History is a funny old thing. It very often favours the victors over the defeated when it comes to wars, it favours the fools over those who just do their job when it comes to rulers and monarchs, and it favours places that still exist over those that simply do not, for whatever reason that may be. For many people, they are taught history accordingly, and then, unless they have a passion for the subject, their knowledge of it ends there.
But for those who do have an interest in history, it soon becomes clear that there is an enormous amount of it that is less known. There are whole civilisations that have existed of which people are unaware, colonies that failed miserably that are never discussed, and important events in history that happen to be obscure and eclipsed by bigger, but possibly less significant, events. Luckily, there is an abundance of historians (much more knowledgeable and professional than I) who are interested in these almost forgotten stories from the past, and are piecing them together for the rest of us to discover. What follows is a brief run down of some of these books I have recently encountered.
This amazing and enormous book focuses on Europe over the last couple of millennia, and all the various kingdoms, duchies, empires and republics that have now disappeared and almost been forgotten, but which, in their own times, were major fixtures on the map. These 800 odd pages, littered with many colour prints of photographs and artworks, as well as various other diagrams, maps, family trees and tables throughout, cover 15 different forgotten stories, from the successive kingdoms of Burgundy, to a Mediterranean empire by the name of Aragon, and from a little known Visigoth kingdom known as Tolosa in the fifth century, to a republic that lasted an entire one day in 1939. In almost all of these histories, the reason they have been forgotten is simply that they do not exist anymore, and in most cases haven’t existed for several centuries so that we have simply forgotten them. Norman Davies has done a fabulous job in bringing these places back to life, describing them and their histories in a mammoth amount of detail. Perfect for the avid history enthusiast.
In this book, Joseph Cummins focuses on specific events or episodes in history that are significant enough to have altered the world, yet, for some reason, have been obscured by time, and in many cases outright forgotten. This book looks at 28 different events, revealing some amazing places, people and little known conflicts, all backed up with historic illustrations and maps. Many of the events are quite enormous in their impact, such as the unlikely Russian victory over the dominant Swedish Empire which permanently switched the balance of power in Eastern Europe, and a bloody revolution in China that occurred in the 1800s and resulted in a death toll second only to that of World War Two. What is great about this book is that the writing is elegant and accessible, meaning that you don’t necessarily need to be a history buff to appreciate many of the great tales found within, though of course the intriguing nature of the stories still makes it ideal for historians, too.
I must confess that I don’t possess this book, and am struggling to get my hands on it (I have a suspicion that it’s out of print). From what I can gather, and from what I remember when I looked at it once in a bookshop (and foolishly didn’t buy it, never to see it again), it essentially looks at attempts by various countries throughout history to colonise new lands, only to have these attempts fail miserably. Usually these failures can be from any one of a number of things, from ignorance and naivety about the new lands and their climates, to disease, infighting or fighting with native peoples, and even sometimes simply due to being abandoned by their masters. Again, history tends to remember the colonies that did last, and as many of these barely lasted a few years or even months, they have long since been forgotten, the only records of their existence being from diary entries, official records, a small number of other sources, and sometimes archaeology. This is a book I definitely need to get my hands on, somehow.
Are there any books you know of, or have read, that deal with history that is almost forgotten?