This is a very general question, but I’ve been thinking about it all summer and would love to know what this community thinks about it. I know that history is so broad and complicated that oversimplification is bound to happen, but for some reason lately I’ve been having a harder time putting up with it, especially when I hear it in a place that I was previously convinced was a trustworthy source. This irks me the most when it’s a piece of information that is famously debunked or that famously originated as propaganda in the era that’s being covered. Propaganda from the source era being spread as real history has always irked me because it just shows how long a lie can stick around, and it bothers me when podcasters aid the spread of lies.
An example I’m talking about would be like this: Say you’ve really gotten into a podcast about Napoleon and they’re revealing a lot of insightful information that you never knew, when suddenly they drop the “fact” that Napoleon was short into the episode. Anyone who knows about Napoleon knows that this is a myth. To my knowledge, it was a myth spread by Britain. I’ve also heard the theory that nicknames like “The Little Corporal” and other uses of the word “little” to describe Napoleon were meant to mean that he was uppity for his rank in society, not that he was actually short. Now I don’t want to debate this specific thing, my point is that it is now a basic agreed upon historic fact that he was not short, nor did he have an inferiority complex because he was short. (This by the way is not a real inaccuracy I’ve stumbled upon in any reputable podcasts, it’s just an example of the type of thing I’m talking about).
Another one that will not go away is the idea that the French revolution was 100% rich vs. poor. Like read into it for even a few minutes and all popular stereotypes like that will be debunked, and yet even people podcasting on the subject seem to believe it. I mean, it wasn’t even 50% rich vs poor. It was sooooooo complicated. Like it would even be more accurate to say it was Catholic vs Enlightenment. Even that is way too oversimplified but it’s closer to reality than rich vs poor if you ask me.
When I stumble upon mistakes/oversimplifications like this, it makes me question whether to continue trusting the podcaster at all, but I can’t decide if I’m being too harsh. It just seems like they can’t possibly be reading the material thoroughly enough if they’re including these “facts”.
So I’m wondering, what does everyone here think about this? Do you get as annoyed as I do when you hear an oversimplification or just straight up lie in a podcast? Am I just being overly critical because I listened to nothing but Mike Duncan for the last 10 years before finally opening up to other podcasters in the last year? I know they can’t all be as good as him but I have been a little shocked by how vague and lacking details other podcasts are. Has anyone else ever been turned off by a podcaster seeming to not understand their subject matter with enough depth?
To clarify what I am talking about, here are some examples that have been bothering me lately. I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m calling out these guys specifically because their mistakes are just the most fresh in my mind. They are certainly not the only people doing this. Also, I don’t necessarily mean to debate these specific points, but I got on a roll when thinking about them again, so my apologies for ranting a bit. This whole issue just bothers me so much.
For one, I’ve really enjoyed the Life of Napoleon podcast so far, but he constantly repeats the idea that the Coalition wars were fought primarily because “brother monarchs jumped to Louis’ aid and to defend the rights of absolute monarchs everywhere” and other lofty ideological reasons like that, which is just not what happened. I don’t know if this is a point that is as agreed upon as Napoleon not being short, but in a general sense, if you ever think the main cause of a war was ideology, you’re most likely wrong. That’s the type of stuff that gets written in mythical history, like nationalist propaganda history, not real academic history. Kings don’t actually go to war unless it benefits them in a direct tangible way, so in this instance, the other major powers saw France was weakened by the revolution and pounced.. I had thought, the historical consensus is that they were mostly not unhappy that Louis was getting kicked around by his own people. Most rivals at the time would have still considered France under Louis to be a big power that could attack them at any time. The podcaster even at one point said something like “Prussia signed a peace treaty with France early on, as it had never made much sense that they got involved in the first place” by which he means “Prussia shouldn’t have cared about the ideological reasons for war, so why were they even involved?” Like he comes so close to getting at the truth, if it were about Ideology then Prussia wouldn’t have been involved. But they were involved, so it must have been for some other reason. But he doesn’t take that next step in logic.
Oh and one more point: France is the one who declared war!! I just can’t get over how no one ever brings this up when pushing the “Monarchs banded together to defend monarchy as a concept” narrative. France was more or less unprovoked and chose to go to war. I’ve seen historians that said that the Holy Roman Empire had actually just begun disbanding much of it’s war-time military strength after it became clear that there would probably not be war with Russia. They weren’t even thinking about France, they were worried about Russia, Prussia, Poland, and the Ottomans. That’s the at least he vibe I get from my own research and a lot of scholarship backs up this view.
Another example is that I’m listening to the When Diplomacy Fails podcast. I’m listening to the remastered early episodes, which I know he himself will say to take with a grain of salt, but still some of the things he’s glossing over worry me. He didn’t even mention the Siege of Paris when covering the Franco-Prussian war. Like not even a passing mention. He basically says “Prussia marched on Paris and the war was all but won, though it would continue for 8 more months, and at one point they even shelled the city itself” Like what? “at one point”? They laid siege to the city for those months and shelled the city most of the time. It is one of the most famous and defining events in French history. It’s an entire chapter of the war that he leaves at that. And when he covers the French revolution, he phrases things in such a way that makes you seriously question how well he understands it, like at one point claiming Louis “Refused all attempts at reform” including him specifically mentioning that Louis raised taxes instead of taking out loans, which is just a straight up lie, he tried all the time to reform and he took out loans left and right. Or another thing he does is he acts like Louis never should’ve called the Estates General as if that was an unforced error. Like if you don’t understand why Louis called the Estates General, how can you even cover that era?
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