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For a broader coverage related to this topic, see Pseudo-scholarship.

Pseudohistory is a type of historical negationism that claims to be legitimate history. As the re-interpretation of a historical event, pseudohistory is produced by the application of the research techniques of the historical method (primary sources and evidence) characteristic of legitimate history; yet, in itself, the work of pseudohistory is intellectually inconsistent with the historical record and with the common-sense understanding held in the collective memory of society. In practice, a pseudohistory presents a big lie — sensational claims — about historical fact that would require the revision (re-writing) of the historical record. The term pseudohistory is applied to works of historical revision that are based upon or derived from a theory or upon a re-interpretation or both; moreover, the related term cryptohistory applied to a pseudohistory based upon or derived from the superstitions inherent to occultism.

Definition and etymology

The term pseudohistory was coined in the early 19th century; a usage older than the term pseudo-scholarship and earlier than pseudo-science.[1] Similarly, in an 1815 attestation, it is used to refer to Certamen Homeri et Hesiodi, a fictional contest between two historical poets.[2] The pejorative sense of the term, labelling a flawed or disingenuous work of historiography, is found in another 1815 attestation.[3] Pseudohistory is akin to pseudoscience in that both forms of falsification are achieved using the methodology that purports to, but does not, adhere to the established standards of research for the given field of intellectual enquiry to which the pseudoscience claims to be a part, and which offers little or no supporting evidence for its plausibility.[4]

Historian of science Douglas Allchin[5] contends that when history in science discovery is presented in a simplified way, with drama exaggerated and scientists romanticized, this creates wrong stereotypes about how science works, and in fact constitutes pseudohistory, despite being based on real facts.

Writers Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman see pseudohistory as "the rewriting of the past for present personal or political purposes".[6]


Robert Todd Carroll suggests that a work that is pseudo-historic will meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • the work uncritically accepts myths and anecdotal evidence without skepticism.
  • it has a political, religious, or other ideological agenda.
  • it is not published in an academic journal or is otherwise not adequately peer reviewed.
  • 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 accidentally or fraudulently.
  • competing (and perhaps simpler) explanations or interpretations for the same set of facts, which have been peer reviewed and have been adequately sourced, are rejected or not addressed, contrary to the principle of Occam's razor which favours a simpler and more prosaic explanation of the same facts. For example, the work may rely on one or more conspiracy theories or "hidden-hand" explanations.[7]

Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke prefers the term "cryptohistory." He identifies two necessary elements as "A complete ignorance of the primary sources" and the repetition of "inaccuracies and wild claims."[8][9]

Other common characteristics of pseudohistory are:

  • the arbitrary linking of disparate events so as to form – in the theorist’s opinion – a pattern. This is typically then developed into a conspiracy theory postulating a hidden agent responsible for creating and maintaining the pattern. For example, the pseudohistorical The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail links the Knights Templar, the medieval Grail Romances, the Merovingian Frankish dynasty and the artist Nicolas Poussin in an attempt to identify lineal descendants of Jesus.
  • hypothesising the consequences of unlikely events that “could” have happened, thereby assuming tacitly that they did.
  • sensationalism, or shock value

Categories and examples

The following are some common categories of pseudohistorical theory, with examples. NB;

  • not all theories in a listed category are necessarily pseudohistorical; they are rather categories which seem to attract pseudohistorians
  • caution should be exercised with lists of theories, as proponents of any historical theory, or any ideology, may assert that theories with which they disagree are pseudohistorical, in order to discredit them and their promoters:
American edition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

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 978-1-86189-430-4
  5. Allchin, D. 2004. Pseudohistory and pseudoscience 1 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 978-0-520-26098-6, p.2
  7. Carroll, Robert Todd. The skeptic’s dictionary. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons (2003), p. 305.
  8. Goodrick-Clarke 1985: 224,225
  9. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, The Occult Roots of Nazism, page 225 (Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2005 edition). ISBN 978-1-86064-973-8
  10. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Holocaust Encyclopedia "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", last updated 4 May 2009.
  11. Deborah E. Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, Plume, 1994, Page 215, ISBN 0-452-27274-2
  12. Fritze, Ronald H,. (2009). Invented knowledge: false history, fake science and pseudo-religions. Reaktion Books. p. 169. ISBN 978-1-86189-430-4. 
  13. Novikov, S. P. (2000). "Pseudohistory and pseudomathematics: fantasy in our life". Russian Mathematical Surveys. 55. 
  14. David Barton (December 2008). "Confronting Civil War Revisionism: Why the South Went To War". Wall Builders. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 
  15. Barrett Brown (27 December 2010). "Neoconfederate civil war revisionism: Those who commemorate the South's fallen heroes are entitled to do so, but not to deny that slavery was the war's prime cause". Retrieved 30 December 2013. 
  16. "Howard Swint: Confederate revisionism warps U.S. history". Charleston Daily Mail. June 15, 2011. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 
  17. Sherwin, Elisabeth. "Clarence Walker encourages black Americans to discard Afrocentrism". Davis Community Network. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  18. 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. JSTOR 483368. doi:10.2307/483368. 
  19. 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. Archaeological Fantasies: How pseudoarchaeology misrepresents the past and misleads the public. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-30592-6. 
  20. 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
  22. 22.0 22.1 Fritze, Ronald H,. (2009). Invented knowledge: false history, fake science and pseudo-religions. Reaktion Books. p. 11.ISBN 978-1-86189-430-4.
  23. Laura Miller (2006). Dan Burstein, ed. Secrets of the Code. Vanguard Press. p. 405. ISBN 978-1-59315-273-4. 
  24. Specter, Arlen (Spring 1995). "Defending the wall: Maintaining church/state separation in America". Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. 18 (2): 575–590. 
  25. House Passes, Considers Evangelical Resolutions, Baltimore Chronicle
  26. David Barton - Propaganda Masquerading as History, People for the American Way
  27. Boston Theological Institute Newsletter Volume XXXIV, No. 17, Richard V. Pierard, January 25, 2005
  28. Dietz, Robert S. "Ark-Eology: A Frightening Example of Pseudo-Science" in Geotimes 38:9 (Sept. 1993) p. 4.
  29. Fritze, Ronald H,. (2009). Invented knowledge: false history, fake science and pseudo-religions. Reaktion Books. p. 201. ISBN 978-1-86189-430-4.
  30. Merriman, Nick, editor, Public Archaeology, Routledge, 2004 page 260
  31. Tonkin, S., 2003, Uriel's Machine – a Commentary on some of the Astronomical Assertions.
  32. 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".
  33. 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 . . .”
  34. 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 . . .”
  35. 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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