Don’t know much about history
Negativity Theory states, as we all know, that historical figures aren’t as good as they appear. I know this topic will be remedial for some advanced students, but I think it is still fun to explore from time to time.
As we know, most people are surrounded by friends and loved ones. Among their many functions they effectively become “Keepers of the Lore.” It is their job to conceal and/or minimize the unsavory stuff while injecting exaggeration and hyperbole into anything that might be good, not necessarily limiting themselves to things that actually happened.
The theory states that the ability to discover unflattering information about a person is directly proportional to the amount of time that has passed. It also states that just about everyone has some kind of freakish penchant or skeleton in their closet. In many cases, information about these quirks never sees the light of day.
Let’s take someone like George Washington. He famously chopped down a cherry tree and, when confronted about it, said, “I can’t tell a lie, Pa.” Or did he? The story came from a book written about George Washington after his death, which was written by a guy who plagiarized other stories for the man’s life from published fiction of the time. No credible source for the story was ever found, so the cherry tree incident is considered apocryphal and its credibility is questioned.
There is also the matter of Washington crossing the Delaware as portrayed in the famous painting. In the picture Washington maintains a heroic stance at the bow of the boat. The painting has been analyzed, though, and many “historical inaccuracies” have been found. They include:
- It was raining during the crossing.
- Some reason that it would have been difficult for Washington to stand in choppy waters. Another theory states, however, that perhaps the occupants of the boat were standing to avoid icy water.
- The flag in the painting didn’t yet exist at the time of the crossing.
- The boat is the wrong model and appears too small to carry the occupants. The actual boats used had higher sides.
- The crossing took place at night, not in the day.
- The river shown is far narrower than where the crossing took place.
- Horses were not ferried across the river in boats.
- The painting shows Washington’s boat going geographically in the wrong direction.
I think this one example shows how history can tend to get a few facts wrong. So it is also easy to imagine the volume of information that may be omitted altogether.
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