Forgotten History: Unbelievable Moments From the Past is a collection of hidden historical gems that you didn’t learn in school from the ancient world to the 20th century. It is a release that will provide even the most ardent history enthusiasts an opportunity to learn something new, weird and wonderful. We chat to author Jem Duducu about how Ancient China used to have money in the shape of knives and other crazy things.
What was the inspiration behind the book?
I have always loved history and by my late 20’s I thought I had a good grasp of ‘common’ history like World War II, Napoleon and the Tudors. I discovered that once you venture off the beaten track, there are many fascinating yet obscure tales to be read. This book is a collection of less well remembered moments of history.
How did you find the ‘forgotten history’?
Quite often passing comments in books or footnotes make me think ‘hang on that sounds more interesting than what I’m reading’. So I dug around in books, researched online and spoke to some historian friends who could point me in the right direction to find out more. There are also a lot of ‘10 greatest mysteries from history’ type videos on YouTube but once you start looking into each video you realise quite quickly that the creator either couldn’t be bothered to do the research or just trotted out the same errors that have been around for decades.
Did you have a favourite historical moment that you unearthed?
Getting to write the headline “Was Jesus’ younger Brother Chinese?” or “The story of the Nazi Super Cow” would put a smile on anyone’s face. The first statement is not blasphemy, it’s a reference to the second bloodiest war in history- the Taiping Rebellion in 19th century China, when the man who started the uprising really believed he was Jesus’ younger brother. As for the cows, the Nazis didn’t stop at human racial purity but bred cows to be more ‘pure’ too. They still exist today.
What era of history has the most unbelievable moments do you think?
I’m not sure any period gets that title, humans are pretty weird all the time, but some areas of history are far better known than others. So with that in mind, I would say the Medieval era has the most surprises for the casual reader mainly because it’s the least well known.
Do you think they should teach this weird and wonderful history in schools more?
No, because I’m not sure how relevant the fact that in Ancient China they used to have money in the shape of knives would be in today’s Britain. However I do think more history should be taught. People tend to know a few monarchs and some vague facts about the World Wars, but areas such as the Act of Union in 1707 or the Civil War have had a lasting impact on this country and never get discussed. However on the quest to make history worthy or relevant a lot of the fun gets sucked out. I think for every act or law we have to learn in school, perhaps we get one battle or a nasty execution, because that will keep people’s interest far more easily than the important but dull Corn Laws. The gaps are pretty shocking, for example people are more likely to know who the first President of America was rather than the first king of England and it definitely wasn’t William the Conqueror!
Is the book related to your popular Twitter and Facebook page @HistoryGems?
Yes, a lot but not all of the facts from the book are expanded and enlarged versions of the four years of work I’ve put into the Facebook community page. It’s nice to have more than 42,000 likes on a page but as it generates no cash for me it would be great if just 10 per cent of those people who regularly follow the page bought a book- but that’s not how it works.
How is the book different from your social media output?
You get what you pay for and a lot of people think @HistoryGems is a collective of people, but no it’s just me, consequently when a post goes out it hasn’t been carefully rewritten five times, nor do I have an editor. However you pay for a book so the book’s stories are longer, better written and properly edited.
Do you have plans for a second book? Is there anymore forgotten history?
My next book is a return to the 100 Facts series, I have already done the British Empire, the Romans and the Napoleonic Wars. The next one is about the American Presidents. All of these are introductory 200 page books on topics which historians usually assume you must have extensive knowledge. Generally I am an entry level historian, I hate losing people under a sea of research and detail- that’s for far more worthy (and dull) tomes than mine. I like to entertain. However as for Forgotten History II? Well, I’m still writing the posts so yes there’s enough strangeness out there for a sequel. For example did you know the Russians in the 19th century built a circular hulled warship called the- Novgorod? It actually saw action but kept spinning every time it fired its cannons, and that’s why no navy in the world has continued with that idea.
Forgotten History: Unbelievable Moments From the Past by Jem Duducu is out now from Amberley Publishing.