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V12 2009 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 44, November 1, 2009, Article 22

ANCIENT HISTORY AND PSEUDOSCHOLARSHIP

Arthur Shippee forwarded this item about common mistakes in ancient history. Numismatic researchers should heed the authors advice - be very careful who you choose to believe. Mistakes in history are easy to make and promulgate, and very difficult to squash. -Editor

I would not like to sit in the chair of an amateur dentist. Politicians will not finance investigations by amateur nuclear physicists. But when an amateur historian writes a book, no one objects.

Professionalism matters. Much false knowledge will become obsolete once people start to realize that "amateur historian" or "self-taught historian" are just other words for "deficiently trained".

Unfortunately, a professional training is not in itself sufficient to prevent errors. Many historians, philologists, and archaeologists have specialized so much that they are no longer in touch with developments outside their own field.

Scholars have therefore become specialists, and this has two consequences, which, in combination, produce a disastrous outcome. In the first place, students acquire knowledge of one discipline only. An archaeologist has to devote so much time to learning how to dig and recognize finds, that he has almost no opportunity to acquire the necessary command of the ancient languages.

The second consequence of specialization is that no one is sufficiently trained to teach. For example, it can happen that someone who knows everything about the crisis of the third century, must introduce first-year students to the basic outline of ancient history. Because this teacher cannot know everything about every specialization, it is likely that he will offer an outdated account, say, of the Peloponnesian War. Many books written for the larger audience suffer from the same weakness.

Of the fifty mistakes I have discussed in my little book on common errors, thirty-seven were made by people with a Ph.D. speaking on subjects outside their field of competence. In other words, as a guarantee of quality, mutual criticism fails, and the study of Antiquity has become a discipline without quality controls.

To read the complete article, see: Ancient History and Pseudoscholarship (http://www.livius.org/opinion/opinion0017.html)

Wayne Homren, Editor

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