Altering history by teaching manipulated stories, facts, and data is a means of promoting specific ideologies and agendas. This can be achieved by creating events that did not happen, altering events that did happen, or omitting events altogether. Over time, knowledge of the truth will die with those who lived or witnessed it, and the alternate version will be universally accepted as true.
How it Works
Distorting history is an effective method of erasing events from the minds of the population, of glorifying events and people in support of state ideals, and vilifying events and people in conflict with state ideals. Presenting history in a way that supports the agenda of the state, and reinforcing it through the public education system and the media can be used to control the perceptions of the populace in ways that prevent dissent and promote nationalism.
Early American history as taught in the public school system contains many examples of myths and exaggerated heroism. Many elementary and high school school textbooks, including modern textbooks, contain misinformation and stereotypes that generalize American Indians as primitive and as savages. The early European settlers are depicted as good Christians fleeing oppressive British rule and settling peacefully in the New World with the good Indians while having to defend themselves against the bad Indians. Little is said about the native population plummeting by an estimated 80% between 1492-1650 due to disease carried from the Old World settlers, outright massacres, and forced labor.
The Vietnam War seems to barely be mentioned in public school history lessons. Most Americans have a perception of it being unpopular, and even bad, but have no knowledge of the war crimes committed by Americans, and the extent to which even soldiers protested the war.
Semantic Manipulation: Semantic Manipulation is a kind of distortion of words and this is a kind of distortion of history as well. Also when we change the past meaning of words we lose touch with historical meanings of those same words.
Denialism: One of the ways to distort history is to deny that certain events happened the way that history tells us they didn't, or to deny that they happened at all.
Cultural imperialism:The famous quote, "History is written by the victors," may be widely disputed by historians, but history is certainly skewed toward dominant cultures that successfully practice Cultural Imperialism.
Ultra-nationalism:At the core of ultra-nationalism is the need to rewrite any history that does not agree with our view of our nation being a just and deserving nation that is a force for good in the world... or something to this effect.
Dumbing Down:Sometimes history is complicated and not black and white but mixed with varying shades of gray, blue, and... fuchsia? Whatever the exact mix of colors, this can sometimes make the past a complicated and morally ambiguous mess. This mess can be “fixed” (Dumbed Down) by taking out the questionable bits and repackaging them to fit some agenda; even if that agenda is just to feel like the world is an understandable place where villains are always beaten by unicorns riding rainbows of justice. You get the idea.
Xenophobia: History distortion can have a lot to do with distorting different cultures to make them seem less sympathetic and more evil and bad. So you look better; because you aren’t them.
- Loewen, James W. Lies my teacher told me: Everything your American history textbook got wrong. The New Press, 2008.
- Garcia, Jesus. "From Bloody Savages to Heroic Chiefs." American Indian Education 17.2 (1978): 15-9.
- Derham, Michael. "Undemocratic democracy: Venezuela and the distorting of history." Bulletin of Latin American Research 21.2 (2002): 270-289.