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There are two main ways that history can be controversial: 1) Questions of Fact and 2) Questions of Interpretation. The below answer will discuss both issues and the reasons that controversy can occur in each type.

Questions of Fact

A Question of Fact purports to discuss whether or not a specific event or status actually occurred. For example, we can ask the question: "Did Allied Soldiers have an amphibious invasion of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944 called D-Day?" and the answer will be "Yes" or "No". (In this case it is "Yes".) However, there are a number of historical events or statuses for which a definitive answer is controversial.

Insufficient Source Material: There are a number of cases of events in the Ancient World where we only have one source that describes a certain event or occurrence. For example, much of what we know about the Xiongnu Tribes of Mongolia comes from the writings of Chinese Historian Sima Qian. There are certain places, names, and leaders that only show up in his writings and are not confirmed, refuted, or even discussed in other contemporaneous source material. Although Sima Qian is viewed as a relatively trustworthy historian, there is still some doubt as to whether those non-verified claims are true or not.

Biased Source Material: Throughout the Pre-Modern World, the official courts liked to boast about their accomplishments and often embellished their victories and ignored their defeats. Many of the stele found throughout Southeast Asia, for example, describe the various padi-states as controlling regions far greater than that in which we can find evidence of control and, in some cases, regions in which we have evidence refuting their control (such as the presence of antagonistic hill tribes).

Altered Source Material: In some cases, the source material has either been intentionally or unintentionally altered, which can give a mistaken impression about what the original history actually was. This includes moving of artifacts without properly dating them to redacting records to oral histories which can be shown to be corruptible.

Ideological Motivations: In many cases, people wish to believe that a certain event occurred or did not occur for ideological motivations, usually religious. For example, all evidence we have gathered shows that the Ancient Israelites were not involved in the construction of the Pyramids at Giza since those pyramids were built over 1000 years before Abraham (if he lived) would have been born. However, since it fits with people's religious narratives, this practically impossible event is controversial.

Questions of Interpretation

Questions of Interpretation deal with the larger study of history. When history is present, it is not presented as individual events and statuses, but rather as a narrative to tell the story of a particular civilization or region. Questions of Interpretations ask whether or not a particular group of facts is being properly interpreted to create this larger narrative and if they are not, what is the proper interpretation.

Contradictory Evidence: In many cases, the issues of history are multifaceted with many streams of contradictory events and statuses. Overarching questions can often be argued either way with a plethora of evidence to support such assertions. For example, if one were to ask whether or not Napoleon was a positive or negative force for European development, evidence could be cited to show his positive contributions as well as his negative contributions.

Individual Agency: One of the problems inherent in using particular events as indicators of a general trend or narrative is that there are cases where individuals have done unique activities contrary to the will of their governments or allies. This has happened both in the positive, such as how Turkish Diplomat Selahattin Ülkümen saved 50 Jews on Rhodes during the Holocaust contrary to Turkey's position of diplomatic neutrality, and negative, such as how US Soldiers tortured and brutalized Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison contrary to the US position of bringing civility and order to Occupied Iraq. However, these anomalous events are often cited to promote certain views, contrary to the general trend to create a distinct narrative, creating controversy.

Organizational Dysfunction: Another problem inherent in using particular events as indicators of a general trend or narrative is that large governments and organizations do not always stay on the same track. Different parts of large groupings may approach a situation differently or may even come into direct conflict with each other. Two examples of this include the attempts of the Catholic Church to Christianize Latin America, where the Jesuits and Church itself came into direct conflict over methods, and the Battle of Berlin in World War II where the Soviet generals intentionally refused to discuss strategies or coordinate attacks leading to more Soviet deaths from friendly fire than from Nazi German defenses. In both cases, these organizational dysfunctions make it more difficult to have a coherent narrative about how a particular group has a singular or unified motivation.

Extrapolation: In some cases, a narrative is extrapolated on very little evidence, leading to conspiracy theories. Most conspiracy theories take one or two events or statuses and extrapolate them improperly to create slanderous accusations of specific groups or governments. These conspiracies are very controversial.

Relative Weight of Facts: In many cases, a singular interpretation will emphasize certain facts to the detriment of others. Reasonable people can disagree as to which facts are more important than others on many issues.

Political Motivations: Some people or governments embrace controversial views of history because of the political benefits that accrue from doing so. For example, Turkey denies the Armenian, Pontic Greek, and Assyrian Genocides because (1) they would have to consider reparations in the form of money and/or territory to those minorities, and (2) it would help discredit Turkish Nationalism, since the Young Turks who helped to found the Republic of Turkey were also involved in these genocides.

Ethnic Identity Motivations: In some cases, a specific event or set of events in a narrative helps to create an ethnic or national identity and people will overlook historical events or inconsistencies with that narrative because of a desire to maintain the story. For example, US Americans claim that they effectively defeated the British in the American Revolution when it can be strongly argued that Britain chose to give the United States independence in order to focus troops on the Second Anglo-Mysore War in India and protecting colonies in the Caribbean from French and Dutch adversaries. Both the Caribbean and India were more productive colonies for the British and the Thirteen Colonies were not worth the fight.

Religious Motivations: In some cases, people wish to retain a certain historical narrative because the religion holds to that narrative. For example, most Muslims argue that the Islamic Empire conquered the Sassanid Empire and most of the Byzantine Empire in the least violent way because they believe that Islam promotes peace and therefore the idea that the conquest was violent, resulted in numerous incidents of pillaging, rape, and murder of civilians creates controversy.

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