Who’s Story? A Look At The World’s Forgotten Histories

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.

Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-forgotten Europe by Norman Davies

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.

History’s Great Untold Stories: Obscure Events of Lasting Importance by Joseph Cummins

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.

Ghost Colonies by Ed Wright

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?

10 thoughts on “Who’s Story? A Look At The World’s Forgotten Histories

  1. Those books sound fascinating! History intrigues me and so do these three books that delve into lost and forgotten places and events.

    I inherited a book from my grandparents called ‘Ghost Towns of Manitoba’. It’s interesting to me because of the local history. It tells of many small towns that sprang up during the immigration rush many years ago (and for various other reasons) but, with the decline of family farms, highways that did not allow access, trains that no longer stopped in them, and other events, many towns closed their doors. Although I haven’t read all the way through it, it is nice to know it sits on the shelf waiting for a time when I will pick it up again – probably to research another book! 🙂

    • Ahhh, that book sounds really interesting! I love reading about stuff like that on a local scale as well. Is there anything named after those small towns or any kind of links at all to where they are now? I know in my local area, it used to be lots of farms, timber yards and shipyards back in the 1800s, and now it is all towns and suburbs, but a lot of streets and buildings are named after particularly people and families from the farming and timber days. Even a couple of poets who lived around here had several things named after them, and I recently did a bit of research into one particular poet whose name crops up everywhere, because I wanted to know why (turns out it was more to do with the families he befriended, than he himself).

      • A few were named for local historical figures. Some towns carried the name of the first settler in the area. Other towns were relocated and maintained their original name. One town was developed to act as a side yard for the Grand Trunk Railroad to assist trains going up a steep incline but after some construction, they realized there was no water so they had to relocate! I love history! 🙂

  2. I really love history and have also noticed how much left out when it is taught in school, books like these really call to my thirst for history 😀 Awesome post as usual Matt!

    • It makes you wonder if some history is left out on purpose, like, the government of the time or whatever decides certain parts of history should be left out or at least not focused on as much as other parts of history.
      But you’re right, books like these really do make history so much more exciting! 🙂
      And thank you! 🙂

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