Monday, August 23, 2010

The Misuse of History

Carl Prydum appropriately eviscerates Newt Gingrich’s distorted history of Cordoba:
If it's legitimate for Newt Gingrich to say the Great Mosque of Cordoba was built by Muslim Conquerors in their capital city wishing to symbolize their victory over the Christians, then it'd be just as legitimate to describe the Statue of Liberty as being built by English conquerors in their capital of New York to symbolize their victory over the Dutch.

Elsewhere, John J. O’Neill mangles history to tell us that it’s all Islam’s fault.
Worst of all, perhaps, from the perspective of culture and learning, the importation of papyrus from Egypt ceased. This material, which had been shipped into Western Europe in vast quantities since the time of the Roman Republic, was absolutely essential for a thousand purposes in a literate and mercantile civilization; and the ending of the supply had an immediate and catastrophic effect on levels of literacy.

This is of course, based on the Pirenne Thesis. O’Neill tells us:
Pirenne’s research was first class and was never effectively refuted by his critics. Nonetheless, his findings have been ignored.

Anyone who thinks Pirenne has been ignored hasn’t been paying attention. The papyrus issue is one where his work required considerable qualification. Later scholars have noted that the Papal chancery continued to use papyrus for documents into the 11th century.

Pirenne was a much more scrupulous than O’Neill, and never made the claim that papyrus was no longer imported into Western Europe, only that it ceased to come to Carolingian Gaul. Nor did he claim that it was “absolutely essential for a thousand purposes in a literate and mercantile civilization”.

Because it wasn’t.

By the fourth century, more durable parchment was displacing papyrus for book production as the codex replaced the roll as the preferred book format. Informal writing in the late classical and early medieval world generally used wax tablets rather than papyrus. Papyrus may have been cheaper than parchment, but hard contemporary evidence of the relative cost of parchment and papyrus seems to be nonexistent.

Other substitutes were available, like the thin wooden leaves found at Vindolanda.

But that's not the only thing O'Neill gets wrong:
Before the seventh century, Christianity had been largely true to its pacifist roots.

How he reconciles this notion with the conquests of Justinian or his crowd control approach during the Nika riots is unclear.

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