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Unsolved History

Investigating Mysteries of the Past

Joe Nickell

Publication Year: 2005

What constitutes historical truth is often subject to change. Joe Nickell demonstrates the techniques used in solving some of the world's most perplexing mysteries, such as the authenticity of Abraham Lincoln's celebrated Bixby letter, the 1913 disappearance of writer and journalist Ambrose Bierce, and the apparent real-life model for a mysterious character in a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Nickell also uses newly uncovered evidence to further investigate the identity of the Nazi war criminal known as ""Ivan the Terrible.""

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky


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Unsolved History

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Dedicated to JOHN T. SHAWCROSS

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

"Portions of this book first appeared in the author's doctoral dissertation, Literary Investigation: Texts, Sources, and "Factual" Substructs of Literature and Interpretation, University of Kentucky, 1987. I am supremely grateful to the members of my dissertation..."

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1 Introduction: History and the Investigative Approach

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pp. 1-5

"Man's view of history-the world's significant past events-does not remain static. Just as science came to discredit the theory of geocentricism (the belief that the earth is the center of the universe) and to acknowledge the truth of reports that stones fell from the sky, so it is with..."

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2 Ancient Riddles: The Mystery of the Nazca Lines

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pp. 6-17

"Mysteries beckon from the distant past. Time has typically obscured the contexts, erased the links, removed the ancillary evidence that would allow us to comprehend ancient events fully. What remain are fragments, pieces of..."

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3 Biographical Enigmas: Ambrose Bierce Is Missing

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pp. 18-33

"Biography-or life history-is not only important in its own right, but it can also function as an essential element of a larger historical view. (How complete, for example, would be our comprehension of the Civil War without the attendant..."

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4 Hidden Identity: Unmasking a Nazi Monster

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pp. 34-50

"An offshoot of biographical investigation-a significant one deserving special treatment-comprises cases to which a matter of identification is central. However, there are varying types of 'hidden identity' and varying degrees of difficulty in exposing them."

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5 Fakelore: Swift's Lost Silver Mine

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pp. 51-68

"Although it is true that 'the historian tends to think mainly in terms of documents,'1 it is also true that he or she must frequently rely on other sources, so-called oral history being one important example."

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6 Questioned Artifacts: D. Boone Riddles

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pp. 69-89

"Artifacts (products of human workmanship) are tangible survivals of the past. Both prehistoric artifacts (such as Stone Age tools) and historic ones (like spinning wheels or millstones) can help fill gaps in man's knowledge."

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7 Suspect Documents: Lincoln's Bixby Letter

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pp. 90-105

"However true the old saw that imitation is the sincerest flattery, something more is usually at stake when in becomes blatant forgery - resentment and greed perhaps, as prompted the spurious letter by the king's bastard son in..."

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8 Lost Texts: Cooke's "Missing" Edition

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pp. 106-117

"In addition to questioned writings, another category of document-related problems the historical investigator frequently encounters is that of lost texts. By text is meant the wording or words of something written or printed..."

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9 Obscured Sources: Hawthorne's "Veiled Lady"

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pp. 118-131

"A history can only be as accurate as its sources, for if they are incomplete, biased, or spurious, then any view predicated on them can scarcely be otherwise. Therefore, source study is a frequent activity of the historical sleuth."

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10 Scientific Challenges: Pseudoscience and the Shroud

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pp. 132-144

"Scientific analysis, not itself a genre of historical mysteries but rather a body of technology applicable to many different genres, is indispensible to the investigator. Quite often it can be a deciding factor in resolving some important historical question, as suggest in previous chapters."

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11 Afterword: Some Lessons Learned

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pp. 145-148

"The foregoing chapters by no means constitute a complete list of kinds of historical investigation. Another, for example, would be dating - determining the age of documents, texts, artifacts, and the like."


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pp. 149-169


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pp. 170-179

E-ISBN-13: 9780813128566
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813191379

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2005