When it comes to documenting history, researchers face one massive problem: you can never really be certain about things that happened in the past.
Speaking from an armchair in her University of Texas at Austin office, Classics professor Ayelet Lushkov tells me how she deals with this: “I work on Roman historical writing and our basic tenet is that they’re lying all the time.”
The fact that the study of Ancient Rome and Greece – the classics – have been heavily affected by partisan historical accounts is hardly surprising.
“History in the ancient world was a vehicle for entertainment,” she tells me, “and those are people who bother to put down what they were thinking, right?”
Researching and documenting humanity’s foundational stories, Lushkov admits to me, “is a guessing game.”
History is impossible to be certain about, in part due to its biased storytellers, but also for a number of more mundane reasons.
People misremember stories, they pass away, or most commonly of all, they never bother to record their experiences in the first place.