Pseudohistory is a pejorative
Pejoratives , including name slurs, are words or grammatical forms that connote negativity and express contempt or distaste. A term can be regarded as pejorative in some social groups but not in others, e.g., hacker is a term used for computer criminals as well as quick and clever computer experts...

 term applied to a type of historical revisionism
Historical revisionism (negationism)
Historical revisionism is either the legitimate scholastic re-examination of existing knowledge about a historical event, or the illegitimate distortion of the historical record such that certain events appear in a more or less favourable light. For the former, i.e. the academic pursuit, see...

, 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
Historical method
Historical method comprises the techniques and guidelines by which historians use primary sources and other evidence to research and then to write histories in the form of accounts of the past. The question of the nature, and even the possibility, of a sound historical method is raised in the...

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
New Latin
The term New Latin, or Neo-Latin, is used to describe the Latin language used in original works created between c. 1500 and c. 1900. Among other uses, Latin during this period was employed in scholarly and scientific publications...

 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
Historical novel
According to Encyclopædia Britannica, a historical novel is-Development:An early example of historical prose fiction is Luó Guànzhōng's 14th century Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which covers one of the most important periods of Chinese history and left a lasting impact on Chinese culture.The...

. Similarly, in a 1815 attestation, it is used to refer to Certamen Homeri et Hesiodi, a fictional contest between two historical poets.
The current pejorative sense, referring to a flawed or disingenuous work of historiography, is found in another 1815 attestation.

Pseudohistory can be compared with pseudoscience
Pseudoscience is a claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific, but which does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status...

 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.

The definition of pseudohistory can be extended to varying contexts. Historian Douglas Allchin 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
Michael Shermer
Michael Brant Shermer is an American science writer, historian of science, founder of The Skeptics Society, and Editor in Chief of its magazine Skeptic, which is largely devoted to investigating pseudoscientific and supernatural claims. The Skeptics Society currently has over 55,000 members...

, Alex Grobman
Alex Grobman
Alex Grobman is an American historian.Grobman grew up in Camden, New Jersey, the son of a pharmacist and a synagogue secretary. He earned his PhD at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem....

, Pseudohistory is "the rewriting of the past for present personal or political purposes".


Philosopher Robert Todd Carroll
Robert Todd Carroll
Robert Todd Carroll , Ph.D., is an American writer and academic. Carroll has written several books and skeptical essays but achieved notability by publishing the Skeptic's Dictionary online in 1994.-Early life and education:...

 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
    Conspiracy theory
    A conspiracy theory explains an event as being the result of an alleged plot by a covert group or organization or, more broadly, the idea that important political, social or economic events are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.-Usage:The term "conspiracy...

     or hidden-hand explanations, when the principle of Occam's razor
    Occam's razor
    Occam's razor, also known as Ockham's razor, and sometimes expressed in Latin as lex parsimoniae , is a principle that generally recommends from among competing hypotheses selecting the one that makes the fewest new assumptions.-Overview:The principle is often summarized as "simpler explanations...

     would recommend a simpler, more prosaic and more plausible explanation of the same fact pattern.

Goodrick-Clarke's description of cryptohistory

One narrow description of 'cryptohistory' can be found in The Occult Roots of Nazism
The Occult Roots of Nazism
thumb|right|Cover of the 1992 editionThe Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology: The Ariosophists of Austria and Germany, 1890-1935 is a book by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. It is the "seminal work" on Nazi occultism and Ariosophy. The book also includes some...

(1985) by the historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke
Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke
Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke B.A. , D.Phil. is a professor of Western Esotericism at University of Exeter and author of several books on esoteric traditions....

. This book examines the field of Ariosophy
Armanism and Ariosophy are the names of ideological systems of an esoteric nature, pioneered by Guido von List and Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels respectively, in Austria between 1890 and 1930. The term 'Ariosophy', meaning wisdom concerning the Aryans, was first coined by Lanz von Liebenfels in 1915 and...

, an esoteric movement in Germany and Austria 1890-1930, that Goodrick-Clarke himself describes as occult
The word occult comes from the Latin word occultus , referring to "knowledge of the hidden". In the medical sense it is used to refer to a structure or process that is hidden, e.g...

. The doctrines of Ariosophy strongly resemble Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 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
Rudolf von Sebottendorf
Rudolf Freiherr von Sebottendorff was the alias of Adam Alfred Rudolf Glauer , who also occasionally used another alias, Erwin Torre. He was an important figure in the activities of the Thule Society, a post-World War I German occultist organization that influenced many members of the NSDAP...

 (and the Thule society
Thule Society
The Thule Society , originally the Studiengruppe für germanisches Altertum , was a German occultist and völkisch group in Munich, named after a mythical northern country from Greek legend...

) and Karl Maria Wiligut
Karl Maria Wiligut
Karl Maria Wiligut was an Austrian Ariosophist- Biography :...

. 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." 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." 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".


The following are some commonly cited examples of pseudohistory:
  • Catastrophism
    Catastrophism is the theory that the Earth has been affected in the past by sudden, short-lived, violent events, possibly worldwide in scope. The dominant paradigm of modern geology is uniformitarianism , in which slow incremental changes, such as erosion, create the Earth's appearance...

    • Immanuel Velikovsky
      Immanuel Velikovsky
      Immanuel Velikovsky was a Russian-born American independent scholar of Jewish origins, best known as the author of a number of controversial books reinterpreting the events of ancient history, in particular the US bestseller Worlds in Collision, published in 1950...

      's book Worlds in Collision
      Worlds in Collision
      Worlds in Collision is a book written by Immanuel Velikovsky and first published on April 3, 1950. The book proposed that around the 15th century BCE, Venus was ejected from Jupiter as a comet or comet-like object, and passed near Earth...

  • Alternative chronologies
    • Anatoly Timofeevich Fomenko's theory New Chronology
      New Chronology (Fomenko)
      The New Chronology is a fringe theory in history, which argues that the conventional chronology is fundamentally flawed, that events attributed to antiquity such as the histories of Rome, Greece and Egypt actually occurred during the Middle Ages, more than a thousand years after the time to which...

  • Psychohistory
    Psychohistory is the study of the psychological motivations of historical events. It attempts to combine the insights of psychotherapy with the research methodology of the social sciences to understand the emotional origin of the social and political behavior of groups and nations, past and present...

     The ill-fated attempt to merge psychology with history, replacing historical method.
  • Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact
    Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact
    Theories of Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact are those theories that propose interaction between indigenous peoples of the Americas who settled the Americas before 10,000 BC, and peoples of other continents , which occurred before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean in 1492.Many...

    • Gavin Menzies
      Gavin Menzies
      Rowan Gavin Paton Menzies is a retired British submarine lieutenant-commander and author. He is best known for his controversial book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, in which he asserts that the fleets of Chinese Admiral Zheng He visited the Americas prior to European explorer...

      's book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, which argues for the idea that Chinese sailors discovered America.
  • Religious history (see also scientific foreknowledge in sacred texts)
    • Priory of Sion
      Priory of Sion
      The Prieuré de Sion, translated from French as Priory of Sion, is a name given to multiple groups, both real and fictitious. The most notorious is a fringe fraternal organisation, founded and dissolved in France in 1956 by Pierre Plantard...

      : works such as Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which conjecture that Jesus Christ may have married Mary Magdalene
      Mary Magdalene
      Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus' most celebrated disciples, and the most important woman disciple in the movement of Jesus. Jesus cleansed her of "seven demons", conventionally interpreted as referring to complex illnesses...

      , who later moved to France and gave birth to the line of Merovingian Kings
    • The writings of author David Barton and others postulating that the United States of America was founded as an exclusively Christian
      A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

    • See also Searches for Noah's Ark
      Searches for Noah's Ark
      From at least the time of Eusebius to the present day, the search for the physical remains of Noah's Ark has held a fascination for many people...

  • Ethnocentric pseudo-history (see also National mysticism
    National mysticism
    National mysticism is a form of nationalism which raises the nation to the status of numen or divinity. Its best known instance is Germanic mysticism, which gave rise to occultism under the "Third Reich". The idea of the nation as a divine entity was presented by Johann Gottlieb Fichte...

    • Most Afrocentric (i.e. Pre-Columbian Africa-Americas contact theories, Black Egypt
      Ancient Egyptian race controversy
      The question of the race of ancient Egyptians was raised historically as a product of the scientific racism of the 18th and 19th centuries, and was linked to models of racial hierarchy. A variety of views circulated about the racial identity of the Egyptians and the source of their culture...

      ) ideas have been identified as pseudohistorical
    • The Indigenous Aryans theories published in Hindu nationalism
      Hindu nationalism
      Hindu nationalism has been collectively referred to as the expressions of social and political thought, based on the native spiritual and cultural traditions of historical India...

       during the 1990s and 2000s.
    • The "crypto-history" of Germanic mysticism
      Germanic mysticism
      Germanic mysticism or Germanic occultism may refer to* Ariosophy* more generally, various schools of Esotericism in Germany and Austria* various modern systems of runic magic...

       and Nazi occultism.
    • British-Israelism (Anglo-Israelism).
  • Anti-semitism
    Antisemitism is suspicion of, hatred toward, or discrimination against Jews for reasons connected to their Jewish heritage. According to a 2005 U.S...

     inspired (see also Blood libel
    Blood libel
    Blood libel is a false accusation or claim that religious minorities, usually Jews, murder children to use their blood in certain aspects of their religious rituals and holidays...

    • The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a fraudulent work purporting to show a historical conspiracy for world domination by Jews
    • Holocaust denial
      Holocaust denial
      Holocaust denial is the act of denying the genocide of Jews in World War II, usually referred to as the Holocaust. The key claims of Holocaust denial are: the German Nazi government had no official policy or intention of exterminating Jews, Nazi authorities did not use extermination camps and gas...

      : claims of writers such as David Irving
      David Irving
      David John Cawdell Irving is an English writer,best known for his denial of the Holocaust, who specialises in the military and political history of World War II, with a focus on Nazi Germany...

       that the Holocaust did not occur or was exaggerated greatly.
  • Ancient Astronauts
    Ancient astronauts
    Some writers have proposed that intelligent extraterrestrial beings have visited Earth in antiquity or prehistory and made contact with humans. Such visitors are called ancient astronauts or ancient aliens. Proponents suggest that this contact influenced the development of human cultures,...

    , Archaeoastronomy
    Archaeoastronomy is the study of how people in the past "have understood the phenomena in the sky how they used phenomena in the sky and what role the sky played in their cultures." Clive Ruggles argues it is misleading to consider archaeoastronomy to be the study of ancient astronomy, as modern...

     and Lost lands
    Lost lands
    Lost lands can be continents, islands or other regions supposedly existing during prehistory, having since disappeared as a result of catastrophic geological phenomena or slowly rising sea levels since the end of the last Ice Age. Lost lands, where they existed, are supposed to have subsided into...

     (see also Atlantis location hypotheses)
    • The theory of Lemuria and Kumari Kandam.
    • Chariots of the Gods? and other books by Erich von Daniken
      Erich von Däniken
      Erich Anton Paul von Däniken is a Swiss author best known for his controversial claims about extraterrestrial influences on early human culture, in books such as Chariots of the Gods?, published in 1968...

      , which claim ancient visitors from outer space constructed the pyramids and other monuments.
    • Publications by Christopher Knight
      Christopher Knight (author)
      Christopher Knight is an author who has written several pseudoarcaeological and pseudohistorical books dealing with theories such as 366-degree geometry and the origins of Freemasonry...

      , such as Uriel's Machine
      Uriel's machine
      Uriel's Machine:The Ancient Origins of Science is a book published in 2000 by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas. The book's name is derived from a character of the same name in the Book of Enoch...

      (2000), claiming ancient technological civilizations.
  • The Shakespeare authorship question
    Shakespeare authorship question
    Image:ShakespeareCandidates1.jpg|thumb|alt=Portraits of Shakespeare and four proposed alternative authors.|Oxford, Bacon, Derby, and Marlowe have each been proposed as the true author...

    , which claims that someone other than William Shakespeare
    William Shakespeare
    William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

     of Stratford
    Stratford-upon-Avon is a market town and civil parish in south Warwickshire, England. It lies on the River Avon, south east of Birmingham and south west of Warwick. It is the largest and most populous town of the District of Stratford-on-Avon, which uses the term "on" to indicate that it covers...

     wrote the works traditionally attributed to him.

See also

  • Historical Revisionism (negationism)
    Historical revisionism (negationism)
    Historical revisionism is either the legitimate scholastic re-examination of existing knowledge about a historical event, or the illegitimate distortion of the historical record such that certain events appear in a more or less favourable light. For the former, i.e. the academic pursuit, see...

  • Historiography and nationalism
    Historiography and nationalism
    Historiography is the study of how history is written. One pervasive influence upon the writing of history has been nationalism, a set of beliefs about political legitimacy and "cultural identity". Nationalism has provided a significant framework for historical writing in Europe and in those former...

  • Misery lit
    Misery lit
    Misery lit is a term ostensibly coined by The Bookseller magazine that describes a genre of biographical literature mostly concerned with the protagonist's triumph over personal trauma or abuse, often during childhood...

  • Pseudoarchaeology
    Pseudoarchaeology — also known as alternative archaeology, fringe archaeology, fantastic archaeology, or cult archaeology — refers to interpretations of the past from outside of the academic archaeological community, which typically also reject the accepted scientific and analytical methods of the...

  • Pseudoscience
    Pseudoscience is a claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific, but which does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status...

  • Pseudoscientific metrology
    Pseudoscientific metrology
    Some approaches in the branch of historic metrology are highly speculative and can be qualified as pseudoscience. Interest in ancient metrology was triggered by research into the various Megalith building cultures and the Great Pyramid of Giza.-Origins:...

External links

  • "Pseudohistory and Pseudoscience" Program in the History of Science and Technology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States.
  • Pseudohistory entry at Skeptic's Dictionary
    Skeptic's Dictionary
    The Skeptic's Dictionary is a collection of cross-referenced skeptical essays by Robert Todd Carroll, published on his website and in a printed book. The site was launched in 1994 and the book was published in 2003 with nearly 400 entries. As of January 2011 the website has...

  • The Hall of Ma'at
  • "The Restoration of History" from Skeptic (U.S. magazine)
    Skeptic (U.S. magazine)
    Skeptic is a quarterly science education and science advocacy magazine published internationally by The Skeptics Society, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting scientific skepticism and resisting the spread of pseudoscience, superstition, and irrational beliefs...

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