Sunday, January 23, 2005

History, and not-History

A couple interesting articles in the January issue of History Today.

Firstly, there's a look at the whole Rennes-le-Chateau myth, the story which underlies the historical conspiracy-theories found in the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail and which has since gone on to be featured in The Da Vinci Code and the truly witless comic book Preacher. It's a complicated tale involving a mysterious church, a hidden treasure, a possibly-allegorical painting, and an alleged secret society based on the bloodline of Jesus Christ and the Merovingian Kings.

Apparently the whole thing began when a hotel operator wanted to drum up business.

This is actually a lot easier to believe than anything in Holy Blood, Holy Grail.

The other interesting article is about a book I remember fondly from my youth: 1066 and All That, a spoof of English history based on what you were likely to misremember if you'd been taught English history in the years just before the First World War. It was funny, in its way. If you already knew the subject enough to appreciate the gags. The article tries to figure out, basically, what to make of the book nowadays. Is it still relevant to current ideas of history? Who still knows enough general English history to get all the jokes?

It's not a bad piece, but to me it misses the main appeal of the book: you read it, you pick up on half the jokes, and the rest of it is so perplexing you start looking into history so that you can make sense of what's going on. In this way humour combines with curiosity to become a tremendously effective educational technique.

At least, that was my experience.

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