RPTM Podcast Episode Forty-Two: Dred Scott, Lincoln-Douglas, and Temporary Insanity
As you have heard me say repeatedly, history is not monolithic. The truth is the same, and the lines get blurry with dissenters within the ranks. The quest for understanding could become limited by the historically minded elite, and alone historian, typing away on his computer, could be overcome by a coalition of experts. Please do not believe the internet's persistence has eroded our public discourse with misinformation. Experts do not have a monopoly on the search for truth. The internet has enhanced the historical method by allowing anyone to speak up and question general knowledge regardless of their expertise or certifications.
Most extreme historical arguments don't pan out, but trial and error are integral to the process. Archaeological evidence doesn't show any proof of horned helmets on Vikings. Death sites instead tell us most Viking warriors went bare-headed or wore leather headgear. This widespread, albeit false, the image of brawny men striding into battle with horns dates to the 1800s when artists included the imagery in their work. Some operas also had costumes with horned helmets.
It's not to say that the historical establishment's uncredentialed challenges should be silenced or cut out of the discussion. Still, life-changing findings often come from dissenters who threaten institutional thinking. We must welcome dissidence; even random people on the internet with no academic certificates might have groundbreaking ideas, and sometimes reacting to bad ideas could lead to good ones. Academic training can make it easier to catch cherry-picking historical events and comprehend what the evidence says. But I can tell you, as a history professor with years of background, examining historical events, knowledge, and credentials can cause shortsightedness making it harder to see the worth in radically new views.
Once a theory becomes marked conservative or liberal, it becomes difficult for historians to question it. History can occasionally be so politicized that those who break from the faith are often denounced as cranks and are threatened to be kicked off social media platforms for damaging misinformation.
But openness to unconventional theories has its limits. The trains were never widely or uniformly on time in Mussolini's era. This legend likely arose from the fascist propaganda promoting Mussolini's exploits beyond reality. Trains were a significant part of commerce and travel, so prompt and efficient train systems would have been an important selling point for any statesmen who could truthfully claim it. But in this case, it just wasn't true.
That being said, the best experts show tolerance, consideration, and an openness to outsiders' views.
History is a discipline, not a priesthood.
3:44 Dred Scott
8:28 Lincoln-Douglas Debates
15:14 Dan Sickles
22:31 Whitman and Dickenson
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Ryan Lancaster wears many hats. Dive into his website to learn about history, sports, and more!