Engaging with the public directly puts you in contact with a lot of interesting people. In the public lectures and museum work that I’ve done, I have met a large number of really compelling people, most of whom are more knowledgeable and passionate about history than the professoriate would fear.
But, as any public historian will tell you, occasionally you encounter a fun one.
One of mine occurred during the Q&A section of a public lecture I gave several years ago on the depiction of Robin Hood in film and television. In the back of the room, a perfectly normal-seeming man stood up and, with a twinkle in his eye that I couldn’t quite place, asked me a question that I won’t soon forget:
“What if it’s all a lie?”
I’ll admit, I didn’t quite know what to do with that question.
He then launched into a monologue describing a bizarre theory—one which I have come to find out is not just his own—that concludes simply: the Early Middle Ages did not exist.
This man was describing to me (and a group of increasingly confused audience members) the Phantom Time Hypothesis. In short, the Phantom Time Hypothesis, developed and promoted by journalist Heribert Illig and historian Dr. Hans-Ulrich Niemitz, posits that the historical period between 600AD and 900AD simply didn’t exist.
It’s a fascinating load of crap.