBN 0415305926 
  23. ^ Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. 1985. The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology: The Ariosophists of Austria and Germany, 1890–1935. Wellingborough, England: The Aquarian Press. ISBN 0-85030-402-4. (Several reprints.) Expanded with a new Preface, 2004, I.B. Tauris & Co. ISBN 1-86064-973-4
  24. ^ United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Holocaust Encyclopedia "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", last updated 4 May 2009.
  25. ^ Deborah E. Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, Plume, 1994, Page 215, ISBN 0452272742
  26. ^ Fritze, Ronald H,. (2009). Invented knowledge: false history, fake science and pseudo-religions. Reaktion Books. p. 11.ISBN 978-1861894304.
  27. ^ Fritze, Ronald H,. (2009). Invented knowledge: false history, fake science and pseudo-religions. Reaktion Books. p. 201. ISBN 978-1861894304.
  28. ^ Merriman, Nick, editor, Public Archaeology, Routledge, 2004 page 260
  29. ^ Tonkin, S., 2003, Uriel's Machine – a Commentary on some of the Astronomical Assertions.
  30. ^ Hope, Warren and Kim Holston. The Shakespeare Controversy (2009) 2nd ed., 3: "In short, this is a history written in opposition to the current prevailing view".
  31. ^ Potter, Lois. “Marlowe onstage” in Constructing Christopher Marlowe, James Alan Downie and J. T. Parnell, eds. (2000, 2001), paperback ed., 88-101; 100: “The possibility that Shakespeare may not really be Shakespeare, comic in the context of literary history and pseudo-history, is understandable in this world of double-agents . . .”
  32. ^ Aaronovitch, David. “The anti-Stratfordians” in Voodoo Histories (2010), 226-229: “There is, however, a psychological or anthropological question to be answered about our consumption of pseudo-history and pseudoscience. I have now plowed through enough of these books to be able to state that, as a genre, they are badly written and, in their anxiety to establish their dubious neo-scholarly credentials, incredibly tedious. . . . Why do we read bad history books that have the added lack of distinction of not being in any way true or useful . . .”
  33. ^ Kathman, David. Shakespeare Authorship Page: “. . . Shakespeare scholars regard Oxfordianism as pseudo-scholarship which arbitrarily discards the methods used by real historians. . . . In order to support their beliefs, Oxfordians resort to a number of tactics which will be familiar to observers of other forms of pseudo-history and pseudo-science.”

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