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July 18, 2020

French History Myths with the Fake History Hunter, Jo Teeuwisse

French History Myths with the Fake History Hunter, Jo Teeuwisse

The Fake History Hunter and I smash myths about French history.


Gary: Today’s special episode is an interview with Dutch historian Jo Teeuwisse, better known as the Fake History Hunter, for her work online debunking numerous popular fake history posts. For over a decade. Jo has specialized in daily life of early 20th century Europeans. She has worked as a historical consultant for museums, documentaries, films, television and authors. Today we are going to talk about French historical myths, why real history is important, and how we can protect real history from fake history. Please enjoy.

Gary: Thank you very much for joining me Jo Teeuwisse, and for helping me pronounce your name correctly, because my Frenchness made me completely mess that up. For those who don’t know, she is the the face behind the Fake History Hunter. And do you want to tell us a little bit about your page, because it’s honestly one of the most entertaining pages, I think, on Twitter and on the Internet in general.

Jo: Thank you. Well, what I do is, I just go around Twitter looking for people, sharing things that I find suspicious. And then I try and find out if it is true or not. And if it’s fake, then I write an article about it or I just start correcting them. And then I bother and harass everyone who shares the same fake history story.

Gary: See, on the one hand, I think the way you describe it, it sounds like a dream for all of us historians. But the more I look at it, the more I think I just could not do your job because some of the stories that you have to deal with are just so bizarre and the people are so unrepentant. I saw a little while back there was a pretty huge wave on Twitter of people saying that Ludvig von Beethoven was actually black.

Jo: Yeah. Yeah, it is quite strange. I mean, the story itself is quite old. It’s been shared for, I think, literally for decades.

Gary: Oh, really?

Jo: Yeah. Mostly it’s based on our ancestors using the words black or sporty or swarthy or all sorts of definitions. Completely, in a completely confusing way for us modern people. When we hear someone say, “that man is black.” We think, oh, skin must be black. But our ancestors, they use those terms very loosely for all sorts of people in very different circumstances. So, someone read somewhere that they describe Beethoven as being a bit dark and they take this out of context and run with it. And of course, during the you know, the current situation in the world where this is such a hot topic, people are apparently desperately looking for history that, around that subject that they like, that they find interesting, that supports them, that they want to share. And sometimes that goes wrong.

Gary: Yeah, it’s kind of like, because I’m a huge literary fan, you know, not to plug myself shamelessly, but I just released a new fiction book. And so, you know, I been reading fiction. You hear a lot of descriptions of having a dark complexion or that sort of thing. But then the person that they’re describing is, you know, pasty white. It must be pretty hard to deal with, especially nowadays that so much stuff is political. Because, I think, obviously, you and I are anti-racist. We appreciate history and what every single race and people has given to history. But so often when you point out that, hey, you know, Ludwig von Beethoven wasn’t black and Cleopatra, something like seven of her eight like ancestors were Greek as opposed to Egyptian. But then there’s a lot of people say, oh, Cleopatra was black, you know?

Jo: So it’s it’s silly, but also a bit sad because there are so many black heroes and heroines and stories that are absolutely fantastic and amazing. And I sometimes try and steer these people to those stories and to know people who are specialized in African history, for instance, in sub-Saharan cultures, because there is so much there is no need to go along with fake stories and imaginary stories and things that make no sense. But yeah, it is it is quite tricky and touchy. It’s very difficult. And I think that is very difficult for a proper historian, someone who is open minded and willing to learn about all cultures and all histories to be racist, because you can’t deny that generally across the centuries people are more alike than they are different. And we owe so much to pretty much every culture on earth. It’s a global thing, humanity. So it is quite tricky. And that’s why I keep trying to simply keep it apolitical and just go, this is my evidence. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to agree with it. But look, here’s a picture. Here’s a story. Here’s some evidence and do with it what you want. You know, the famous parable, you know, you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make a drink. And I just try and share whatever I’ve got. And if I need be, I’ll ask them for their evidence, which is often where the conversation ends.

Gary: And that’s where it gets the funniest, in my opinion. But thank you very much for being the light in Plato’s Cave, so to say. In any case, I invited you on to talk about historical myths, specifically those related to France. And in talking to you earlier, it seems like you are much more of an expert on medieval myths. And I’m more of the expert on modern myths. I thought being historians, we should start chronologically. So you have a very helpful, is it a bingo card on your Website of myths, medieval myths? And some of these are just absolutely fantastic: Everyone has bad teeth,nobody gets old, Always war. Some of these I think a lot of people can pretty much understand. But other ones, I think are would actually surprise people. So I’m gonna pick out one myth. Can you tell us about this myth: Only the clergy could read.

Jo: Yeah, it’s a very interesting one and a bit complicated to be fair. For a very long time, everyone, and it’s not you know, that includes historians and medievalists and people in general, not just Hollywood, have assumed that in Europe, very few people could read. That the illiteracy percentage was about 99 percent. And the more you start looking into that. And I have to admit that part of my bingo card is not that well developed yet. I haven’t finished a proper article on it. But, we know that it wasn’t just the clergy who read. When people look at literacy in medieval times, they often check out what have we got left? And that is often the beautiful medieval books written by the clergy in Latin. And for a long time, that’s what we base our idea of literacy in medieval Europe on. What if we got, Latin books. Ergo facto, it was only the clergy who could read and write. But if you start looking into the archives and records, you start finding little traces of people leaving their mark. And they often do it in their regional languages. So, you know, a sort of basic English, German, French sort of thing. And you get the feeling that people didn’t really take that seriously. And that includes historians up to a few decades ago. And so we are pretty sure that more people could read and write than was long thought. But it is very difficult to prove that because the common people wrote on bark and on wax, which are two materials that don’t last very long. And besides that, all they did was sign a few official documents now and then. And in the 1950s, they found a whole bunch of bark letters in Russia. And that they were somehow magically preserved or not magically scientifically preserved because of the earth there is a certain condition is a little bit extra. I don’t know. I don’t I don’t do science very well. But those bark letters and documents were saved for hundreds of years. And then suddenly historians found these piles of letters about very common things; love letters, a child’s homework, a shopping list written clearly by common people in a regional language, which sort of suggests that perhaps that was going on in other places in Europe as well. So it’s, you know, it’s a difficult subject because it’s difficult to find actual evidence of people writing. But there are so many, you know, circumstantial bits of evidence that are suggesting that there were more people reading and writing everything and 99 percent is probably over exaggerated.

Gary: So not to jump ahead a bit, but it seems like a lot of these myths have to deal with the very concept of the Dark Ages, which has been a particular thing that you have fought against. Do you want to tell us a little bit about the Dark Ages?

Jo: Where to begin? During the Middle Ages, a few Italians wanted to make the Roman era sound better. So there was, for political reasons. And they sort say, oh, you know, everything was better when we were in charge, the familiar old story. And that’s when the concept and the idea of the Dark Ages, you know, everything was darker than was born. And this term, it’s stuck. People kept using it. For a long time they also used the term to describe the era because there were fewer written records. And this whole idea began to grow, that after the Roman Empire sort of collapsed like one afternoon. Suddenly, the entire Western Europe region completely fell apart. And they forgot how to bath and write and read and make roads and everything fell apart. And they started living in holes in the ground and eating grass or whatever. And a lot more recently, people started to look at it. Well, a bit more nuanced and bit more fact based. And they started to realize that those dark ages, that the term is pretty much a misnomer. And most historians have stopped using it. It’s the Middle Ages. They weren’t as bad as people seem to think. And that’s one of the reasons I wrote this Bingo Card, because there are so many misconceptions. And there almost all of them are based on the idea that medieval people are somehow backwards and stupid and dirty. While in reality Europe just continued. There was of course, a few things changed. There was a lot less export of certain products because that’s what the Romans were really good at, spreading goods from one place of the empire to the other. But much of Europe has never even been occupied by the Romans. And life just continued for them. And, you know, the empire also didn’t collapse one afternoon. It took years, decades, even centuries for the Roman Empire to change and get smaller and eventually become the Byzantine Empire. So it’s a really strange idea that these these couple of centuries, somehow Europe completely fell apart and became one huge, chaotic mess. Of course, it wasn’t a paradise. And of course, there were lots of terrible things. And yes, when a empire leaves, there are smaller groups trying to get power set about wars and combat and things like that. But the whole idea of calling part of the Middle Ages or some people even call all of the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages. That’s just, you know, it’s wrong. It makes no sense. And I keep trying to tell people that. And it’s not easy.

Gary: Right. Well, I’m glad you do that work. So there are two squares on your medieval bingo that I think are pretty related and pretty interesting. One is the idea that people were ignorant and then the other one is earth is flat. And of course, that’s a pretty striking thing that medieval people back then did not believe that the earth was flat. Especially given nowadays there are people like Shaquille O’Neal and others who claim that it is. Do you want to explain that whole myth?

Jo: Well, the ignorance goes back a little bit again to the literacy idea. We know that there were schools, quite a lot of them dating back pretty much to the beginning of the Middle Ages. Some of them were continued Institutions that were set up by the Romans that just continued, you know, that they didn’t stop suddenly teaching people, you know, there was education in Europe. And of course, it’s nothing compared to what it was later. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any. That was everybody was stupid or dumb. You know, if there had been no progress whatsoever, there wouldn’t have been any renaissances at all. And, you know, people often think there was only one renaissance, the big one. But there were several. And even just telling people that there were several renaissances during the Middle Ages that showed an increase in science and intellect and all sorts of subjects. That for me,

Gary: and a very important one in France, I have to mention Carolingian Renaissance.

Jo: Yeah, exactly. I mean, that alone should teach you that, you know, it wasn’t some sort of backwards, stagnant region and time.

Gary: Yeah, it really is interesting. And do you want to get into the earth is flat.

Jo: Yeah. Mm hmm. Yeah. There is no real evidence that shows that this was believed by a lot of people. I think I’ve personally have only found one example of someone saying, “ha ha, that guy is stupid, he thinksthe earth is flat,” which is quite funny. But there is no other example, I couldn’t find any examples of people actually saying the earth is flat and there is no evidence of it being generally believed by a lot of people. While we do have evidence or saying the earth is round and, you know, making calculations about it and not just medieval people also, of course, Greeks and other cultures have been doing that. The idea that loads of people think the Earth is actually flat is seems to be pretty recent as far as we can prove of course. Nobody knows if the average medieval common peasant, what they thought about it, because that’s not something that people asked.

Gary: Yeah, you know, I’m terrible with my ancient Greek names, but who was it, Ecliduis or Euclidian [I was going for ‘Euclid’ but it was Erastothenes], who had calculated the size of the earth and got it within 200 miles? Or am I getting that completely wrong? I’m just throwing out Greek names now because I’m not an expert in that.

Jo: I think Copernicus said, well, is that what you said?

Gary: not Copernicus, but there was an ancient Greek thinker who was working in Egypt.

Jo: Oh, right. Yeah, I don’t know who, what his name exactly was, but I know you mean. I’m old.

Gary: Yeah. Ancient Greek.

Jo: Some old guy. That’s the one.

Gary: The ancient Greeks figured everything out, you know. And you know what it is. In any case, is there a particular favorite myth that you have, that you have covered either in the medieval period or just in general? And bonus points, if you can relate it to France.

Jo: (Laughs) Well, everybody knows the French are dirty.

Gary: Of course,

Jo: That’s one of my favorites. The idea that medieval people didn’t wash, didn’t bathe, didn’t clean their streets, didn’t care about wanting to be clean or, you know, didn’t care about being smelly. Which the first time I heard it, even as a child, I thought, that’s weird. It’s peculiar. Why would people do that? And it doesn’t take a lot of logic to realize that doesn’t really fit with reality, because no matter where you are or where you live in the world, if you have four hands and you want to eat food, you do not want sand on your food. And if there is sand on your hands, there will be sand on your food. If you have dirt or grease on your hands, you do not want it on your clothes, especially if washing them is not something you do easily. That’s not a job well for a machine, but it’s gonna take you hours to clean a dress or shirt or whatever, you know, even if you have slaves. That’s just, you know, why would you bother with that sort of thing? The idea that you don’t want sand or grease on your stuff and on your food. That’s I think that goes back to ancient times, to prehistoric times. And we know that people have been making soap and bathing well since since the Romans, since before the Romans even arrived in Western Europe. But it is this image that, of course, it’s very appealing. We like it. We like seeing it for some sort of reason. We like the Middle Ages to be dirty. We see it in movies, in Hollywood, in computer games. Maybe it has something to do with feeling better about ourselves. You know, look, this is where we came from. Look how great we are today. I don’t know why, but everything we know and everything, all the sources we have seen, you know, seem to proof, seem to suggest that it was completely different, that people actually did watch quite often several times a day, that so there was a huge soap industry in Europe at the time. There are household books. There are there’s art. There’s so much there that suggests that people really actually quite cared. We have city records that write about people trying to experiment with plumbing and getting into trouble when it doesn’t work. We have sort of police law records to suggest that someone littering in the street nearly got stabbed over it because, you know, Someone had to pay a fine because there was dirt on the street. And it’s there is so much there that suggests that people actually cared and really tried to keep things clean. Of course, it didn’t always work. Of course, had to be laws because in some places, in some neighborhoods, just like today, things didn’t quite work. Things got out of hand. But generally we can say that things in medieval Europe weren’t dirty and disgusting till the ironically, till the Renaissance, when the cities started to become overpopulated, when they lost their agricultural character. When, you know, that’s his famous story of people’s emptying the bedpans out of the window. I think there’s a French word for it, a French saying, ‘garde l’eau’ watch out for the water. But that too, seems to be more of a renaissance thing, a post medieval thing, because for most of medieval time, houses barely even had top floors with windows just to enter your stuff from, to throw your stuff from. Houses, had yards with, you know, with places where they could dump their rubbish. There was no need to throw it out of a window. I don’t care what era it is, if you’re walking around the street in your best clothes and some someone empties a bedpan on your head, you’re gonna kick in the door and tap them to bits. I mean, that’s what I would do. So why would people have been doing that until cities became so overpopulated that the public sanitary just went downhill and public toilets didn’t quite work anymore because they were used to too often, too much? People started building houses into places where their yards used to be, which meant there was no more space to dump their waste. That’s when things really got out of hand. In many cases, when people are talking about negative medieval things, they’re talking about things that happen after the Middle Ages. So it’s quite weird and but also a bit ironic and a bit funny. That’s the so-called golden age that followed the Middle Ages is actually the one when many of these stories come from.

Gary: And yeah, not to, I suppose, get too much into that. But a lot of crazy things happened in during the Renaissance Enlightenment and the scientific revolution, such as more witch burning.

Jo: And yeah, it’s also it’s also when the average life expectancy went down. It went down in during the Renaissance, which is also fascinating stuff because everyone always says, everybody died when there was 30 during the Middle Ages. And, you know, the Renaissance there were oh so lovely and beautiful. And everyone was skipping through the streets with flowers in their hair and being happy and glorious. But it’s it’s almost the other way around. I mean, the Renaissance was a golden age for art and architecture and science and many of those things. But for the average common person, life generally got worse.

Gary: Yeah, that really is a fascinating point. And I think in the myths that we’ve talked about, I really want to get at why these myths are created and perpetuated. So you’ve talked about how on the one hand, some of these myths are created by the enemies of certain regimes or people who have a vested interest. But what other reasons can you think of, such as, for example, maybe misconceptions or errors in the texts or retelling? You know, how do these myths get started?

Jo: Well, that’s a very difficult question to answer because it really depends on the myths. There are so many ways these myths appear and sometimes they really appear out of nowhere. There’s a very famous story about Queen Elizabeth I of England never bathing. Like once a year and there’s even a quote attributed to her that says, “I bathe once a year whether I need it or not.” And this is such a famous quote, such a famous story that it’s being taught in schools as actual history. I had to learn how to contact a British educational official Web site on history to make them remove that quote, because it was on there. And there is no evidence whatsoever for this quote, it actually existed up until the 1920s. There’s nothing, there’s no rumor or there’s no suggestion of it. It makes no sense whatsoever. And it appears to have been a story that may have been a vague combination of stories about Queen Victoria, her bathing ideas, which, by the way, are also wrong and confusing her with another queen, Queen Elizabeth. And it is really strange that how many stories there are about royals not bathing very much. I have no idea where it came from. People say an ambassador wrote about it in a report. But then when you ask where is it? Where’s the report? Most of these were actually, you know, kept. There are still some of them are even online researchable. There’s no evidence of that in any of the letters. There is one story that may have been at the root of it, and that’s when Queen Elizabeth was in her winter years and she was very old and nearly dying. She wanted to be left alone a lot. She didn’t want to be bathed because for her, of course, when she was being bathed, that would involve lots of servants helping her. And she didn’t want that when she was old and she had trouble walking and shit, as you know. You know what happens when you get old? You don’t you don’t really want a lot of people bathing you, I assume. So in her last years of her life, she didn’t want help being bathed. So, maybe that’s where it came from. She was very vain. Well, perhaps that’s not a very nice word to use. She cared a lot about her appearance. She used a lot of makeup, which had a very bad effect on her skin. I know she was not a happy woman at the end of her life. So that to me, that all makes perfect sense that you don’t want to be bathed or, you know, spend as much time bathing, whatever it was. So maybe that’s where it from. But I can’t prove it. And even when we would have this quote of her actually written black and white on a document that she signed. No, I said. Even then, you have to look at it. What did they mean by bathing? Did she mean washing herself? Does she mean being wash? Does she mean going in full tub? Does she mean being bathed by a lot of servants? If she says I don’t bathe, doesn’t it mean she never washed? You know, it is such a complicated story to prove, but as long as there is no actual evidence, it’s probably just a myth. But you can understand that this is a story that had it been around for a long time, it would be something that her enemies would have loved to have used. It is the type of story that downgrades a person. But when this person is a symbol for a country, it’s even better. You know, that’s why there are so many strange stories about leaders of countries, royals. Well, Napoleon, as you of course, know, this still really strange stories about him at a time of war. And it happens today. You know, literally every day these days, there are stories about world leaders, politicians and things like that. Some of them are true. Some of them are not true. Some of them are propaganda. Some of them are just meant to make fun of someone. There are rumors and gossip. And I’m pretty sure that much of what we see passing by on social media today that we laugh at because we know it’s ridiculous. In a few hundred years, you know, humans still are around. There’s going to be someone on Twitter going to say, well, that’s actually a fake history.

Gary: Twitter 3.0,

Jo: perhaps 3D virtual reality Twitter.

Gary: Yeah, that’s a scary thought. I mean, Twitter is bad enough, but it’s funny you mention that and how some myths are purposely created by enemies. It makes me think of the myth of Prima nocta, which for those people who don’t know Prima nocta, which literally is Latin for “first night.” It’s this idea that if someone just got married, that the king has the right to deflower the wife. I assume the wife. I don’t think they’d go for the husband. But, you know, who knows? But in any case, apparently, this myth has been widespread and virtually every king in Europe was accused of it, even though there’s no evidence for it taking place anywhere.

Jo: No. I think there’s one case in Scotland that sort of vaguely may have had something remotely related to it. But it’s very vague. But, yeah, generally, there is no real proper, believable evidence that says, that makes us believe that it really happened, let alone that it was a common occurrence.I mean, I’m pretty sure that there were leaders and people, people with power who ruled lands and villages and towns who absolutely abuse that power to have their wicked way with loads of people. But that being a some sort of official custom, a law or whatever. It’s ridiculous.

Gary: Yeah, of course. Now people believe it I think because it was featured in the movie Braveheart.

Jo: Yeah.

Gary: Which that’s another big source of historical myths against this. Yeah, I know. Right.

Jo: It’s not even filmed in Scotland.

Gary: The one thing that Mel Gibson did wrong in his life. But in anyway. Moving on. Perhaps we can move on to more modern myths and in thinking about how myths are created. One thing that I thought was interesting is how some people within their own societies create myths in order to change society, that sometimes these don’t come from enemies. And I’m purposely thinking of someone like Voltaire and other enlightenment thinkers in France because they help perpetuate this myth that France was horrendously behind Britain during the scientific revolution, the Enlightenment, and then during the early industrial revolution because they wanted to bring about political change. And politically, they had some sort of argument in that France was a monarchy, whereas Britain was a constitutional monarchy. But in terms of actual scientific output and economic output, France was definitely on par with Britain.

Jo: Now, Yes. Absolutely. And often those cases, there’s a political reason for both positive and negative fake history. I mean, claiming something is either really, really good in your own country or really, really bad in your own country generally has an effect. It will make the people, it’s good for morale. It will make people feel better about your country. Or it will perhaps, you know, make them angry about things and want to change things, or if you play your cards right it makes them want to change things themselves. For instance, if you say we have the worst, I don’t know, our education is really bad. You’re gonna to have a whole bunch of people saying, oh, maybe I should be a teacher. I want to change this because I think it’s important. It can be a good thing it seems, as awful as it sounds. Fake history can be used for good and an evil.

Gary: Yeah. Although I do feel a bit bad for French scientists. So, just because it was funny is that in the case of the scientific revolution, obviously, I think Britain was definitely a leader in the mechanical arts, they were very good at physics and that sort of thing. But if you think about the great chemists and the great biologists, a lot of them were French. I mean, look at Louis Pasteur, who came up with germ theory. And even before Louis Pasteur, there were so many French thinkers. Later on, there was two Frenchmen who invent or who came up with quarantine, which allowed Europeans to not get yellow fever. And so that essentially allowed Europe to colonize Africa and South America, which is not a good thing. But essentially this,

Jo: It was for them.

Gary: for them. But this incredible discovery was by Frenchman. So French people really didn’t, they weren’t behind Britain, at least not in general. But that didn’t stop a lot of thinkers from saying so.

Jo: Yeah, it’s probably also the French Revolution that did a lot of damage when it comes to reputation. You know, there was a while when the French were, appeared to be a bit distracted, to put it mildly. And of course, when people are busy with revolutions, especially in propaganda abroad, in England, the people involved with the revolution were often depicted as half savages.

Gary: Since you’ve gotten onto the French Revolution, let’s talk about some myths there, because there are some pretty fantastic myths. And I think everyone’s favorite myth was that Marie Antoinette said let them eat cake when she heard that the French peasantry were starving because they didn’t have enough bread.

Jo: Yeah, again, that appears to be based on one guy writing a book that says a certain princess. Well, Marie Antoinette, at the time, I think she was seven or eight, said that. Brioche by the way, not cake really, which is a sort of cake. But, you know, it doesn’t matter. You know, that that appears to be the only source there is for this story. And the guy himself didn’t name a princess, didn’t say who it was. And everyone just assumed it was it was her. And this story came back to haunt her not just during the French Revolution, but to this day. And even if she said it, she was seven. If she said, yeah, if someone had written down the stuff I said when I was seven, I’d be in so much trouble today. So it’s such a weird thing to say. And there are other some historians who say it was probably not even her. It was a story about someone completely different. It’s there’s a lot to unwrap in that story. But we can you know, it wasn’t something she said at a later age. I’m sure about that.

Gary: Yeah, it really is amazing. And I just the other day, I saw this myth being perpetuated again, not to get into American politics. But, you know, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we’re kind of going through a spell right now.

Jo: Yes. It’s it’s a bit of a mess of fakey. I heard something about that.

Gary: Yeah. And a lot of people are unemployed and Ivanka Trump told people that now’s a great time to develop other skills. And so some people have criticized her as being America’s Marie Antoinette. And I just want to say, oh, you know, Marie Antoinette never said anything that ignorant, to my knowledge. (both laugh)

Jo: Yes, absolutely. And it is a beautiful example of people using semi-fake history, because we can’t be 100 percent sure it’s fake. But, you know, to make her appear awful, you know, while there’s plenty of other stories to make her to appear awful. We don’t need the fake history to make, you know, to show that she did a few things that really were, you know, not very nice. But, you know, this story, again, it’s the same as with Queen Victoria. It’s, you know, Queen Elizabeth, things like that. It’s a story that somehow appeals to the imagination. People like it. And, you know, if you say, oh, she also had a little farm where she used to pretend she was a common farmer or a dairy maiden, you know. She spent more money on pretending to be a farmer than most people made in their entire lives. That would make me angry. That’s really pretty disgusting. But, you know, if someone says yes, she said, let the poor eat eat cake, somehow people feel that in their guts. You know, that’s a story. That’s a real punch, that really hurts. So it’s understandable that people used it regardless where they got it from, maybe from that one book. Maybe it’s just it was just a rumor at the time. We may never know, but it’s a very good example of using a rumor, a fake history story to make something happen. That’s also why fake history is so important and can be quite dangerous. Politicians can get their hands on it.

Gary: Absolutely. And, you know, aside from just a Ivanka. I mean, so many people throughout history have been compared to Marie Antoinette because supposedly she said that, but she never did. But going on to other French revolutionary myths, I think one of my favorite misconceptions that people have is that France’s revolutions have been led by the poor. And I think this one in particular has been a huge myth thanks to the play and movies; Les Miserables. You know, when that’s just not been the case.

Jo: No, of course it was it was them who did the fighting and the protesting and going on to the streets. You know, they were in the vanguard, though. They did a lot of the dirty work, but they weren’t the leaders. As usually, sadly, is the case. It’s the masses.

Gary: If we want to be fully American the ‘masses.’

[Jo and Gary say ‘masses’ in different accents]

Jo: The masses you know, that get used by those above them.

Gary: Yeah, definitely. And of course, virtually everyone that became part of the National Assembly, at least during the original French Revolution, was a lawyer. And then in 1830, during the July revolution, essentially the July revolution got kicked off because the government was cracking down on the middle class being allowed into the government. These July ordinances would exclude the middle class from government and censor the press, which kicked off the whole revolution. So the idea that it was a bunch of singing peasants that overthrew the monarchy was not accurate at all.

Jo: But they sang a few songs now and then, Gary: maybe a few. You know, French French people are pretty delightful. So I think the other perhaps the other super famous French myth is the idea that Napoleon was short. And this, of course, now become part of modern culture with the idea of the Napoleon complex.

Jo: Well, I’m Dutch, so I’m six foot tall. So to me, he will show to me pretty much
everybody short. (laugh)

Gary: Yeah. I mean, if the Netherlands floods, you’re gonna be OK.

Jo: Yeah, we’re fine.

Gary: But in any case, so Napoleon, just for those who don’t know the facts. Napoleon’s height was recorded at five feet, two inches. But this was in French feet, which is different from the English measurements, which is five foot seven, which was average at the time. Another thing was that he was nicknamed the “little corporal.” But this was just a term of endearment, kind of like how the Emperor Caligula which means “little boots.” That’s just because when he was a kid, you know, he would walk around with the army. It wasn’t because he was short. And then, of course, Napoleon, he chose his imperial guard based on height in order to make them imposing. And so he looked short compared to them. And then finally, the the British had a very, very famous publication called Punch, which made a lot of cartoons. And it always depicted Napoleon as being far, far shorter than Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, who was five foot nine, which is not a big difference. But they would always contrast the two and exaggerate his height versus Napoleon’s.

Jo: Absolutely. It is it is a famous political cartoon, you know, technique, trick. They do it a lot. I’ve seen it done with Hitler, for instance. We see Hitler jumping up and down, having a tantrum, being really, really angry. While, you know, Churchill and Roosevelt are just looking on, just going, why is that being much taller? Taking someone down a peg makes, you know, sometimes literally by making the shorter. That’s really satisfying. In a cartoon, in a picture. And it makes people feel really good to think that someone they technically fear because, you know, Napoleon was quite an impressive ruler and emperor. Someone they fear or they don’t like, who’s the enemy to make them, to have something wrong with them. To make them appear smaller, a bit stupid, a bit smelly. It just makes people feel a bit better.

Gary: Yeah, absolutely. And of course, that’s what the British had to rely on, was propaganda, because at least for a long time, Napoleon beat, what was it like five or six…

Jo: Everybody

Gary: Well, yeah, exactly. I mean, up until he decided to take on the Russian winter, that didn’t go so well.

Jo: And it’s perfectly fine for people of the era to believe all that propaganda and, you know, chaff those stories and spread them around. It makes them feel better. But, you know, it’s been a few centuries. We should move on. We should be able to look at Napoleon and say, OK, well, you know, we don’t like this about him. We don’t like that about him. But he wasn’t particularly short. Let’s move on now.

Gary: People have a lot more to criticize him for because for those people who aren’t necessarily too familiar with France, Napoleon even to this day, is such a revered figure. His tomb is in the center of a chapel at Les Invalides. Super famous place in France. And but now that Black Lives Matter has become this global movement and of course, Napoleon reinstated slavery in the colonies. Now, there’s a whole new bunch of things we can criticize Napoleon for. We don’t have to call him short.

Jo: No, even without the slavery, there’s plenty of other things he did that weren’t very nice. No. Like generally invading other countries is frowned upon even though everybody else did it. Just because he’s good at it made him worse.

Gary: Exactly. It’s like playing, you know. Do you ever play the game civilization? No. Oh, my gosh. As a historian, I would think that we would be on board with this.

Jo: But I find you busy shooting Nazis in other games.

Gary: OK. See, I can’t take the fighting on on Twitter, so. But so many people declare war on me. And then all defeat them. And then they’ll call me a war-monger. And I’m like, OK, you’re mad at me because I’m better at it than you are. Not because I’m a bad person.

Jo: I think that’s a pretty good description of most of human history. You know, instead, don’t do what I do, do what I say, that sort of thing.

Gary: One myth I think that is very important to France and one that is perpetually restated is the idea that France always surrenders.

Jo: Yeah. You know, it’s such a silly one because, you know, the chap we’ve just previously discussed surely answers that silly statement quite often when people say that. All I say is Napoleon

Gary: Napoleon, Louis the XIV, Charlemagne.

Jo: Yea

Gary: Phillip Augustus. Although I’m not sure.

Jo: Most people know Napoleon. But that’s where it ends.

Gary: Yeah. You know, not to repeat, memes, but it’s interesting looking at just the military history of different countries. Some people have argued that France has one of, if not the most successful military history, winning the most battles or wars. I mean, I’m not going to argue that point. But what’s interesting is that for so long, just for centuries, France fought against most of the rest of Europe and usually came out, usually pretty far ahead, just in part because France was such a large population, according to at least one demographer. France at one point had the or maybe not France may we would call it Francia had the third largest population behind China and India. So either because of just their sheer population or because maybe they got a great general. France has had a truly remarkable series of victories over many other countries, most often in Europe and even against countries across the world. So this idea that France surrenders has never really been true.

Jo: No, it’s it is quite strange. But I’ve found that almost everyone who makes a statement about any country or any group of people that starts with, they always lose this or that, they’re really bad at this. The second you start looking at history, you start realizing that either it’s not that simple or it’s wrong. I mean, my country, the Netherlands, when the Germans invaded, we lasted five days. Now, some people say that doesn’t, you know, that’s really bad. But because we were a really small country, somehow people are fine with that. You know they’re such a smal country that probably, they didn’t stand a chance. And they expected it more of France. So, but the more you look at it and if you look at the whole picture and the technicalities and why it happened so quickly, you realize that has nothing to do with the character of the people or, you know, with somehow the traditional, the culture. The French didn’t lose from the Germans in 1940 because they were French? You know, if it’s just a silly statement to make to begin with.

Gary: So I put a lot of thought into this because I really wanted to get at the heart of why so many people, particularly in the Anglosphere, think that France always surrenders. Is it just because of the memes? Is it just because of The Simpsons calling them “cheese eating surrender monkeys?” And I think that the reason why France is depicted as always surrendering because this essentially stems from World War two is because it’s a way of scapegoating them for the failures that they had in World War Two. Because if you think about it, I mean, obviously you have the allies, the Soviet Union, who ended up winning in World War two. And if you look at the small picture, then they come out looking as heroes. You know, obviously you have the D-Day landings and Saving Private Ryan and all that heroism and stuff.

Jo: Yes, the French resistance somehow is always overlooked. Everyone everyone forgets how important it was that the French resistance literally stop tanks and reinforcements from arriving at the beaches.

Gary: Absolutely. But even even beyond that, if you look at World War Two, just in the case of the war, then you would think that the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain were these heroic figures. And obviously the the actual people who fought were heroic figures. But if you look at World War Two as a much longer event, if you look at it as a prolonged conflict over what Europe would be essentially starting from, you know, the just after World War One up until 1945, what you’d realize is that France was the one great power that was actually trying to stop German aggression and everyone else was just letting it happen because on the one hand, so in the one case, Britain had this idea of the balance of power in Europe. That has pretty much been its overriding diplomatic concern going back to the Seven Years’ War.

Jo: Which is technically a good idea as long as you stick to it.

Gary: If it works, it’s great.

Jo: Yeah, yeah. But if you’re halfway through, you go, oh, you know, let that slip what they’re doing right now. That’s OK. That’s when it goes wrong.

Gary: Yeah. Essentially, Britain has wanted to keep a lid on Europe, so that way it can expand across the world and have a global empire. And in the case of the interwar period, Britain, it didn’t want a conflict. And so rather than actually engaging with the Germans or drawing a red line in the sand, they engaged in constant appeasement…

Jo: Which which, again, if it had worked, would have been brilliant. If we would look back at that era and say the British allow things to happen. And that’s why the Nazis suddenly start behaving. Then it would have been brilliant. But, you know, that’s not how it went. I’m pretty sure that in some cases throughout history, letting people go a little bit silly and go over the top or do something they’re not supposed to instead of, you know, starting another war over, it was perhaps to good a wise decision. Just not in this case.

Gary: Yeah, in this case, literally the opposite happened because they sacrificed the Sudetenland. They sacrificed Austria and they allowed the Nazis to rebuild. And so this policy of Britain’s proved to be absolutely disastrous. And even as the French were saying, we can’t allow this. We need to have a hard stance against Germany. Britain was essentially siding with Germany very often. And so on the one hand, you have Britain who pursued this policy of appeasement, which really empowered Nazi Germany. On the other hand, there’s the Soviet Union. And if we think about what is going on with the Soviet Union. Well, the Soviet Union was isolated after World War One. The Western powers viewed it as a threat because it had undergone this communist revolution. And so what did the Soviet Union do? Well, they looked at Germany, which was also isolated because. Everybody was blaming Germany for World War One. And they said, oh, well, here’s this opportunity. And so during the 1920s, in fact, in 1922, the two signed a treaty of friendship. And German officers and technicians made this deal with Russia that they would go to Russia and they would improve their technology. Well, in exchange, the Russians would make weapons to rebuild the German army. And so the Soviet Union really helped remake the German army eventually what became the Nazi army. And then, of course, in at the start of World War Two they signed the Molotov Ribbontrop Pact, which divided up Poland. And so the Soviet Union helped to really make and rearm Nazi Germany and even sided with them at the beginning of the war. Now, you wouldn’t know that from what’s going on nowadays. I don’t know if you’ve been fighting with the Russian ultra nationalists on Twitter, but even the Russian foreign ministry has been promoting this propaganda..

Jo: Oh Yea.

Gary: that the Soviet Union, they never had anything to do with Nazi Germany. And when they invaded Poland, they did it to prevent the Nazis from taking over all of Poland, which is a complete lie.

Jo: Yes, It is insane. I’ve I have been correcting the Russian embassy a couple of times. I don’t remember if it was my official account or my my private private account or this one. I don’t remember. But they’ve been posting a few things that, again, provably wrong and quite idiotic. Which it gets very close to flat earth sort of thing and foil hats, that sort of thing. When when they are claiming something didn’t happen, when we have pictures and archives and records and things like that, the only way they can continue that stories by saying it’s all being faked, you know, mass global conspiracy. It’s ridiculous. But, you know, at their own their own people like it. It’s just what they want to hear. So they buy it. It’s insane.

Gary: And of course, nobody wants to be held responsible for helping to make the Nazi war machine. But at least at least in the early 1920s, they really were. And then, speaking of other powers that were somewhat involved in that, the United States, because the United States was in fact, to this day, the majority, not the majority, but the largest single ethnic group in the United States is German. Something like 30 percent of people in the United States trace their ancestry to Germany-

Jo: Like your president.

Gary: …Yeah. Wow. Wow. There we go. Oh, you know, it’s in America. Any conversation is just a countdown to Trump. But but yeah, many yeah. Many people were sympathetic to Germany, maybe not the Nazis in particular, although even even then there were some people were sympathetic to them. And there were policy policymakers in Washington who supported Hitler, essentially because they believed that if Hitler didn’t come to power, then the communists would.

Jo: Yeah. And that’s, what the Germans thoughts was. That’s one of the main reasons Hitler even got any power because he used to do relatively irrational fear of communism to scare people into voting for him. You know, even though there had been riots and revolution attempts in Germany, they were all pretty futile and not really going anywhere. And the communists, as they often do when it’s mostly busy fighting themselves and the socialists, which is, you know, is perfect for the Nazis. That’s just what they needed. And, you know, just in case nobody else wasn’t, people were still having doubts. A Dutch communists set fire to The Reichstag which was also brilliant for the Nazis. Thank you very much, Mr. Van der Lubbe. So I think, as with everything in history, you blame the Dutch. (laugh)

Gary: That or the Swiss…

Jo: But no doubt it’s always us.

Gary: But I think it’s so interesting because, you know, especially in the United States. And if you look at any video game; Call of Duty or whatever, if you look at the movies like Saving Private Ryan, we’re always depicted as these courageous heroes that defeated the Nazis and, you know, well done to those soldiers who did end up showing up in World War Two. Of course, they had a huge impact on defeating the Nazis. I’m not taking that away.

Jo: Yeah, absolutely.

Gary: But in the case of the policymakers during the 1920s and 1930s, they largely supported anyone who would fight the communists. And then. Not only that, but the United States placed an emphasis on getting their war payments back, which put Britain and, well, particularly Britain in a bind because they had to squeeze Germany in order to get money to pay the U.S. So the U.S. put getting their money back over, essentially establishing peace in Europe. And so getting back to this whole myth of France, always surrendering. I can’t help but think that this is just the the Anglo sphere and then nowadays, especially Putin’s Russia, who are trying to use France as a scapegoat, because in World War Two, obviously, they did a great job of defeating the Nazis. But everything before that, they were all complicit in the build up of Nazi Germany, Britain, appease them. The Soviet Union armed them and then the US ….

Jo: But everybody was selling to them.

Gary: Yeah, the U.S. was supporting them and essentially saying, you know, don’t try to stop them. We need their money.

Jo: And when countries start to realize where this was going, that it was actually a serious threat, then it was too late.

Gary: Yeah, exactly. And France was the only major power that was actually trying to stop them.

Jo: But I but I do think that when it comes to the British, this attitude goes back a lot further. I think this sort of love, hate relationship between the British and the French goes back literally centuries. You know, to Agincourt for instance. There have been so many wars between the British and the French that them teasing each other with stories about surrendering and victories and defeats. I think it’s almost like a big brother little brother relationship. By now, I think it’s more than based on actual history. It’s you know, it’s become something that’s in DNA

Gary: maybe But I just want to make that point and not to rub the English too hard. But you know that they England is a product of Normandy. So there you go. So take that.

Jo: There you go. That explains it.

Gary: Right. So any greatness you have. No.

Jo: If you go back far enough. We’re all French.

Gary: Yeah, exactly.

Gary: But there is one more major myth that I wanted to talk about. And this is probably the most controversial myth on my page, because there are a lot of French people who follow my page, obviously, and they get extremely offended. Well, whenever I bring this up, the myth is that Vichy wasn’t France.

Jo: Oh, dear-

Gary: This is such a popular myth. And it’s been a myth ever since, ever since World War Two ended. This idea that Vichy, the government that took over after the Nazis invaded the north of France, that this government had nothing to do with the real France and everyone was part of the resistance. And it was only a handful of people who were involved in the government itself. And it is obvious why people want to believe this, because if the French people essentially had nothing to do during Vichy, if they all went on vacation until it was time to form the resistance, then they wouldn’t have anything to do with the Holocaust.

Jo: Yea

Gary: And this was a myth that dominated France for a very long time up until the American historian of France, Robert Paxton, came along and demolished his myth with his book Vichy France, Old Guard and New Order in 1972, in which he demonstrated that much of the fascist and anti-Semitic actions were prompted by French people, not Germany. And in fact, at times the French government even went beyond what the Germans were asking of them.

Jo: Yeah,

Gary: Not only that, but most French didn’t resist Vichy, at least not until the end when it was falling apart, and that there wasn’t any serious resistance movement until 1941 when the Germans invaded Russia. And many people realized that, well, the Nazis are going to be defeated anyway. We might as well be on the right side.

Jo: Which which makes sense. I mean, it’s not.


Jo: It’s not cowardice or silliness to say this empire that has invaded us is clearly going to rule for a thousand years. Perhaps I should not join the resistance, if as young kids say, is futile. Not resisting is technically the wise choice. I mean, they say it about my country as well that the resistance was a bit slow to get started. But then, people back then also said you’re stupid to join the resistance when there’s no idea and there’s no sign of it ever ending. I’m not going to blame people for not joining the resistance at any time of the war. It’s bloody dangerous and scary.

Gary: I absolutely agree. And I’m not blaming people for not joining the resistance to start with. And, you know, I think what we need to keep in mind is that most people throughout history to this day are just average people. They’re not good. They’re not…

Jo: Life continued. But there’s also this very strange, strange sort of grading of resistance. You know, what is good resistance? What is bad resistance? What is valuable resistance? Because so many peoples joined resistance from day one. But it wasn’t shooting. It wasn’t fighting. It wasn’t blowing off stuff. It was the underground newspapers. It was telling Germans the wrong directions. It was cutting a telephone wire and nobody was watching. It was police officers telling you know, giving an anonymous tip to people who were hiding somewhere. And quite often when you’re talking about resistance and you say, you know, this is also resistance and people ya but, that doesn’t count. You know, it’s almost as if only those who actually did fighting and shooting counted while at the time people were going… these people are mad. They’re shooting at the Germans and the Germans then, you know, have these reprisals killing people for it. And support for the armed resistance was very, very low for most of the war. While support for the small resistance, as they call it, was very, very high. And that somehow has completely turned around, which is a bit odd. But at the same time, quite understandable.

Gary: Yeah, no, it is a very strange thing. And it’s speaking about the Holocaust. It’s something that Holocaust survivors deal with, too, because there are some Holocaust survivors. I mean, not many left, unfortunately, because a lot of them are dying out. But I’ve met Holocaust survivors who survived Auschwitz and who were actually in the concentration camps. And then there are Jews who hid in an attic in Poland for four years. And there are those who go to the concentration camps and say, well, you know, you weren’t a real survivor compared to me because what I went through was much worse.

Jo: Yeah, yeah, It’s really, really strange sense and a bit sad. But they do compare it, there is even comparing between camps. You know, you are in a work camp. I survived a death camp. My suffering is more important than yours. You know, what I’ve spoken to people who went into hiding, who are furious with those who didn’t go into hiding. You know, they said we risked our lives to not cooperate with the German Holocaust. We fought back. We resisted. We were hiding while everyonearound us walked straight to their deaths. So it is you know, it’s a really complicated stuff. And I’ve I’ve spoken also to people who tried to hide Jews and others. You know, it wasn’t just Jews of course, who were persecuted by Nazis. And I’ve had an elderly lady look at me and tell me with tears in her eyes, that she was literally walking around the Jewish neighborhood, risking her life, trying to get strangers to go and hide and offering them a hiding place in her house. But they didn’t want to. They didn’t dare. They thought it wasn’t necessary. All those sort of things. And this old lady then had to live through the 1970s and 80s when people were saying, you know, your generation did nothing to help the Jews. It is such a complicated story. And it’s this does no winners in it, but almost every little bit of history, the second you start looking at both sides or often as more than two sites, if looking at all the sites of the story and the actual facts and records, and then it becomes so complex and so not black and white and so weird and that judging, it becomes almost impossible judging the actions of the people involved.

Gary: Absolutely. And I think this is why the myth that Vichy isn’t France has been such a powerful part of the French identity. And I’m sure that I mean, obviously, there are parallels with the Netherlands, Poland, with every country during World War Two because they don’t want to share responsibility for the shame. So to this day, the the majority opinion, so the overwhelming opinion of historians of France in English and French historians in general is. That even though most French people were not collaborators or resisters. The fact is, is that France did have some part to play in it. I mean, it was French police who rounded up Jews. It was French officials who came up with these plans. It was Philippe Pétain who actually would purposefully made conditions harder for Jews. And there have recently been unsealed documents from 2010 that he went way out of his way to persecute Jews and not only historians, but French presidents Francois Mitterrand, François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron all publicly admitted that France itself has some guilt to play in the Holocaust. But but to this day, there is a very pronounced Holocaust denial from the far right for those who aren’t who aren’t quite familiar with what’s going on there. So Jean Marie Le Pen, who founded the largest far right party Le Front National has praised Holocaust deniers and he implied the gas chambers didn’t exist. Meanwhile, his daughter, Marine Le Pen, kicked her father out of the party because of these comments, but not because she necessarily disagreed, but just because she was trying to rebrand the affair.

Jo: That’s as much as I hate to say it. That’s quite smart. The second they start embracing history, as we all agree on it, the second that the extreme right starts to say things like the Holocaust did happen and it’s terrible, but, that’s when they become a bit more serious of a threat, as long as they keep saying ridiculous things that anyone with a bit of an education knows to be wrong.

Gary: Yeah. And in her case, in Le Pen’s case, the daughter in her case, she’s admitted that the Holocaust did happen, but she said that Vichy was not France. Again, this myth, and she said that French people bore no responsibility. And then I have to bring up one more example, because he’s become somewhat of a nemesis of mine, even though we’ve never directly engaged. But I have had to deal with his goons, which is Eric Zemmour, or do you know who this person is?

Jo: uh hummm

Gary: Yeah. Well, OK. You know, I think not a lot of people in the English world know, but perhaps you’re closer to him. So it’s amazing because Zemmour, to give sort of a comparison for those of us, and particularly in America, he’s kind of like the French amalgamation of Ben Shapiro and Candice Owens. And he manages to get away with an incredible amount of racism because he’s ethnically an Algerian Jew. And so he can say these horrendously racist things. And yet he gets away with it because he himself is the to arguably the two most persecuted minorities in France, I suppose, putting aside black people. And so he’s part of Le Figaro magazine, which has a number of open white nationalists on its editorial board. And he continually spreads these lies about France’s relation to the Holocaust. In 2014, he claimed that Philip Pétain protected Jews against Nazi Germany, which is a complete lie because in fact, he did the exact opposite. And in fact, he pursued anti Jewish measures in 1940 without even being prompted by the Germans. And I’m going to include links when I post this episode so you can look at it yourself and you can look at the documents. And so what’s been incredible is that. So what’s incredible is that while many people on the French far right don’t deny the Holocaust happened, they claim that only a small minority of Vichy collaborators did it. And then they claim that they only did it because the Germans forced them, which both of those are absolutely not true.

Jo: Which is also something the Germans themselves used for quite a long time. We’re being forced. If we didn’t do it, we’d be shot. And then you start looking for examples and they’re very, very rare.

Gary: Yeah. And so essentially, in wrapping up this episode, I did want to talk about why countering these myths is important and why historical truth is important. And perhaps I can start by just wrapping up the whole Vichy thing, because the fact that France really didn’t have a de-nazification period, the fact that they blamed everything on Germany, that led to a lot of pain later because a fair number of people who sided with the Nazis got to stay in government. The most famous of which was Maurice Papon. Maurice Papon, who during World War Two, he led a roundup of Jews at Bordeaux to send them off for deportation to be exterminated. And then, of course, what happened was as it looked like Nazi Germany was going to be defeated Papon later claimed that, oh, I was part of the resistance from the very beginning. And so he became an important figure. He ended up becoming the head of the Paris police force for a decade. And he ended up teaching the Paris police how to murder Algerian immigrants and then dispose of the bodies without being caught. And then, of course, he was later put on trial in 1981, not for anything he did against the Algerians, but because people found out about his involvement of rounding up Jews. So the fact is, is that the French far right keeps denying this. But this matters. It especially matters because a lot of these fascists managed to stay in power and impart some of their hideous ideology into France.

Jo: Yea, people use, you know, fake history is not just saying, oh, you’re wrong, but it’s people actually trying to say something with the fake history they’re spreading. They’re not always showing a picture saying, look, this is a funny picture. This is the story. There sharing these stories because they have an ulterior agenda. They want to say something with them. And that’s when it gets dangerous. It literally can get dangerous when people use it and politicians start using it and it starts spreading like a wildfire.

Gary: So I’ve already spoken now, just why I think historical truth is important. But let me throw it to you. Which is why is historical truth important? Why do you do what you do every morning?

Jo: Well, it sort of depends on the story in some cases. It’s not that important. I mean, if someone says, look, this is a picture of Marilyn Monroe and you say it’s not Marilyn Monroe, it’s this other actress from the 1950s, that is not a world shattering sort of fake history that’s being spread. But when someone says here’s a rare picture of Marilyn Monroe reading, they’re suggesting that she was dumb, which she was not. So it really depends on the story. And especially these days when people start spreading fake history news, for instance, stories about, you know, believable Europeans being old, dirty and filthy. And that’s because, you know, that’s where the black death came from. And, you know, and you just know it’s wrong and that they’re sharing it for political reasons, sometimes for racist reasons. And it’s all these things when people who are important start spreading fake things. Sometimes, you know, they do it because they want to be really mean about other people. But sometimes it’s from place of ignorance and you know that they should be sharing something that’s more important. For instance, a while back. Ice Cube, that really is his name, apparently, shared a picture and said this is the oldest image of Jesus Christ. In that picture Jesus clearly had a very dark skin. And I think he had about five million followers. And to a lot of people, this meant a lot. There are a lot of people who really really desperately want to believe that Jesus was black, not just dark, but actually black. And they put a lot of value into that tweet and someone with five million followers, for someone like that, it’s important. And there’s absolutely a lot to be said for, you know, saying that Jesus had a dark skin and all that sort of thing. But the picture that he used to make this statement, it was simply was wrong. It was nowhere near one of the first examples. And when when the right wingers start saying things about, you know, there being no culture in Africa before colonialism, that’s just revoltingly disgusting and absolutely, again, for political reasons. They actually want people to believe that to make another group of people appear less. And it’s often that fake history gets under my skin when it’s used to make other cultures somehow barbaric or savages. And it doesn’t matter if this is, you know, Europeans talking about African tribes that were colonized and that how great it was that the Europeans brought civilization to this people or if it’s the other way around. When people say that the Moors brought civilization to medieval Europe, the whole idea of people being so backwards and stupid and not being able to help themselves to someone superior comes along and teaches them this. I find that pretty revolting. And, you know, it is something that is being spread for malicious reasons. So it has to be fought. And I think that’s why it’s important. You know, besides the whole idea of me just being obsessed with facts and getting itchy hands when I see someone say something that’s not right.

Gary: Absolutely. So how do you think the Internet has changed people’s perceptions of history?

Jo: Well, I think that it offers us a unique access to people with knowledge. I mean, I’ve found amazing, medievalists, archaeologists, architects, artists, musicians, people of all walks of life that are on Twitter sharing their knowledge for free. And it has to be short. It has to be to the point that, of course, there are some amazing strengths here and there. But these people share it. And it’s not like an article in a in a publication, in a book. It’s the threshold to access this knowledge is very low. And anyone from anywhere can ask these people questions. I can share something on Twitter and lots of people read it, which is fantastic. And other historians are the, share what they find, that archaeologists post a little thing that they find that changes everything we know. They put a picture on Twitter. And it goes around the world. And on top of that, it puts people together from other sides of the worlds who have been taught history in a completely different way. I think some of the most valuable moments I’ve spent on Twitter was having discussions about history with people from South America or from South Africa who have a completely different view. And, you know, we start with disagreeing and then we start comparing and sharing facts. And then then I learn from them and they learn from me. And we end at this beautiful, blissful paradise place where we both have new knowledge, which is, you know, that is one of the best things about Twitter. It really opens the world. And because we’re all strangers shouting into the darkness, if you will. We all know everyone can reach it. If you post this on Facebook, you reach a much smaller circle. You know, you’re in your bubble. Use a horrible modern term. If you publish it in a historical publication, it can take decades before it reaches the public. But, yeah, Twitter is open. It’s so open. Anything you say anyone in the world can respond to. I think that’s fantastic.

Gary: So one final question then. How can we counter historical myths?

Jo: I have yes, maybe I’m still a bit naive, but I think the best way to do it is simply by throwing facts at them. You know, if someone says people in medieval Europe didn’t have any soap and I can show them records that says there was a soap factory in Italy in the 13th century, then I hope that is enough for them to at least realize that their idea needs a bit of adjustment. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. People sometimes you can have facts march up to their house, kick in their door, jump in their bed and shout in their face. I am a fact! And they would still not believe it. So that’s, you know, sometimes that is difficult. And I find that really hard to deal with because that’s you know, that’s not how I was raised. I was raised with logic and asking teachers difficult questions and demanding they prove what they say, that, you know, that was my school. That was my how my parents taught me, you know, don’t blindly believe what people tell you. And but if they can prove it, accept it. That’s how it goes. So that’s what I think we should try and do. Just keep throwing facts at them and hope that one day this idea of using facts may even reach school classes and, you know, education in general.

Gary: And even Ice Cube.

Jo: Even Ice Cube

Gary: Thank you very much for that inspiring message. It has been a fantastic episode. Thank you very much.

Jo: You’re welcome. And thank you for inviting me. Au Revoir

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