Last year writer Mark Adams published Meet Me in Atlantis, his account of meeting and listening to some of the people who devote their lives to looking for the lost continent of Atlantis. My review is here. That book is now being released in paperback, so Adams is once again on a media tour doing publicity for the book. In a recent interview with Wired magazine’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast Adams revealed that one of the results of writing a book even vaguely connected to fringe history is a barrage of invitations to appear on Ancient Aliens. Adams told Wired that despite monthly invitations, he’s not biting.
I’m not going on that show if you give me a million dollars. You’re going to take whatever, you know, words come out of my mouth and make them fit whatever, you know, paradigm you’re pushing in a particular week. And a lot of these people, these experts, have been unpleasantly surprised by someone calling them at 10 o’clock at night and saying, “Did you know that you’re on the Discovery Channel right now in a special called Atlantis: Finally Found or something like that? So, if you’re an Atlantis expert, be careful.
Adams is referring to the practice of TV producers, notably working for the Discovery Networks, to interview experts under the pretense of producing science programs only to repurpose the interviews for pseudoscience after getting the experts to sign a vaguely worded release. This is different from Ancient Aliens, which makes no bones about what they intend to do with interviews they conduct.
There’s also that matter that Adams is a bit selective about his outrage. He doesn’t want to compromise his credibility on Ancient Aliens but was happy to write for Ancient Origins, a fringe website that endorses various fringe history claims, including the reality of Atlantis! The difference seems to be the difference in the chance that a colleague or publisher might stumble across it.
In the interview, Adams claims that academics dislike Atlantis because it implies the existence of a superior race and goes against currently fashionable multiculturalism. He says that scholars won’t touch the subject for fear of compromising their seriousness and their careers and that even his publisher, Penguin, was wary of the subject until he explained that he was not actually looking for Atlantis. (Seriously? Penguin Random House owns Crown, Graham Hancock’s longtime, though not current, publisher, and Graham Hancock writes about Atlantis as though it were real.) For the paperback release, Penguin wanted to disassociate Adams from Atlantis believers, he said. The original subtitle, “My Obsessive Quest to Find the Sunken City,” has now been changed to “Across Three Continents in Search of the Legendary Sunken City” because too many potential readers mistook his book for another pseudoscientific entry in the Atlantis genre. Does that mean that the potential audience was too limited for a mainstream release? Or that only the “wrong” kind of readers were buying the book?
From the opposing angle, he adds that many Atlantis researchers adopted lost civilization beliefs as a halfway point between mainstream science and their entry point into fringe studies, ancient astronauts.
He also discusses some of the ways fringe history has shaped the public’s misunderstanding of Plato’s Atlantis, notably as a high-tech spiritual paradise. Fringe history, and he notes, also contributed to the impression that Atlantis was home to a white master race, a popular conception made famous by Ignatius Donnelly and repeated as recently as Graham Hancock’s Magicians of the Gods.
That’s why I was intrigued to read about a new book about the 600-year quest to find lost white races around the world. According to a review in Alternet, Hillyer College professor Michael F. Robinson’s new book The Lost White Tribe (Oxford, 2016) chronicles European efforts to find more white people everywhere on the Earth’s surface, from medieval efforts to locate the kingdom of Prester John to far-flung reports about how light skin or even albinism were signs of diluted Aryan blood. He traces the desire to find white people to the usual sources: racism, ethnocentrism, and the Biblical account of the dispersal of the races after the Flood.
The book is, at its core, an examination of the nineteenth century Hamitic Hypothesis, which was a fringe reading of the Bible that preferred to see all three of Noah’s sons as “white” and therefore imagined that Ham’s descendants were a fallen white master race that once ruled the lesser races. Therefore, black and brown peoples could be ranked based on the amount of “Hamitic” or “white” blood they possessed, as revealed through measurements of their skulls and facial features. In adopting this theory, Robinson writers, Europeans “were not settling, but resettling, lands that had been conquered by fair-skinned invaders centuries before.”
Gee, where have we heard that recently? Oh, right: America Unearthed and the Scott Wolter-Hutton Pulitzer-Frank Joseph vision of a lost white pre-Columbian America. Robinson’s book covers similar claims down to the controversy over Kennewick Man, but sadly it leaves out the revival of Victorian-era white nationalist historiography and its popularized echoes in recent fringe history, especially on cable television.
Hundreds of cases of explorers interpreting native bodies as actually “white” or “Aryan” litter the accounts of exploration from 1492 to 1945, and European efforts to find blood ties to the lands they conquered weren’t confined only to political and social claims. They also influenced popular culture. “Of the hundreds of adventure novels and short stories published in Britain between 1880 and 1920, eighty percent of them concerned the discovery of white or proto-white tribes,” Robinson writes in Lost White Tribe.
I can’t imagine that’s true, and Alternet says that Robinson doesn’t explain how he came up with the number. I checked the preview available in Google Books, and indeed there is no footnote for the claim. Robinson’s argument seems to be that H. Ryder Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines was so influential that the raft of imitators that followed overwhelmed the adventure genre with tales of lost white races. I have asked Prof. Robinson, by email, for clarification, and I will let you know if he responds.
Update: Prof. Robinson responded with his source, which is Carter Hanson's "Lost Among White Others: Late-Victorian Lost Race Novels for Boys," 19th Century Contexts, 23:4 (2002), pp. 497-527. Hanson examined 41 explicitly lost race tales aimed at a juvenile male audience and found that 32 made the lost race white. This is not quite the same as all British Victorian adventure fiction, which clarifies why my antennae perked up at the claim. Lost race novels for boys is a small subset of all adventure fiction.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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