An Oxford Historian was put on my radar yesterday by a post made on their website about Fomenko’s New Chronology. My interest was peaked by the name of the website and so I dug a bit deeper into who was behind it. When I discovered the article was written by a PhD student from the University of Oxford’s St. Cross College, I decided to write this article to take some notes and put my thoughts down on paper.
– The Website
– The Article
The University of Oxford is one of the most well-known institutions of higher education in the world. It has been ranked “the world’s best university” for the last 6 years. Fomenko’s New Chronology has not received much attention from the academic world and so a PhD student from such a prestigious university authoring an article about it is a rare occurrence.
The student’s name is Tristan Alphey. On his website he introduces himself as Tristan but his posts are made under the pseudonym “An Oxford Historian”. His Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram, and departmental page all have his first and last name so I figure he doesn’t mind people knowing it. According to his Linkedin, he has two degrees from Oxford already, a BA in History (2016-2019) and a MA in Archeology (2019-2020). He’s on track to receive a PhD in History from them in 2023. It is worth noting that although he uses the name of his school for his website, the website is independent from Oxford.
I didn’t know any of that when I found him through his New Chronology posts on Reddit, where he goes by “Faust_TSFL”. As of writing this, it looks like he posted his article in 20 subreddits shortly after publishing it on his website. It took me maybe 5 minutes to find all the information above. The links are below.
One reason I decided to spend any time focused on this individual was the homepage of his website (AOH). As of September 22nd, 2021, the first three sentences of the “Welcome to the Blog” section read:
“Hello, my name is Tristan and I’m a first-year history PhD student at Oxford. I believe that academics are foremost public servants – we have an obligation to share knowledge to the wider community rather than keeping it locked up in universities. The aim of this blog is to share my research and wider history on the early medieval world, help give any advice and information on Oxford, and generally expanding engagement with the Humanities.”
I tend to agree that it’s important for academics to share knowledge outside of the confines of the universities. The aim of his blog/website is also similar to mine. I made my website to better organize my studies and share them more effectively with others, as well as the expand engagement with the wissenschaft (sciences and humanities). One note on the grammar is that I think “expanding” should be “expand”. It would then read as: “The aim of this blog is to…”
3. generally expand…
The final sentence in that section is a prompt for you to subscribe to his blog.
Moving on from the Home tab to the Blog tab, I noticed that the layout doesn’t fit my laptop browser. It positions the articles in rows of 3, with the farthest left article being pushed off the screen. You can scroll left to right, in addition to up and down, but that doesn’t get the row on the left fully on screen, only the right row. The layout is much better on mobile, where the articles waterfall down in a single row.
For whatever reason, the blog only rolls back to March 10th, 2021 but there are posts on the website from as early as January. This is inconvenient but could be fixed by an article that contains links to every post so far. Or adding an “Archive” widget like the one I have which organizes posts by the month.
I didn’t spend too much time exploring this tab. It’s split into two main sections: “Approaching History” and “‘Anglo-Saxon’ History and Archaeology”. The latter section seems decent but the first one seems lacking in content. There is a disclaimer that it’s a work in progress and so I’d suggest adding some articles/resources on general historical method and historiography.
The Homepage says Tristan is a first-year PhD student but the About page says he’s a second-year PhD student. I figure this inconsistency will be easy enough to correct. Aside from that, there’s no concise history of the blog on the About page, or anywhere else that I looked. From what I can tell, he began posting on the blog on January 1st, 2021, although the copyright at the bottom of every page is 2020. I suggest he adds a history section to the About page to make it more transparent.
The second paragraph on the About page read: “This is not a money-making blog. Instead, it’s aim is to provide as much historical information and resources to everyone, from every background, for free. If Alfred’s threat from a lack of shared learning came in the form of Danish invasion, ours comes in the form of an increased social divide, and a misuse of history for political ends.”. There is a typo in the second sentence. “It’s” should be “Its”. Also if increased social divide is a threat to us, I don’t think Tristan’s comments on Reddit help close that gap (more on that below).
The about page doesn’t work on mobile.
The contact page is simple and straightforward. It also has links to his Twitter, Instagram, and Linkedin.
He titled his article The ‘New Chronology’ – the world’s craziest conspiracy theory. Right off the bat I was wondering if he had a list of conspiracy theories with qualifications to organize them from “least crazy” to “most crazy”. I’ve thought about setting up such a scale but have never gotten around to it. I don’t think he does have anything like that and so I’m curious how he arrived at the conclusion that Fomenko’s New Chronology is the craziest conspiracy theory out of all of the conspiracy theories in the world. Does Tristan have a list of conspiracy theories online somewhere?
He opened the article by saying:
“Conspiracy Theorists are the bane of the academic. After years of research, experimentation and peer-review, some random person on the internet appears and instantly disregards your work, choosing to accept a sinister cover-up instead.”
He doesn’t say outright that Fomenko is some random person on the internet, but to me it does seem like this is the brush he’s painting Fomenko with. Regardless if my judgement on that is correct, let me provide some context for Fomenko’s New Chronology. Fomenko himself became a renowned mathematician in the 1960’s. In the following decade, he began his initial studies into chronology. When the 1980’s rolled around, Fomenko began to publish his works on chronology in scientific journals like Celestial Mechanics (now known as Celestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy) and the International Statistical Review, among others. I think this qualifies as “years of research, experimentation, and peer-review”, not as “some random person on the internet”. A final note on this point, I am interested in hearing Tristan’s definition for “Conspiracy Theorist”, as conspiracies do exist and academics have published about possible conspiracies that have been overlooked (Catterson’s Laocoön arguement for example).
On the subject of internet people who pop up to instantly disregard work without giving it proper attention, Tristan goes on to say (under his pseudonym) “This is all complete rubbish, of course”. His reasoning is that archeological methods such as dendrochronology, carbon dating, and thermoluminescence dating easily disprove Fomenko’s New Chronology. Fomenko addresses all three of these and more in his works (for example, volume 1, chapter 1, parts 13-17). Where is Tristan’s rebuttal to these sections? Or any thorough critique of these sections? I’ve been chipping away at these sections but it takes specialized knowledge and access to specific (sometimes difficult to access) sources to fact check and so my analysis is incomplete in its current form.
Tristan spent one paragraph on dating methods before moving on to spend four paragraphs associating Fomenko’s New Chronology with Soviet Nationalism. I’m curious if Tristan can point out why, according to the books, Fomenko places such an emphasis on Russia’s role in the development of civilization from ancient to modern times. I don’t ever recall seeing any mention of Soviet Russia’s greatness in any of the books. After mentioning a snippet of Fomenko’s take on Mongolian history, Tristan stated:
“Its successes and glory were, therefore, clear evidence of Soviet supremacy…”
Does Fomenko ever mention Soviet supremacy in relation to Mongolian history? Or related to anything anywhere in his books? The questions I ask throughout this article are not rhetorical. I genuinely want answers.
That’s basically the whole article; 1 opening paragraph, 2 that briefly discuss the conclusions of Fomenko’s New Chronology, and 4 that associate it and its popularity with Soviet nationalism. There is a “Bibliography and Further Reading” section at the end which lists Halperin (2011), Kuroski’s pop article from 2018, the English Wiki for Fomenko’s New Chronology, and finally the link to Fomenko’s website.
Tristan didn’t mention any of the methods developed for the textual analysis, any of the specific results obtained by those methods, or any of the results of the astronomical calculations. I wonder if he’s read any of the books from the 7 volumes.
I did originally find out about Tristan through Reddit and I wanted to address some of his comments he made there because I think public outreach is important. It’s also important to pay mind to how you conduct yourself in public (and private) forums.
The first comment comes from r/anglosaxon, where Hungry_Perspective29 commented “It actually true read the books look at the proof” in response to Tristan’s article. Tristan responded by saying “His proof is absolute garbage hidden inside maths to trick people, and has been disproved countless times by hundreds of academics – just read the article I reference if you ant a tiny glimpse at how wrong it is”.
The response sounds to me like he thinks Fomenko & Co. have conspired to trick people into believing nonsense. I thought he thought conspiracy theories were bad? Maybe he has really good proof that that’s what Fomenko has done? Aside from that, does he have a list of the 200+ academics who have disproved Fomenko’s New Chronology? I didn’t even know that many academics had given it the time of day. As for the article referenced (Halperin’s 2011 publication), I’ve read it a couple times but haven’t written an official response to it. It contains many uncited claims, leaving work for the reader that the author is inherently responsible for. These are preliminary comments on Halperin 2011. I’m saving any serious judgements until after I have taken a more methodical approach to its contents. Again, I’m interested in seeing that list of 200+ academics. I hope Tristan wouldn’t make something like that up just to support his claim.
BeneiEphraim left a comment on the NC article saying:
“Read: History Fiction or Science by Anatoly Fomenko
You won’t regret it”.
Tristan responded with “For a laugh yes, for actual learning no way. Its also 7 bloody volumes long which is crazy”.
The 7 volumes are about 600 pages each, equaling a total of around 4,200 pages. This is a hefty amount but nothing which constitutes crazy. For example, there are 18 volumes under the title A History of the County of Oxford, which I’d estimate, after a brief skim of some of the tables of contents, has nearly twice as many pages as Fomenko’s collection. There’s a used 20 volume history of North America for sale on AbeBooks for $930 and a 30 volume history of the world’s nations on Amazon for $195 (as of 22 Sept. 2021), but I have no clue how many pages are included in those. All of this is to say that if 7 free volumes on Fomenko’s website are crazy, these other collections are on the highest level of insanity.
As for how beneficial the 7 volumes are for learning, that entirely depends on what you’re trying to learn. For learning about electrical engineering? I’d agree, no way. For learning about 20th century Russian studies into chronology? I’d say it’s decent. From the parts I’ve scrutinized closely, it appears to me that they get way more correct than incorrect.
As of writing this, Reddit seems to have crashed. There were some other comments which I found to be unwarranted and inappropriate, especially for someone:
1 – with a website aimed “to provide as much historical information and resources to everyone, from every background”
2 – who attends one of the most, if not the most, prestigious institution in the world
3 – specializes in history on the PhD level.
But the two comments above were the main two that had stuck out to me when I first was looking all this over.
I’m happy that Tristan is engaging in public outreach. I think it’s a good thing when scholars decide to do this. I hope he keeps it up and continues to grow in this area. I think it might be interesting to have a voice or video chat with him about my article here. It could be a useful back and forth and would allow him to answer some or all of my questions right there on the spot.
I don’t think Tristan has added anything new to the discussion about Fomenko’s New Chronology. His article simplifies the pop article and Halperin’s article into a very brief report. It uses problematic language coupled with unwarranted assertions to push a skewed version of FNC. An action which is best avoided if the goal is the production of solid and honest scholarship.
While FNC does fall into the field of history, its core falls within the specialization of chronology (applied mathematics). Tristan specializes in early medieval nicknames. So while his field somewhat aligns, his official specialization does not. This isn’t to say that people can’t contribute to disciplines outside of their specialization, but it can help explain the simplicity in his approach.
Another PhD student who’s been conducting themselves online in a less-than-professional manner recently is Angela Costello. Here’s the link to my interaction with her on Twitter (https://twitter.com/byzplease/status/1435686155438145538). She said FNC is “based entirely on bad mathematics”. I asked if she had a source that covers the bad math but she told me no. After telling her to let me know if she ever did find a good one, she tagged me in another Tweet which raised more questions in my mind, that I then asked. She didn’t answer either of them and instead asked me with an attitude how much I knew about Soviet Nationalism, to which she answered her own question by saying “I’m guessing not much”. She then accused me of having ulterior motives to asking my questions (a total of 3) and told me she charges $75/hour for research. Her specialization (according to her Twitter bio) is “Antiquity/Byzantium w/focus on dress, superstition, & badass women”, which is in the field of history but far removed from the specialization of applied mathematics (chronology).
Overall, I think academics have a responsibility to be as accurate as possible with their information and to be as compassionate as possible with those who they choose to interact with.
The cover photo for my article here was originally taken by Ben Seymour and published on February 5th, 2021. It shows Oxford University’s Radcliffe Camera. I edited the image to change the size and colors.
Update: 23 Sept. 2021
I sent an email to Tristan right after publishing this article to share the link with him and to invite him to join me for a discussion about the whole topic. I know he saw the email, not because he responded to it (which he didn’t), but because he took my editorial advice and fixed up his website. However, he went and liked Angela’s hostile, unprofessional, and unacademic tweets, which makes me think the bits about conducting oneself with higher standards in public didn’t click. Given those actions after seeing my article, I’m not expecting a direct response from him, but I also wasn’t expecting an Oxford scholar to conduct themselves in such a fashion, so who knows what the future will bring.
Update: 27 Sept. 2021
I still have not received a response to my email but I did leave two comments on Reddit for him. In r/anglosaxon, the subreddit where he claimed hundreds of academics have disproved FNC, he responded to someone by saying “Ok let’s discuss this” and then asking that person what they think he’s wrong on. I took this as him being open to discussion on Reddit (as opposed to wanting an email or voice/video discussion) and so on Sept. 26, I asked him if he had a list of those 200+ academics. Someone downvoted that question of mine almost instantly. I have a suspicion it was him but can’t say for certain one way or the other. He hasn’t responded to that. My guess is he doesn’t want to say “no”.
In r/history, he responded to someone by saying “But, on latest research, it appears to be pretty popular in modern Russia”. Due to my interest in the popularity of FNC, I asked, “what’s the latest research on its popularity?” (on Sept. 26). This question was the first of any of the ones I had asked that he chose to respond to. His response was made on the 27th (today) and said, “The references are available in the academic article included in my article, as you are well aware”. This response would’ve been fine if the ending portion wasn’t tacked on. I was not well aware that the latest research was referenced in Halperin’s article from 2011 (a decade ago now). I’m not even sure that his answer is correct. Has no research been conducted on the popularity of FNC since 2011 and/or earlier? Regardless of my lack of knowledge, his slipshod response is inappropriate for someone in his position.
Update: 3 Oct. 2021
He posted his article in r/HistoryWhatIf on September 29th. In the description of his post titled “What if – all history before AD800 never existed?” he wrote, “This is the argument of Soviet maths scholars Fomenko, who suggested all events before AD800 had in fact happened in the later medieval period – eg. Jesus had been crucified in the 13th century”.
If defining history as “the past”, this is not Fomenko’s argument. Even if defining history as “the study of the past”, this is not Fomenko’s argument. Fomenko argues that the earliest surviving records date to the 9th/10th centuries. Not that nothing happened before then, nor that nobody had any historical understanding before that point.
Fomenko also does not argue that Jesus was crucified in the 13th century. Fomenko argues Jesus was crucified in the 12th century.
Tristan was recently elected (Sept. 30th announcement) to be an Early Career Member of the Royal Historical Society (https://royalhistsoc.org/281-new-fellows-members-elected-to-the-society/). This makes the seriousness of his false claims about Fomenko’s works even more severe.
 – Morrison, Nick. Oxford Named World’s Best For Record Sixth Year As Universities Get Covid-19 Research Boost (Forbes, 1 Sept. 2021). https://www.forbes.com/sites/nickmorrison/2021/09/01/oxford-named-worlds-best-for-record-sixth-year-as-universities-get-covid-19-research-boost/?sh=58b994ee5023. Accessed 22 Sept. 2021.
 – British History Online. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/search/series/vch–oxon?page=1. Accessed 22 Sept. 2021.
 – AbeBooks. History of North America: (1903, Ltd, #) 20 Vol Set. https://www.abebooks.com/first-edition/History-North-America-1903-Vol-Set/1040558023/bd. Accessed 22 Sept. 2021.
 – Amazon. The Nations of the World; an Historical Series in Thirty Volumes (The Complete Set) Hardcover – January 1, 1898. https://www.amazon.com/Nations-Historical-Thirty-Volumes-Complete/dp/B000KND6W6. Accessed 22 Sept. 2021.