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    Re: Nevil Maskelyne.
    From: Carl Herzog
    Date: 2004 Jul 17, 11:21 -0400
    There seem to be two camps on Sobel: One camp applauds "Longitude"  for generating interest in celestial navigation, while accepting the historical shortcomings in her story and the way she told it. The other camp feels that, in molding the story as she did, Sobel has done a greater disservice to history, and lead the lay public into adopting false beliefs about the development of celestial navigation.
     
    Which side you fall on depends on your view of the role of popular history and its impact on us as a society. Among professional historians, this is growing issue.
     
    The public appetite for history is particularly high these days, and several authors have grown particularly successful by feeding the demand. However, in this age of "infotainment", we as a society expect our history (and our news and nearly every other aspect of our culture) to be entertaining. In this environment, nuance and detail are the first victims.
     
    At one point, many historians were willing to overlook the shortcomings in popular accounts. "If it, at least, gets people interested," the argument went, "we can correct the mistakes later. Better this than nothing."
     
    But as mythology and reality become more and more closely intertwined in the minds of the public, a growing number of historians are expressing concern. History is nothing without facts. And history's usefulness as a guide to our future actions is grossly compromised as its factual basis erodes.
     
    A new film, currently in U.S. theatres, claims to tell "the true story" of King Arthur and is backed up by a marketing website that describes the "real" identity of each of the primary characters in the Arthurian legend. Is this harmless entertainment that may even entice a few people to learn more about medieval history? Or is this is a frightening mass deception that will rewrite history in the minds of the general public?
     
    Either way, anyone with a genuine interest in history has a responsibility to nurture that interest in others, and encourage skeptical thinking about history written with a slant or without an adequate breadth of sources.
     
    --
    Carl Herzog,
    ...who is not a professional historian by any means, and probably believes a lot of things that aren't true.
     
       
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