Spectral Passages

The history of Arctic exploration is full of cul de sacs, of narrow channels in ice fields, of straits that turn out to be bays, and of illusions that appeared to be opportunities. Some adventurers hesitated and missed breakthroughs of discovery. Others rushed in and found their retreats cut off by enclosing pack ice that ground their ships to flinders. Islands also appeared where none existed: cloudbanks and enormous ice fields masqueraded as solid ground. People saw things that were not there—or that we insist could never have been there.

Columbus, Indians, and the Guanches

Never mind notions of spreading Christianity to the benighted of the world, or pursuing humanity’s insatiable love of adventure: money, then as now, sought fresh opportunity, and where opportunities were not at hand, they needed to be created. Columbus sailed out of an Old World that was at that moment focused on a fresh round of subjugation, in the Canaries, and he exported its sensibilities to the New World that he did find.

Pseudohistorians claim scholars are hostile to innovative ideas. Do they have a point?

Spend any time listening to or reading the words of people in the pseudohistory and pseudoarchaeology worlds, and you will encounter a standard riposte to scholarly objections to their theories and evidence. The scholarly world is a closed shop that suppresses innovative ideas of outsiders—even of its own accredited members—in order to preserve Ivory Tower privileges. My own recent work as a scholar has led me to evaluate whether they might have a point.

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