Abstract

Myth formation and rumor formation share characteristics, due to transmission from person to person over time, of elaboration, exaggeration, simplification, fabrication, and retention of colorful detail. History formation unchecked by annotation and scrutiny also shares these characteristics, as exemplified by ascription of inventions in the nineteenth century to heroic inventors. Despite their aim of debunking myths, historians of technology are not immune from creating them, as exemplified by their demythologizing of "whittling boy" Eli Whitney as hero, only to remythologize him as villain. Myths, including recent ones, reveal more about the mythmakers' culture or subculture than about objective fact, and should be analyzed at more than one level. At some level, for instance that of the stimulus of handwork to brainwork, the "whittling boy" myth may be true, which would help account for its persistence.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1097-3729
Print ISSN
0040-165X
Pages
pp. 82-96
Launched on MUSE
2003-03-27
Open Access
No
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