People in the future tend to misunderstand past culture in funny ways. The further one goes into the future, the more distorted history seems to become. Apparently, history is the one science that gets worse rather than better in the distant future.
It's understandable if the fall of civilization has destroyed all the data, or an oppressive regime is deliberately suppressing the inconvenient truths about them. But sometimes, the records decay and the facts get lost, even when no malice is intended at all.
As time goes on, language shifts and evolves, while the historical data might not. In three hundred years, how many people will know what a Cotton Gin was for? How many people will actually be able to identify one? How many people will think it's booze made from distilled cotton? How many people already do?
A little strange when it appears in societies that use Time Travel, since they could always just go back and check. Occasionally inverted by a Fan of the Past, unless their conclusions are Entertainingly Wrong.
Compare And Man Grew Proud and Lost Common Knowledge. Often occurs in concert with Days of Future Past. See also Earth That Was. When done well, it tends to be a form of Entertainingly Wrong. When present-day writers get the past wrong, it's Anachronism Stew or Popular History for more recent history; similarly, when past writers predicted the then-future/now-past badly, that's Zeerust. Related to Famed In-Story and Shrouded in Myth.
- A 1980s Pepsi commercial featured a far-future archaeology class visiting a recently-excavated 20th century house. The professor humorously misidentifies the purpose of several objects in the house, but when one of the Pepsi-drinking students presents him with a Coke bottle and asks what it is, the baffled professor responds "I have no idea!". The commercial can be seen here.
- Inverted in Cowboy Bebop. Jet and Spike consult an antique electronics dealer to identify a strange item called a "Betamax videocassette". This Fan of the Past is overcome with excitement, and proceeds to bore the two hardened bounty hunters to distraction with every arcane detail of the 1980s video format wars.
- Eureka Seven has a similar situation to the Gurren Lagann example above. Humans have been living on the surface for so long, that everyone has forgotten that they're actually living on an artificial surface created by Scub Coral, and the real planet Earth is actually miles below them.
- ∀ Gundam takes place so far into the future (by thousands of years) that the "Black History" which covers both our own time and the events of several Gundam shows is initially known through ancient folk tales and archeological digs. In fact, the titular Gundam is known at first as the "White Doll", given that the Earth's regressed to the point of forgetting about the existence of mobile suits. This distorted version of the past is further justified through the Moonlight Butterfly erasing civilization at the end of the Black History.
- Also present in the Universal Century timeline to some extent, with stuff from the 20th Century like Hitler and motorcycles being mentioned in passing as "from the Middle Ages".
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is set so far After the End that Kamina is considered crazy by his entire underground village for believing that humans once lived on the surface of the Earth. At the beginning of the series, some villagers are skeptical that a surface actually exists.
- Amazing Spider-Man #439 "There Once Was A Spider..!" written by Tom DeFalco. It featured future archaeologists having discovered one of Spidey's webshooters in an old building, and intertwined with the "current" timeline. How they perceive Spider-Man ranges from the generous to the outlandish to just plain inaccurate. For example, they thought the wall-crawler was often praised (cut to a cop "today" telling him to "SCRAM!") and that his wife was the envy of her friends (cut to MJ, alone, weeping with worry). What's more, there are some nods to a certain pointy-eared hero.
- Hitman reveals that, by the DC One Million timeline, Tommy Monaghan is remembered as a hero of the streets battling against Judge Dredd-esque cops and a monstrous creature called "The Bat", and in love with "the beautiful Natalie." It's implied that at some stage, somebody wrote an at-best fanciful story about "Hit-Man", likely hundreds of years after he died, and it's only decayed since then. Monaghan is initially just incredulous that he's remembered at all, as he was mostly an unimportant contract killer who shot mobsters for money... though he doesn't take long to start giggling at the fact that, among other things, "Natalie" was actually "Nat."
- The Incredible Hulk's story Future Imperfect has some hints at this. Not as much as you would expect and mostly throwaway lines at a marker square.
- De Kiekeboes: In the album De Wereld Volgens Kiekeboe (translation: "The World According To Kiekeboe") Kiekeboe travels to the far future, when mankind has destroyed most of its civilization during a world war. They rebuilt everything afterwards and discovered the entire collection of Kiekeboes albums (except for the one they are currently appearing in). They enjoyed the books so much that they built their entire civilization according to the universe in Kiekeboe's stories. Naturally they do get a lot of things about our century wrong, because the albums are the only artefacts they can base their knowledge on.
- The concept behind many of the DC's 1996 "Legends of the Dead Earth" annuals. Whether recounting stories of 20th century superheroes, or trying to follow in their footsteps, the people of the distant future get a lot of things wrong. The Catwoman annual has Selina and Bruce as an Outlaw Couple, the Superboy one is set on a world where the legend of Superman has been merged with Aztec mythology, and the Aquaman one has two storytellers (implied to be the last survivors of Atlantis) come to blows over whether Arthur was a hero or a villain.
- Members of DC's Legion of Super-Heroes, transported a thousand years into the past to 1990s America, mistake a fairly average wall for the Great Wall of China. A lampshading from the Post-Zero Hour! Legion of Super-Heroes. A museum curator in the 30th century tells visitors: "-and of all the surviving structures of the second millennium, we know the most about the Alamo. For example, it was here that Panamanian strongman George Washington wrote his classic poem, 'The Raven'-"
- Transmetropolitan takes place in a future where no one even knows for sure what year it is.
- When Spider tells a presidential candidate who just quoted Tennyson's Ulysses that it was Bobby Kennedy's favorite poem, his campaign manager says, "I'm sorry, who?"
- "Who was Hitler?" "Rock star. He was in Led Zeppelin. Fucked goats and wrote the old National Anthem. Blew up Auckland in The Blitz."
- When Bishop first traveled to the current time, he didn't believe the X-Men were who they said, because their exploits had become so legendary by his time that they were basically viewed as gods.
- Calvin and Hobbes: The Series has resident Deadpan Snarker Andy being asked for his opinion on a television show he hasn't actually watched. His response is a parody of this trope:
"...Imagine...It is four hundred sixty-eight thousand years in the future, and humanity has left the Earth. It's a derelict planet, abandoned and quiet. Only the artifacts of a long-ago civilization remain. But suddenly, an archaeological ship from a far away empire pierces the atmosphere and lands! Among the ruins of massive cities, they search for clues of this once-great culture and people! And they find it! A sublime, beautiful TV recording: Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann!"
- Last Rights has Captain Kanril Eleya mistakenly say in her Opening Monologue that the United States fought the Russians in World War II rather than the Germans. The author's notes confirmed this was intentional. Note that Eleya is a Bajoran, not a human.
- Reimagined Enterprise: A few minor examples mentioned in passing, though stemming from ignorance of the historical record rather than there not actually being one. For example, at one point Captain Bowman of the Dauntless (a parody of Jonathan Archer from the canon show) mixes up Buzz Aldrin with Buzz Lightyear.
- In Back to the Future Part II an '80s-themed diner confuses a lot of '80s pop culture, such as mixing up Max Headroom and Ronald Reagan.
- In Battlefield Earth, fast-food and automobiles are the stuff of legends, and mannequins are people punished for offending the gods. The Psychlos are shown at one point examining old Earth photos of people driving with their dogs, leading them to believe that the dogs were the superior species since they had the humans chauffeuring them around. They also note that dogs, while much more cooperative than "man-animals", which the Psychlos interpret to mean higher intelligence (after all, dogs recognize who their betters are), are almost useless for manual labor (further proof that dogs were the masters of "man-animals", who did all the work).
- Enemy Mine, where the human jokingly quotes Mickey Mouse and the Drak never understands that he isn't really a human philosopher. In the movie, at least, this leads to a half-heartwarming, half-hilarious scene where the human, in an argument, exclaims, "Well maybe you forgot about what you said about Mickey Mouse!" and the Drak apologizes.
- The Time Masheen in Idiocracy. "1939, when Charlie Chaplin and his evil Nazi regime enslaved Europe and tried to take over the world." With dinosaurs. "And then the UN (pronounced uhn, not like the normal yew-en) un-nazi'd the world forever." (Cue dinosaur with swastika and dinosaur with UN logo fighting)
- The half-feral children in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome had pieced together their own religion and historical accounts from fading memories of the parents who'd left them behind, and stray bric-a-brac of civilization. ("Remember this?" "Mrs. Walker!")
- In Woody Allen's Sleeper, future scientists question Woody Allen's character about a number of things from the 70s, and discuss their theories concerning those objects with him. Their ideas are almost entirely nonsense. Unfortunately, Woody's explanations don't help matters.
- In Water World, a yo-yo, exercise machine, and flute are mistaken for garrote wire, a torture device, and spy listener.
- Aeon 14 is set (mostly) in the 90th century, and some 20th-21st century pop culture is still familiar but not always remembered correctly (exacerbated by a series of apocalyptic interstellar wars in the 7th millennium that caused a lot of knowledge to be lost). In The Scipio Alliance, an exclusive resort is patterned after the wreck of the Olympic (which Angela says is supposed to be the Titanic, and sank in the 20th century rather than the 19th as the advertisers say), while Tanis gets costumed for a masquerade ball as "Shannon" from "Meteoroid" (i.e. Samus from Metroid).
- One of the Alice, Girl from the Future books features a planet which suffered a collective memory wipe a couple of centuries ago. As a result: 1) The people there are mixing up words — some nobles call themselves "Moles" thinking it means "Wolves", and the king calls himself "Radiculitis" thinking it's "Elephant". 2) Said king uses an ancient dentist's chair for a throne, and his bodyguards use chamber pots for helms. 3) Forgetfulness is a religion. 4) It's forbidden to actually try reading — sages are "deciphering" old inscriptions, and must be memory wiped every few months because they constantly begin to actually see the true patterns. 5) A small society of outlaws exists who actually try to reconstruct the past — and while they are quite accurate, it takes a traveler from another planet to explain to them what a shower head is for.
- The Anvilicious political work Ali Dubyiah and the Forty Thieves is a "historical fable" from perhaps a thousand years in the future, describing a certain early 21st-century American president and how his actions led to the fall of his empire and ultimately The End of the World as We Know It. Major players are referred to with garbled names such as "Dick Chaingang", "Condi Pasta", and "Osama bin Hiden".
- Alien Landscapes, a collection of art based on various SF stories, has as its premise that all said stories take place in the same universe. It contains a "future newspaper", one of whose articles describes a museum in a manner lampshading this trope. "A boot from... the planet Poland (location no longer known)", a primitive tracked vehicle called a "voleswakan", and "stylized phalluses... called Bishopricks... used in early risque versions of... chess" are listed among the exhibits.
- The book All Yesterdays, in its satire of how amateur paleontologists and paleoartists tend to turn every animal into a Prehistoric Monster, decides to take the same mindset and apply it to the skeletons of living animals. Every single one has no body fat, being tight muscles over bones and often so thin you can count their ribs, none of them have fur, feathers, or any organs that wouldn't be preserved in skeletons, and every interpretation of their lifestyle makes them out to be brutal predators. Cats hunted humans with their deadly switchblade claws, swans used their pointed arms to impale prey, baboons had grooves in their teeth to inject venom...
- Harry Turtledove combined this trope with Crippling Overspecialization in "The Barbecue, the Movie, & Other Unfortunately Not So Relevant Material". In this short story, a time traveling historian from thousands of years in the future is intimately familiar with the life and times of Genghis Khan, but when he is accidentally transported to the twentieth century, he mistakes the cars outside for cows.
- In Battlefield Earth the story of Earth's invasion and occupation by the Psychlos is remembered as a religious purge of the planet by "the gods". Their legends speak of a deadly cloud that swept over the land (the initial barrage of poison gas) and then a wave of monsters and demons that hounded and pursued the survivors from the cloud (the arrival of the Psychlos themselves, who exterminated whatever humans they could find). This was all done by the gods in order to remove the sinful and impure from the planet, and their ancestors survived because they honored the gods and were righteous (they lived in the shadow of a massive military complex that served as a government retreat and survival bunker, surrounded by last-ditch nuclear explosives whose radiation kept the Psychlos away). When Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, the protagonist, encounters other isolated people, they each have their own legend of what happened. The Scots, who have managed to retain a semi-accurate history because their territory received less attention from the Psychlos, remember America as a distant village that some other Scots went to and settled a long time ago.
- Will Self's The Book of Dave, in which the diary of a bitter current-day London cab driver becomes the holy book of a religion 500 years in the future. As he was divorced, the "Mummies" and "Daddies" live in separate housing, and their children switch between them.
- In Book of the New Sun the protagonist carries around a book of the ancient legends of Urth. One of them is a mashup of the story of Romulus with the story of Mowgli (because they were both raised by wolves) and another has the story of Theseus and the Minotaur mixed up with the real-life Battle of Hampton Roads (where one of the ships was called the Monitor).
- Aldous Huxley's Brave New World sees Henry Ford as the most important human being who ever lived and assume the entire modern world started with his birth.
- In The Brightonomicon, set in 1960's Brighton, England, both author and characters lampshade this, and reference things that did not exist in the real world, saying that these things do exist, as they will be written down by the main character after the end of the adventure, but that it will be the readers' faulty memories making them think such things weren't invented until later.
This extends so far as to include a restaurant opening night that included as patrons Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain. Several other musicians were there, all linked by a single theme.
- Stephen Vincent Benet's short story "By the Waters of Babylon" supposes that not only has the United States of America ceased to exist as we remember it (apparently, it was destroyed in a great war), but the descendants of modern-day Americans have returned to living in tribes, hunting wild game with bows and arrows and forsaking Christianity for polytheism (believing, for example, that their ancient ancestors were actually gods). The protagonist finds a ruined statue at one point and notes that it depicts a man with long hair like a woman — in other words, George Washington. However, the protagonist can only call Washington "Ashing", as only that much of the inscription on the statue is left intact. He assumes that "Ashing" is a god, and offers a brief prayer to him out of respect.
- A Canticle for Leibowitz has a fair number of these, such as the shopping list treated as a holy relic (in fairness, it was written by the martyred St. Leibowitz the Engineer, so it actually was a relic even though it was a shopping list), the difficulties a novice (i.e., member of a monastic novitiate) has in figuring out what "Fallout Survival Shelter" means, the barbarian nomads who swallow electrical resistors to commune with spirits, and the Renaissance scholar who reads R.U.R. and takes it a little too much to heart...
- A mild example in Captain French, or the Quest for Paradise, which takes place 20,000 years in the future, after humanity has settled thousands of worlds. In a setting without FTL Travel or a Subspace Ansible, each world is, pretty much, on its own, with only an occasional space trader arriving to deliver outdated news and exchange goods. Many planets retain reliable records, but some records of the past, especially of Old Earth, are not exactly precise. For example, the names of some famous authors ended up getting mangled (e.g. Anne McCaffrey is called "Annette McCloskey", while Charles Perrault is known as "Chaurl Perry"). Additionally, a number of Disney characters and stories are now considered to be fairy tales in their own right, and some stories somehow ended up merged together, such as the story of King Kong and Conan the Barbarian, who slew him. There's also the slightly disturbing merging of a Real Life crime and a children's story called Jack the Giant Ripper.
- Real-life Earth is referred to airily as the "Third Civilization" in The Citizen Series and much knowledge has been lost. The first book has a character erroneously attribute the Molotov Cocktail's name to an Earth king, rather than being named after the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov by Finnish soldiers.
- Invoked in Steven Brust's Cowboy Feng's Space Bar And Grill, in which the titular restaurant and its proprietor are sent back from the distant future to investigate who keeps nuking humanity. As its builders knew they didn't have either the time or the historical references to get it all right, they deliberately decorate it in the style of this trope (e.g. a sepia photo of Comanches with machine guns battling knights in armor) so that any actual incongruities will pass for more of the same kitsch.
- In The Crown Jewels by Walter Jon Williams, Drake Majistral watches a movie in which the two main characters are Jesse James and Elvis Presley.
Majistral liked Westerns better than other forms of genre entertainment. He wondered why Shakespeare hadn't written any.
- In Michael Moorcock's Dancers At The End Of Time this trope is rife. Although, they are at the end of time, so perhaps a little memory slippage and creative license is allowed. Also the character from the 20th Century is from the very beginning of it, essentially a Victorian. No wonder they don't recognise anything from the 20th century.
- In the Delirium Series, most of history is twisted to teach people the dystopia's guiding belief: that love is a disease. For example, Romeo and Juliet is said to be a cautionary tale about the effects of the disease of love, and stories from The Bible are reinterpreted to be about the evils of love.
- In The Demolished Man, advertising jingles are called "pepsis", but no one remembers why. Also, because psychic detectives have apparently made murder and war a thing of the past, most people have no idea what a "gun" is, and one can only be purchased as an obscure curiosity in an antique store.
- The Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures novel EarthWorld features this heavily. Fitz is quizzed on 20th-century history by someone in the far future, featuring questions such as, "Which English politician was well-known for his seaside boxing matches?" and decides to set the record straight:
You just don’t know what you’re talking about! I don’t know if you’re really thick or trying to catch me out or something, but you’re talking serious bollocks. Winston Churchill was the British Prime Minister during most of the war, and when he said “we shall fight on the beaches” he was talking about how if the Nazis invaded we’d never surrender, not running on about a scrap over the buckets and spades. I lived through that, you know, and it wasn’t very nice [...] That man-–’ he pointed at another of the many Elvis posters-– ‘had blue suede shoes, not green rubber wellies or whatever stupid thing you’ve got him down for. And he was a singer — a fantastic one — not a teddy bear or a hotelkeeper or a hound dog. And I don’t know who killed Roger Ackroyd [...] because it wasn’t real: it was a book [...] And I don’t know what weird version of twentieth-century England you’re talking about, but I reckon it’s some stupid fake you’ve come up with after getting a few details off the back of cigarette cards and chocolate-bar wrappers and scraps from a local library, and then filling in the gaps to suit yourself.
- In the Doctor Who New Adventures books, Ace (the companion from the eighties) steals Bernice's (archaeologist from the future, specializing in the late 20th century) notebook and spends the day laughing herself silly.
- In the Doctor Who New Series Adventures novel The Coming of the Terraphiles by Michael Moorcock, the Terraphiles are Old Earth enthusiasts who base their understanding of Old Earth entirely on a selection of 1930s British "Boy's Own" adventure novels. Their Renaissance Festival is based around a game called Whackit, which combines cricket with archery (one of the books was The Adventures of Robin Hood).
- A timeline of the history of the galaxy presented in The Dune Encyclopedia, a companion text to the book series by Frank Herbert, provides a distorted description of Earth history as seen from the perspective of that era. The "Galactic Empire" is described as being founded by Alexander the Great, its capital moving several hundred years later to Rome, then Madrid, then London, then to Washington as the result of a civil war. The "House of Washington" was the first to use "stone burners", i.e. atomic weapons.
- Stilgar in Dune Messiah did not understand why "Emperor" Hitler was considered so historically significant, having killed "only" a few dozen millions of people.
- Which is weird, considering how many characters in the series have access to the memories of their ancestors and predecessors (in Duniverse terms, "Other Memory"). The Bene Gesserit, who form the vast majority of those with access to Other Memory, consider written history to be fallible and little better than fiction (see Written by the Winners). Why bother studying it or recording it, when the Reverend Mothers can remember it as though it happened to them? As Emperor Leto II writes in his journals after discussing an ancestor's conquests in ancient Israel and Babylon:
LETO II: Does anyone remember these names and places now? I have given you enough clues: Try to name the planet.
- "House of Steel", which was eventually defeated when the House of Washington managed to outproduce it industrially. Sounds like an odd name for the USSR, until you realize that "Man of Steel" was the translation of the name for its most infamous ruler, Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili. You may know him better as Josef Stalin.
- It's even Justified as to how such an advanced society could be so ignorant about its past: the earliest historical event that is recorded in great detail is the Butlerian Jihad, where humanity revolted against and banned the use of "Thinking Machines". Given how many records even today are electronically stored, it's not unthinkable that a massive amount of historical records were lost when computer technology was purged from society.
- House Atreides takes its name from supposedly being descended from Atreus, father of Agamemnon and Menelaus of Greek myth. Needless to say, they were not actually real people.
- The Eschaton Series: In Iron Sunrise Rachel Mansour reflects on the 20th century: "a time populated by women in bonnets and ballooning skirts, men in backward baseball caps and plus-fours, zeppelins and jumbos circling overhead".
- In Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt, a future civilization studies the religious monuments of the past. Highways. They must have been of great spiritual significance, because the ancestors built them everywhere. They even call our civilization the "Roadmakers".
- Alfred Bester's "The Flowered Thundermug" is a story about a future where the entire world was rebuilt from the only area left intact after a nuclear war — Hollywood.
- In Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels, the Empire's inhabitants don't even know what planet humans evolved on. Not only that, but there are those who scoff at the idea of humanity having come from a single planet at all, convergent evolution being the preferred model of Imperial philosophers. Amusingly, one of the few scholars who does believe in Earth That Was, and has pieced together clues about the planet from fragments of myth and legend, includes brontosaurs and orcs on a reconstructed list of its dangerous wildlife.
- Crossing over with Shrouded in Myth, the Christian cross in Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue is known as "The Worship Object". Because of The Ruin, all knowledge has been lost about it to the community, but the citizens, knowing that it was important in the past, worship it out of sheer respect.
- In Charles Stross' Glasshouse the setting and catalyst for the plot is an experimental society based on the era before the Acceleration the knowledge of which is lost, having been stored on fragile and/or incompatible media. The idea being to use what is known to make a convincing simulation and study the interactions of its residents to fill in the rest. Naturally, there are obvious (to us today) inconsistencies.
- Harry Potter doesn't exactly have this in the future, so to speak, but the way the wizards address Muggle inventions is the same. Conversely, several offhand comments throughout the books suggest that Muggle history is wildly wrong, as the Ministry and its predecessors have been modifying memories to maintain the masquerade for centuries.
- Arthur C. Clarke's short story History Lesson shows the world in a post-nuclear future where Venusian reptiles only find one last relic of human evolution. They discover how to use it and we as readers realize it's a piece of film. The Venusians are amazed by what they see appearing on the screen, nothing but a violent successions of events that they can't make heads or tails of: "... for no one now would ever read the lost language of Earth. Millions of times in the ages to come those last few words would flash across the screen, and none could ever guess their meaning: A Walt Disney Production."
- In Michael Moorcock's The History of the Runestaff novels, "Granbretan's" leading playwright has chronicled memories of World War II in his works "Chirshil and Adulf" and "King Staleen" ("King and court alike corrupt...") Later, we are told that the gods of the Dark Empire of Granbretan include the quartet of Jhone, Jhorg, Phowl and Rungah, and the great "Aral-Vilsn" and his sons Skveeze and Blansacredid, "the ancient words for doom and chaos". Possibly these are Anvilicious politico-economic sniping.
- A somewhat milder version is used in Honor Harrington, where different planets retained different things in the transition from Earth to the "present" of the books. For example, Honor, while on Grayson, spots a large group of men walking through a park with wooden clubs and immediately assumes they are an angry mob (there has been much political and social tension of late, and an outbreak of mob violence is unpleasantly likely). She is about to call in her police forces when Andrew LaFollet points out they are just playing baseball, and those are just bats, not clubs. She has never heard of baseball, and asks if it is at all like golf, which Andrew has never heard of, and they spend a few minutes going back and forth, each comparing one sport to a different sport that the other has never heard of. In another book, William Alexander is visiting Grayson and remarks on how novel Iced Tea is, and how he is looking forward to introducing it at his next dinner party back on Manticore, while his older brother (Hamish Alexander) is impressed with the buttery-goodness of waffles, which he thinks compare quite favorably with the pancakes of Manticore. However, there is some information that has been lost to both cultures, as it seems that nobody can figure out just what a "movie" is, even though they know for a fact that at least one copy of Seven Samurai was brought on the original colony ship to Grayson. A humorous example comes from people who grew up on a space station and among other things believe that the people of old Earth used to believe in the Dollar, a boogieman responsible for ... a lot of problems that money has caused, but interpreted as daemonic possession rather than just the problems of capitalism. In another short story (also by Eric Flint), a Havenite secret agent is apparently unaware of what a dollar is... despite their country being at war with Manticore, whose currency is the Manticoran Dollar.
- The Hyperion Cantos does this very subtly. The Leader of the Earth Hegemony frequently steals her best lines from speeches made by Winston Churchill, and this is lampshaded more than once. However, the one time Hitler is mentioned, the listener doesn't recognize the name, and he's then described as "An Earth-politician who sold a lot of books no one actually read."
- ... who (Mark Twain) actually uses this trope himself, in The Innocents Abroad, where he speculates what will become of Ulysses S. Grant "in the Encyclopedia for A. D. 5868, possibly":
"URIAH S. (or Z.) GRAUNT—popular poet of ancient times in the Aztec provinces of the United States of British America. Some authors say flourished about A. D. 742; but the learned Ah-ah Foo-foo states that he was a contemporary of Scharkspyre, the English poet, and flourished about A. D. 1328, some three centuries after the Trojan war instead of before it. He wrote 'Rock me to Sleep, Mother.'"
- Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality stories often contain throwaway references to knowledge that filtered down imperfectly from our times. The Instrumentality is headquartered, for instance, in a Terran city called Meeya Meefla — so called because nobody can remember what the original pronunciation of 'MIAMI FLA.' was.
- Similar to the page quote, in the Island in the Sea of Time trilogy by S.M. Stirling, an academically-trained character shocks the others by informing them that within fifty or a hundred years, no-one will believe that the island really came back through time, no matter how well records are preserved: everyone will be scrambling to figure out theories that "prove" 20th century Nantucket developed by itself in the Bronze Age.
- In Kris Longknife: Defiant, Tom Lien starts playing "March of Cambreadth" by Heather Alexander over speakers as part of the communications encryption. The song came out in 1997 in real life but some of the characters think it has to be a lot older than that since it mentions horse cavalry, swords, shields, and axes.
- Older Than Radio Edgar Allan Poe is sometimes credited as the first modern, sci-fi use of this trope, in the short story "Mellonta Tauta", presented as a journal from the year 2848. The journal's writer details her conversations with a historian and her world's concept of ancient history, based on wildly inaccurate and overly literal interpretations of present day records: among other things, they think silk was made from earthworms that ate mulberries, that a Turkish philosopher named Aries Tottle invented science, and that America was founded by warring tribes of cannibals.
- Mirabile is set on a colony world that has societies, such as the Australian Guild and the Texan Guild, which seek to resurrect and preserve the language and traditions of an Earth cultural group. They're working from written and filmed records rather than actual members of the group in question, so the results tend to be The Theme Park Version at best. The chapter "Getting the Bugs Out" has a subplot involving a guild that's come across the expression "bats in the belfry" and got the impression that this is a necessary element of the Gothic-style cathedral they're building.
- Mortal Engines: An early scene in the first book mentions an exhibit in London's museum featuring plastic statues of Mickey and Pluto, "animal-headed gods of lost America". Also several other examples, such as theories that those ancient heaps of rubbish they sometimes dig up were actually places where people would sacrifice valuables — as who would throw away such fantastically thin metal sheets of tinfoil? At the end of the series, a flash-forward reveals that in the far future, people don't believe that the central premise of the setting (mobile cities "eating" one another) ever happened and treat it as a story for children.
- The Mote in God's Eye is set in the 31st century. While professional historians still have some understanding of Earth's past, most people see historical figures like Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson, and Lenin as legendary heroes, all of whom lived at about the same time (i.e. during the "pre-Atomic age"). It's noted that the captain of a starship called the Lenin has no idea what Communism was actually about, despite being an aficionado of Russian culture.
- David Macaulay's Motel of the Mysteries is the story of a group of far-future quasi-Victorian archaeologists who uncover the buried remains of a 20th-Century American motel under a hundred feet of civilization's accumulated trash and decide that it's a sacred burial site. In a parody of contemporary archeological discoveries, the toilet and the television are considered to be the holiest of artifacts, given their apparent place of honor.
- Played for Drama in Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, where historical records are actually altered by the ministry of truth to make the Party look good. They say they invented the airplane, for one thing. The protagonist still remembers the time when they only claimed to have invented the helicopter... and predicts they'll soon be saying they invented the steam engine. They also say that Droit du Seigneur was practiced by Industrial Age capitalists.
- The sequel series to The Obsidian Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey has folk tales about the characters in the first trilogy that are so blatantly inaccurate (or in some cases, just plain made up) that one has to wonder if the historians of Kellen's time period even tried to write down what was going on. Made more blatant than usual, despite the centuries long time skip between the trilogies, by the fact that due to the longevity of elves, several of the people in those stories were still alive (and for some reason had made no attempt to correct the histories).
- In The Outrider series by Richard Harding, someone sees a large sign near the ruins of Las Vegas advertising KINO CRAPS SLOTS and assumes it's a public insult directed at a guy named Kino.
- In Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, the time-viewing device was specifically invented to avert this and allow historians to see history with their own eyes. One of them actually used it to find remains of Atlantis, which also ties into the myth of the Great Flood. Also, that historian tries to justify slavery as a better alternative to human sacrifice. This theory meets resistance from a woman descended from African-American slaves.
- Third Earth (Earth in the early 51st Century AD) in The Pendragon Adventure inverts this. As one character put it, they "know everything about everyone and everything they ever did."
- In Peter Ackroyd's The Plato Papers, set in the far future, the eponymous character is a Socratic orator as well as a student and teacher of history. He specializes in studying our own age, which he loves to expound on. Most of the works of the great author Charles Dickens have been lost, except one: the novel The Origin of Species brilliantly satirizes the attitudes of the time while pretending to talk about natural phenomena. Most of what they know about the past land of "America" comes from a volume Tales and Histories retrieved from a casket labeled "E. A. Poe. American. 1809-1849". They believe that the inscription stands for "Eminent American Poet", indicating that "Poet" was a title given to historians as well as the writers of verse. It was a gloomy age— corroborated by other information that people of our time were obsessed with "webs" and "nets". They also uncovered an (ancient to them, far future to us) statue of a goddess inscribed with a map of the London Underground, from a time when the city of London was worshiped as a deity (none of this gives away any plot, by the way). The book works the other way around, as well, showing how different our conception of "reality" is from what is known in this far future time.
- In Donald Kingsbury's novel Psychohistorical Crisis the inhabitants of the Galactic Empire thousands of years in the future have a legend stating that slavery ended on Earth when the slave Lincoln went up to Mount Sinai to receive the Magna Carta from God. They also believe the Empire invented the metric system and had to force it on Earth. Oddly, they know a considerable amount about Sumerian culture because the stone tablets they wrote on have lasted much longer than the books and discs that we recorded our information on.
- In Rangers At Roads End, it is known that in the past, people were more diverse and there were, for example, blondes and readheads and a greater variation of skintones. However, this knowledge is controlled by the religious authorities, and they don't make it widely known as they would then have to admit that the depictions in the temple (that show the Elder-Ones with green or blue skin and the like) are wrong.
- Deliberately invoked in Michael Resnick's future history novels where characters in (chronologically) later novels often display mistaken/imperfect/misbegotten ideas about "historical" events that took place in earlier books.
- Return from the Stars has the protagonist attend a theatre play 127 years in future, set in what is roughly present day. He comments that they got the customs and clothing of that period wrong. Note that, due to a huge overhaul in human psychology (a forceful treatment that removes all aggressive impulses instilled in every man's early childhood), the "old times" but a hundred years ago are even more incomprehensible for the future Earth-folk than Medieval times are for us.
- In the post-apocalyptic world of Riddley Walker all that remains of history is a confused mish-mash of (not very much) actual history, symbolicaly interpreted scientific theory, and the legend of St Eustace. One of the characters tries to interpret a surviving text, but is mostly wrong...
- Not set in the future, but similar: in Rutherford's Sarum, a medieval scholar teaches his student that England had two great kings in centuries past. One was King Arthur, and the other was Old King Cole. Could be Truth in Television, depending on how feeble the state of knowledge actually was at the time. There is a theory that the nursery rhyme "Old King Cole" does commemorate a real king, probably a Celtic leader called Coel, sometimes identified as Emperor Constantine the Great's father-in-law. So it's not quite as mad as it sounds...
- In The Saxon Stories, Uhtred is frequently confused by Roman remains, and in particular their statuary and mosaics. He comes to the conclusion that, in Roman times, they had giant cockleshells and fish people.
The floor of the hall was one of the intricate Roman tiled floors, this one depicting warriors hailing a chieftain who stood in a chariot being pulled by two swans and a fish. Maybe life was different in those days.
- Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan features a man who claims to have the ability to see the future. Someone writes an article where he claims to have met this man and was told that in the year 10 million, all historical events from the year 0 A.D. to 1 million A.D. will be forgotten. Instead, history textbooks would read: Following the death of Jesus Christ, there was a period of readjustment that lasted for approximately one million years. (The actual person in question is amused by the fabrication.)
- The World of Jack Chalker's Soul Rider series has several examples of this. In one case, the secret holy name of Firbasforten passed on by the Holy Mother Church is actually the colony's original designation, "Forward Fire Base Fourteen". This also tends to happen a lot in World's religious practices; the original tradition of looking up at the sky to pray (in part because Muslims among the original colonists couldn't agree on which direction Mecca would be) eventually evolved into the Mother Church's believers praying to the brightest non-solar object in that sky as their Goddess. The object is actually a nearby gas giant.
- In Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat series, the long-lost ancestral home of humanity is referred to as "Earth, or maybe Dirt". They're not all that convinced about the claim, either.
- In the tie-in novel to the canceled game Starcraft: Ghost, Nova is noted to have learned that it was the Germans who performed the Kamikaze attacks back in WWII. Justified in that she lives on a Lost Colony and the ships that brought them there had faulty data banks. Furthermore, the colonists also took King Kong (1933) too literally, leading to the belief that giant apes exist on Earth.
- Starship Troopers (the novel, not the movie):
- Ramon Magsaysay, is identified as, amongst other things,note having married Cleopatra.
- There's also a joke in the Mobile Infantry where a Trooper visits Napoleon's grave and asks the guard who that is. The guard tells the trooper that Napoleon is the greatest soldier who ever lived, prompting the trooper to ask him where his drops were.
- Justified in both cases by the protagonist 1) pulling the leg of a non-Filipino squadmate and 2) showing signs of being a Snark Knight.
- The Sword of the Spirits trilogy by John Christopher is apparently set in a medieval society that's arisen after a nuclear war has caused machine technology to be banned. It's later revealed that the disaster was caused by an increase of radiation from a Solar Flare Disaster; the descendents only assumed this as the surviving literature all spoke of fear of nuclear armageddon.
- In The Tenth Planet, set 5,000 years in the future, one character recites "The legend of the Jesus Freak", a garbled and mish-mashed version of Christian beliefs, which included, among other things, "The Jesus Freak" resurrecting by giving himself a brain transplant.
- Averted in Timeline, where the resident Medievalist does get some things wrong when they travel back in time, but is also right on nearly everything else and is virtually able to pass as a local.
- Time Machine Series: An ancient version in The Mystery of Atlantis — it turns out that the tale of Atlantis is the warped account of the cataclysmic volcano eruption on Crete.
- A twisted version in Henry Hazlitt's Time Will Run Back (revised edition of THE GREAT IDEA). In the global Communist dictatorship of Wonworld (sic), ritualized denunciations of "capitalism" continue, but the records of the past have been so thoroughly censored that nobody remembers just what capitalism actually was or how it worked. Here it is deliberate policy by the dictatorship, which has expurgated even the works of Marx and Lenin as insurance that nobody will be able to use them to reconstruct capitalism. So when the hero hits on the great insight — PRIVATE OWNERSHIP of the means of production — he has no idea that this is the dread capitalism.
- In the Uglies series, schools do not necessarily teach children the exact truth of human history. This is subverted in Diego, though.
- Void Dogs has its share of Future Imperfect gags, such as the claim that The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer "was first told by an Irishman, as called himself MacTwain."
- Justified in the Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel, Prospero Burns. The protagonist notes that this is happening at an alarming rate all over the young Imperium, due to the cataclysmic event of Old Night (and the increasing dominance of monolithic bureaucracy. The organization he set up is intended to counter this very trope. It isn't working too well; another character mentions that it must be working because they have managed to recover copies of all three of Shackspire's plays.
- In Unremembered Empire, "Shackspire" is again mispronounced, this time as "Shakespire", and Hamlet gets translated as Amulet.
- Almost Truth in Television; spelling was not standardised in Shakespeare's time, so there isn't really a "correct" spelling. Between six known signatures written by Shakespeare himself, there are five different spellings, none of which are the modern one.
- Done In-Universe in the Gaunt's Ghosts novel Blood Pact. The historians at Balhaut think that Gaunt died liberating it.
'As with Slaydo, the places where the heroes fell. Captain Menhort of the Kolstec "Hammers", Gaunt of the Hyrlkans and, of course, Alltenis.'
'What?' asked Gaunt.
'Did you say Gaunt?' asked Jaume.
' Gaunt, the Commissar of the Hyrlkans,' said the docent. 'He died taking down the Tower.'
Gaunt looked back at his companions.
' Honestly, I didn't,' he whispered.
'No one remembers anything properly. Everything gets twisted and forgotten.'
- Robert Nathan's The Weans has future anthropologists give the eponymous name to the (now lost) American civilization, because all their most important artefacts are stamped with the word "US". Accounts of the Nacirema tribe are in a similar vein.
- The present time of the Wheel of Time series has apparently muddled up what little they remember of past ages. In one book Thom talks with Elayne about this trope, providing in story examples of likely false history and states that for all they know he could be remembered as The Chosen One instead of Rand, and be a fireball-throwing wizard. His last name is Merrilin. This is a large-ish theme and plot point: since time is cyclical, the events of the novels are both our far future (several references to the age before the Age of Legends appear to be garbled versions of 20th century events such as the Cold War and the moon landing) and distant past, being the basis of several of our oldest stories (mostly Arthurian legends and Norse mythology).
- In William R. Forstchen's Wing Commander novels, a few references indicate that the Kilrathi take certain movie stars to have been the people they portrayed in their films (if memory serves, they think John Wayne was actually a cowboy) although there is some confusion about why the "historical evidence" (movies) is so self-contradictory. Additionally, they think Bugs Bunny is some kind of important figure, and sometimes insult him in an attempt to taunt human pilots, much to the amusement of the humans. Possibly a Historical In-Joke about World War II, where much of the English-language propaganda radio targeting American servicemen was considered so ham-handedly bad as to be legitimately funny listening.
- The Babylon 5 episode "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars" illustrates the far-reaching consequences of the Interstellar Alliance's actions.
- One hundred years in the future, there's a revisionist movement to clear President Clark's name, and Sheridan's actions are severely downplayed at best. Fortunately, Delenn's still alive to smack some sense into everyone.
- Another four hundred years later, the local Earth government has created computer simulations of several main characters in order to justify seceding from the Interstellar Alliance, and annexing nearby colonies. It doesn't go to plan.
- A thousand years after the main story, the Earth has spent five hundred years recovering from its attempts in the previous segment, and is slowly recovering, with disguised help. This segment is specifically inspired by the above-mentioned A Canticle for Liebowitz.
- Inverted at the end of the episode, where it turns out that people a million years in the future have a solid grasp of what's come before, and the above instances of history being remembered wrongly are merely being cataloged.
- Blake's 7. In "Bounty", a Fan of the Past thinks that Earth's 20th Century was a more civilized age and proudly shows off his 'authentic residence' of that era (actually a 19th Century folly).
- A standing joke in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, in which a bemused Buck was constantly having to explain to eminent archeologists that a recently unearthed 20th century hair dryer isn't a prototype hand laser, or some such.
- In Come Back Mrs. Noah, even though it's only 20 Minutes into the Future, Ringo Starr is mis-identified as the inventor of the telephone.
- The Australian sketch comedy series The Comedy Company featured a parody of David Attenborough who used this trope (played for humour of course) when examining modern society.
- CP & Qwikstitch was a British kids show from 1985 about two robots from planet Junkus Minor, where all the broken machines from the galaxy ended up. Much of the humor of the series was them misinterpreting the use for the broken devices they found.
- Two Clip Show episodes of Dinosaurs are framed by a modern-day paleontologist explaining nature documentary-style what various items they dug up were for back in the Triassic period, followed by clips showing what was really happening.
- A few examples in Doctor Who:
- This is what first draws Barbara's attention to "An Unearthly Child", Susan, in the first episode: the fact that she keeps disagreeing with her version of history while messing up contemporary facts. At one point we see her looking through a history textbook and exclaiming: "But that's all wrong!" Amusingly, her firm assertion that British currency hasn't gone decimal yet actually did indeed come to pass less than a decade later.
- In "The Mysterious Planet", the Three Books of Knowledge are The Water Babies, a British children's book; Moby-Dick; and a UK public information volume about geese.
- In "The End of the World", Cassandra confuses a dragon and an ostrich and misidentifies a jukebox as an iPod. She has an excuse, though... "The End of the World" is set in the year five billion. It seems at first to make her look like an idiot, though depending on how well history has been maintained, she might've done well to hit the right century.
- There's another one in "Voyage of the Damned", where the tourist guide Mr. Copper explains Christmas to the guests. In the country of UK, ruled over by King Wenceslas, there's a savage and violent holiday devoted to the great god Santa, a fearsome creature with terrible claws. (And his wife Mary.) And every Christmas Eve, the people of UK go to war with the people of Turkey, and then eat the Turkey people for Christmas dinner. Later in the episode, it's revealed that his first-class degree in Earthonomics was actually from the alien equivalent of a diploma mill. The interstellar cruise ship they're travelling on is named (like all ships on that run) for an historical Earth vessel, but everyone on board has forgotten why the Titanic was historically significant until the Doctor reminds them.
- In "Silence in the Library", the Doctor sarcastically invokes this when he realises just what sort of expedition he's dealing with.
The Doctor: Oh, you're not, are you? Tell me you're not archaeologists?
River: Got a problem with archaeologists?
The Doctor: I'm a time traveller, I point and laugh at archaeologists!
- According to "The Time of Angels", the Doctor likes to visit museums to keep score with their historians, and he is shown doing so by looking at museum displays saying "Wrong... wrong... wrong..."
- The Goodies. In "2001 And A Bit", the sons of the Goodies assume the Lords Cricket Ground was used for sun worship. While searching through the ruins they throw away some old urn full of ashes and use a cricket box for a hat.
- In an episode of Phil of the Future, Phil's parents (from the 22nd century) attempt to drive a present-day car and are pulled over by a cop for speeding. They originally thought the flashing police lights were just an accessory that he was showing off and when they finally stopped, the cop asked Phil's dad: "Have you been drinking?" Phil's Dad cheerfully answers "yes" though he was referring to his soda. Really, about half of the jokes in the early part of the series was about how clueless the family is about the present, such as mentioning things that hadn't been invented yet, or trying to prove to Phil's teacher he is normal by having a dinner straight out the fifties.
- Planet of the Apes (TV Series) had the apes occasionally misinterpret human relics they found. The second episode had conclude that their (ape) ancestors must have been excellent metal-workers but while their work was very advanced, the use to which they put the metal was primitive. He then presented a golf club which he described as, "beautiful workmanship, but so inefficient for combat."
- In Red Dwarf:
- Holly identifies Plato as the inventor of the plate, while Rimmer thinks that Columbo discovered America and calls Marilyn Monroe "Mary Magdalene". However, this might be because Holly's computer-senile and Rimmer is an idiot, rather than because it's the future. Holly also loves practical jokes.
- There is a cat race that evolved from Lister's pet cat over some 3 million years. They based their culture and religious beliefs on such oddities as Lister's laundry list (which they believed to be a star map). Also, based on Lister's plan to go to Fiji, they look forward to when Cloister the Stupid will return and bring them all to the promised land, Fuschal.
- In one episode, Lister confuses René Descartes with Popeye and manages to confuse Kryten as well. This is definitely a case of stupidity, though, as Rimmer knows the difference between the two.
- In the episode "Tikka To Ride", they find themselves in Dallas in 1963. Lister asks if this is the place where "that American king was assassinated — what was his name?" Rimmer: "JFK." Lister: "No, it was John something — not Jeff Kay!"
- In a 1970s Saturday Night Live sketch spoofing Star Trek, the Starship Enterprise is chased down by a car containing executives coming to cancel the show. Spock, played by Chevy Chase, runs a search on the license plate and finds out the car was owned by a corporation known as "NBC":
Spock: The computer isn't sure, but it thinks this "NBC" used to manufacture cookies.note
- In an episode of Sliders, the gang lands on an Earth that has undergone "some kind of time warp" (they don't explain it any better than that) and find 1920s-style archeologists excavating modern-day sites. One of them finds an ordinary beer mug and believes it to be a ceremonial chalice, another is mystified at the sight of a parking meter. Strangely, when the archeologist guesses that the site dates back to the Renaissance, one character probes him if he means the 1600s. The archeologist confirms this. This somehow means that modern-day culture took place at the same time as the cultural revival on our world. Also, Rembrandt is treated as a religious figure by the locals, who have preserved his memorabilia and built a shrine in his name.
- In an episode of Smallville, they get a visit from the Legion of Super-Heroes. Despite being major fans of Superman and most info about Superman being public knowledge in their time, they get confused that Clark Kent doesn't meet most of their expectations. They thought he was already using the costume and Superman name, knew how to fly, and was willing to kill. Also, while they know about Clark's important friends like Lana Lang, Pete Ross, and Lois Lane, they've somehow never heard of Chloe Sullivan, even though she's his sidekick. This is probably a reference to how Sullivan is a Canon Foreigner.
- In Space: Above and Beyond, a group of recruits on a training expedition on Mars are repairing a communications array when they happen to check out the "sounds of Earth" message included for the benefit of any aliens finding an off-planet installation. Among the snippets is the song "Blitzkrieg Bop", by the Ramones. One of the recruits mentions that he's heard this one in his history studies, identifying it as being a song by "The Pink Floyd".
- The possible tendency toward assuming something is religious in nature is referenced and lampshaded in an early episode of Stargate SG-1. Upon finding a village that is empty, with food still hot on the cooker, archaeologist Daniel Jackson mentions he thinks they might have left for a religious ceremony. Jack O'Neill goes, "Why is it always about religion with you? Maybe they just went to a swap meet" note
- Star Trek: Oddly enough, one of the most perfect futures of all seems to fall into this trope at times. Characters often display a glaring degree of ignorance as to the workings of 20th century (or prior) Earth.
- This is particularly notable in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Big Goodbye", which introduces the Holodeck, where even the ship's resident Red Shirt Historian is shown to be fairly clueless about how a 1930s era American city works.
- Made even worse by the fact that Kirk and Spock had at least outline knowledge of 1920's Chicago in the TOS episode A Piece of the Action (with Spock specifically mentioning the effects of gang warfare on 20th-century Chicago's infrastructure) and a book on Chicago gangsters of the era was in print at most a hundred years prior to that episode. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy also seem to have a decent working knowledge of the era in The City on the Edge of Forever (along with access to an artifact that could clarify any discrepancies just by asking). Was the knowledge somehow lost in the century between Kirk and Picard?
- Whoever made the holodeck program had it spot-on. It's more likely the Enterprise just wasn't carrying anybody who was an expert in that period of time.
- Picard, has a hard time describing automobiles and even city blocks when recounting his experiences on the holodeck to his crew. This is doubly nonsensical since not only do cities still exist on earth (and presumably on other planets the crew visits) but Picard is shown repeatedly to be an avid history buff with knowledge of Earth's past going back much further than the 1930s.
- In First Contact, which unusually does this to events that are in the past from the perspective of the crew, but our future (the 2060s). This crosses over with Shrouded in Myth, as it turns out that the much-idolized architect of warp drive, Zefram Cochrane, built the drive purely to make money, rather than out of some higher dreams or ideals (though of course, given the post-apocalyptic Crapsack World he lived in, he could be forgiven — and Cochrane himself had more trouble accepting the dissonance between who he really was and how the future would remember him, than did Enterprise's crew). Of course, he eventually became one of the key figures in humanity's getting itself back together, presumably influenced by the effects of first contact.
- In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Take Me Out To The Holosuite", Sisko has the senior staff play baseball on the holosuite. O'Brien decides to get into the spirit of things and researches the concept, only to find a traditional snack that had since passed into antiquity: chewing gum. Of course, he flavored it with Scotch. Thus successfully combining two classic baseball traditions: chewing gum, and getting blitzed out of your head either during the game, or immediately after your team wins or loses.
- In the two-part Star Trek: Voyager episode "Future's End", Voyager gets sent back in time to Los Angeles, 1996. An astronomer (a fresh-off-SNL Sarah Silverman, oddly enough) picks up the ship on her instruments and sends a greeting to the aliens she assumes are on board. Tom Paris, who treats twentieth-century culture as a hobby, is sent to smooth the situation over. He tells her that he and his colleague are secret agents, and then:
Rain Robinson: The UFO, what is it?
Tom Paris: It's a Soviet spy satellite. Part of a massive KGB operation. We're trying to stop it.
Rain Robinson: Soviet? The USSR broke up five years ago. The KGB doesn't even exist anymore.
Tom Paris: That's what they'd like you to think.
- This is also lampshaded by Rain.
Rain: You keep calling yourselves "secret agents", but nobody says "secret agents" anymore. You're always not quite getting things just quite right. It's as if you don't belong to this time period.
- In "Living Witness", a copy of the Doctor is activated in the (even more) distant future by an alien society that had a conflict with Voyager as it passed nearby ages earlier. In a mix of this trope and Politically Correct History, the aliens interpreted fragmented records of the time so as to vilify Voyager's crew (the Doctor is an emotionless android, Seven forms her own mini-Borg collective, and Captain Janeway wears black gloves), imagining them as a band of bloodthirsty pirates and describing Voyager as a heavily-armed warship — because this let them interpret their own history more favourably. It is up to the Doctor to dig up historical evidence and clear the names of his long-dead crew-mates. It is later revealed that most of the episode is itself a historical record. After a second war, the members of the now combined civilization mention how The Doctor eventually set out for Earth on his own, since he wanted to see if his friends ever made it back. They did.
- The TNG episode titled "Future Imperfect" ironically doesn't display this trope, instead being a Faked Rip Van Winkle.
- The prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise features the NX-01, the first Starfleet vessel to bear the name Enterprise, which NO ONE remembers in the future. (Technically, it was before the founding of Starfleet.)
- As SF Debris points out, Brannon Braga in particular really tended to overplay the trope, like the Voyager episode where a 20th century truck is discovered floating in space, and Tom starts looking in it for "something called a key", despite keys still existing. He also has to explain what AM radio is to a science officer.
- In general, it's implied that at least some of the reason various Star Trek crews have trouble understanding the past is because Good Cannot Comprehend Evil. The future is so Utopic, with a lack of any crime, want or prejudice, that it can be hard to grasp a time when these things were everywhere. Depending on the Writer, at least. One episode of TNG had the crew utterly baffled by the behavior of a fairly-typical group of cryogenically unfrozen people from the present, in a later one the entire crew is able to easily infiltrate 1890 San Fransisco (Even Data!).
- This is particularly notable in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Big Goodbye", which introduces the Holodeck, where even the ship's resident Red Shirt Historian is shown to be fairly clueless about how a 1930s era American city works.
- There's a That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch about an After the End quiz show devoted to trying to interpret the few remaining shreds of human culture. Questions include "What was water?" and "What is the name of this pre-event leader?" while displaying a picture of comedian Eric Morecambe. Prizes include 'fuel' and a traffic cone, named as 'we don't know, but they're everywhere'. Strangely, it is mentioned twice that "the Event" happened only about two and a half years prior. Of course it's also mentioned that many people were blinded by the event, everyone takes regular medications, and sex is now very difficult because of all the vomiting. The Event messed people up in a lot of different ways.
- One episode of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme has a guided tour of a reconstruction of a Tesco Metro, with a rebuilt self-service till that talks in a mixture of Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe, Totally Radical, and CB slang. The guide also says the store employed small children as "shelf monkeys", and compliments a time traveller from 1908 for his authentic 21st century costume.
- Due to a major loss of information and technology in general over the centuries, many people in the BattleTech universe see the era of the Star League as a golden age of humanity, whereas in reality it was (for the Periphery, at least) a time of bloody crackdowns on colony rebellions and bossing around of smaller states. The five Successor States actually did have it pretty good during the Star League. Strangely, everyone has unusually good understanding of pre-spaceflight Terran history, to the point where the press of a Successor State with no ties to the United States chooses to compare a military commander to Stonewall Jackson instead of a more recent general.
- Cyberpunk 203X takes places after a worldwide data crash in which historical documents were fragmented or plain lost, letting younger people to believe "Richard Nixon, instead of resigning over Watergate, committed suicide on camera and that memes such as the moon landing being hoaxed become prevalent", among other things.
- Diana: Warrior Princess and Elvis: The Legendary Tours. Each game is supposedly an RPG based on a popular adventure drama set in the 20th Century, which had all the historical accuracy that Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys display towards Greek antiquity, while the RPG has about the same relation to the modern reality that Dungeons & Dragons has to medieval Europe.
- The role-playing game Paranoia, which takes place After the End in a dystopian domed city ruled by a paranoid supercomputer, features a secret society called "The Romantics", whose view of human history is a mish-mash of mixed-up bits from actual history and pop culture (for example, they believe Gandalf built Stonehenge). Also, the Communist secret society, who, through their mishmashed view of history, are convinced that Communism consists of Yakov Smirnoff jokes, bad Russian accents, pictures of Groucho Marx, and the music of John Lennon. The GM notes reveal that with some rare exceptions, the Communists are just a collection of guys who figured "If the Computer hates Communism so much, it must be good!" and then tried to branch out their knowledge from there. In the adventure Alice Through the Mirrorshades, the characters are sent through time into the era that the Romantics dream about. It happens to be the world of Cyberpunk 2020.
- Warhammer 40,000: Some in the Imperium know about the "Old Age of Earth", but their information is sketchy. Cities such as Atlantys and Nova Yourk are cited as being the most legendary and ancient cities of Old Earth. Nations known as Jermani, Merica, Britania and Bania are said by scholars to have prospered and wilted during this time, while some tech-priests believe that ancient humans had to contend with orcs and brontosaurs and used enormous insects called onagers as beasts of burden. Given that they have only very general records of the founding of the Imperium in the 31st millennium, it's fairly impressive that they even know Earth is the original human homeworld. Virtually everything between those tidbits and the rise of the Empire is entirely lost.
- Someone did forget that Holy Terra is the original human homeworld: the Horus Heresy novels show Horus conquering for the Imperium a world whose emperor claimed his homeworld was the actual Earth and tried to force him to submit. Horus slayed him personally.
- They do retain some basic information concerning one of the ends of the world — "Yndonesia" was a major player in one of the wars, that warriors clad in "thunder armor" were involved, and a few other details.
- Presumably this wasn't a huge issue, since the Emperor could have easily corrected the errors, having been personally involved in many important historical events. Sadly, he isn't currently able to fix any historical errors at the moment...
- The Horus Heresy novels are rife with these. For example, a character reminisces his family's home in Merica, atop a cliff that had the carved faces of ancient kings chiselled into it. Also invoked by Games Workshop when fans complained that the novels didn't match what earlier fluff said happened. GW pointed out that all literature and fluff in 40k is written from an In-Universe perspective and has therefore been filtered through ten thousand years of history. Officially the HH novels are what actually happened.
- In-Universe, a set of toys with the letters CCCP are found in one novel. CCCP stands for "Союз Советских Социалистических Республик", which in English is Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik — Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It is a testament to how much humanity has lost in the WH40K universe that the discovery of the last earthly remnants of a thuggish dictatorship actually feels like a bittersweet triumph to the reader, and the reader still feels sadness that even this fragment of our own age will not be truly known to the characters that perceive it.
- In-universe, Bjorn is a living version of this trope for the Space Wolves and the Imperium as a whole. As one of the oldest living member of the Imperium (implied to be THE oldest) due to being a dreadnought and having walked alongside his Primarch Leman Russ and the Emperor when he was still of flesh and blood, Bjorn is revered by the Chapter for being the last link to the past they have and is often awaken on special days to recount the events of his youth. Unfortunately it's been roughly 10,000 years since he was entombed in a Dreadnought, his memory is heavily muddled and often gives a romanticized version of whatever story he was telling (although he still remembers that the Emperor emphatically did not want to be worshiped).
- The Dark Age of Technology is something of a misnomer — it was actually a Golden Age for humanity, with science allowing much safer Warp travel and living conditions than the modern Imperium. But since the "god" part of God-Emperor wasn't there yet, the Ecclesiarchy makes sure everyone knows it was a horrible, soulless time.
- In the musical 1776, John Adams complains of this:
Adams: It doesn't matter. I won't be in the history books anyway, only you. Franklin did this and Franklin did that and Franklin did some other damn thing. Franklin smote the ground and out sprang George Washington, fully grown and on his horse. Franklin then electrified him with his miraculous lightning rod and the three of them — Franklin, Washington, and the horse — conducted the entire revolution by themselves.
Franklin: I like it.
- Adams' dialogue is only slightly paraphrased from something he wrote in a letter in real life.
- The play Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play is a story set After the End where a group of survivors try re-creating episodes of The Simpsons, "Cape Feare" in particular. In time, live theatrical recreations of the Simpsons becomes a cultural currency and 75 years after the play's start, Cape Feare has become a Creation Myth of the future society with Sideshow Bob and Mr. Burns becoming a Composite Character and devil figure and Springfield having been a paradisical place from before the fall of civilization.
- The post-apocalyptic North America presented in After the End: A Crusader Kings II Mod is very weird. The Americanists literally worship the Founding Fathers as Physical Gods, taking the monuments to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as temples and shrines and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as holy scripture. The Consumerists worship "the Almighty Dollar" and believe the world ended because people didn't worship money enough. The Tribe of the Mouse who control most of Florida worship... Well, guess. Several American football teams like the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Eagles are regarded as mighty warriors who once travelled America celebrated for their physical and combat prowess and now live on as warrior mercenary companies. The British have gone back to their roots as well, red jackets and all, and Americans may once again have to take up arms against them.
- Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow claims that the impending total solar eclipse in Japan on September 2, 2035 will be the first "full" (total?) solar eclipse of the 21st Century. Naturally, that's been false for quite some time now.
- The Time-Traveler from The Cave comes from this sort of future, according to her special stage. In her time, keys (or "smurgs") are theorized to be either religious artifacts or tools for boys to comb their hair with, dinosaurs apparently died just over 10,000 years ago and (much like the Amazon forest-dwelling penguins) had to keep moving to live, buckets (or "rangfusts") are either hats or part of a children's game involving throwing it onto each others' head, and toothbrushes and toasters were powered by the internal combustion engine (or "dynohypernator").
- The Civilopedia in Civilization: Beyond Earth is written from an in-universe perspective as a historical analysis after the events of the game. Combined with the Great Mistake and the whole leaving Earth thing, information about Old Earth is sketchy... at best. Much of it is pure speculation. For example, the discovery of seismic weaponry is attributed to "St. Tesla of Serbia", and the five mythical creatures of Earth are listed as the dragon, the unicorn, the griffin, the chimera and... the llama.
- Dragon Age: Inquisition reveals that what little the Dalish know of Elven history is... off. For instance, the vallaslin they wear on their faces to honor their gods? They're glorified slave brands elven nobility placed on their slaves to honor their gods. It's also revealed that Tevinter did not bring down the Elven Empire. The elves destroyed themselves in a civil war. Tevinter just scavenged the remains.
- In EVE Online the description of the wolf class starship states its named after a mythical animal. Its implied that a variety of other Earth animals are now believed to be mythical as the Caldari's ship naming scheme is based around mythical animals with a few real world animals thrown in the mix.
- In the first game, there's a "City of Lost Angels".
- Fallout 3:
- At one point, you meet a caretaker of an American history museum in Rivet City who has made quite a few mistakes (for one, he thought the Declaration of Independence was flown to Britain on a plane), even with the history that occurred before the game's timeline diverged from real history. This is justified in-universe by the nuclear war, the fact that the best sources of info in the Capital Wasteland are currently overrun with Super Mutants, the Brotherhood or both, and because other groups like the Slavers are actively attempting to destroy historical artifacts for their own ends.
- Goalie Ledoux will, if given a chance, describe ice-hockey as being rumbles between armed raider-like "ice gangs".
- Fallout: New Vegas:
- In Freeside, you'll come across an Elvis-themed gang called the Kings. The Kings actually have absolutely no idea who Elvis really is: when they first discovered a school for Elvis impersonators filled with holotapes, jackets, and a seemingly unlimited supply of hair gel, they concluded that the building was a temple of worship dedicated to some sort of a mystical god (of coolness) and decided to keep his memory alive. In fact, they don't even know Elvis' name since the non-destroyed material they found referred to him only as "the King". But they took to his "teachings" of every man being free and independent to live his life as he wishes, and figure that since there was an entire school dedicated to being more like him before the War, he must have been someone highly respected and worthy of emulating. They're not exactly wrong, as such...
- There's a sidequest where you have to collect fifty bottlecaps with stars on them, rumored by several people around the wasteland to unlock some sort of great treasure. Said "treasure" turns out to be a cheap deputy's badge from an old pre-war promotion. The real treasure is a unique, powerful laser pistol that you can find on a previous winner's body, and thousands of bottle caps that would have been useless before the war.
- In Honest Hearts, the Sorrows tribe worship the "Father in the Caves", a survivalist who aided their tribe by giving their ancestors supplies and books, but never met them in person, always hiding and watching them from afar until his death. When Daniel and Joshua Graham come around and begin preaching Mormonism, the Sorrows misinterpret their teachings to think that the survivalist is God / Joseph, and that his wife and child are Mary and Jesus.
- Ulysses from Lonesome Road is one of the only people alive who actually has some working knowledge of history, which is one reason he doesn't approve of the various factions. Either they are re-using symbols without being aware of the real meaning behind them, or they seek to turn back time and bring back the old world, which Ulysses believes isn't a feasible idea.
- This generally subverted in civilized areas like the New California Republic, and even places like the Mojave Wasteland. Thanks to the presence of intact archives and attempts to recover pre-War artifacts as well as the likes of Mr. House, ghouls and the Vaults, there's some general understanding of what the Old World was like and the period leading up to the Great War, however imperfect said understanding might be.
- Fallout 4: Moe Cronin, the owner of the baseball store in Diamond City, believes that baseball was a Blood Sport in which players would beat each other to death with "swatters". Being a Fish out of Temporal Water, the Sole Survivor is given the option of correcting him and explaining the rules — sounding very irritated about the whole mess. Moe decides he likes his version better. Unbelievable.
- In one Infinite Space cutscene, Gen shares "iced tea" with Yuri, saying he got the recipe from a fragment of a very old book. The drink is steaming hot and bitter. Gen admits the recipe might be missing a step when Yuri asks about this.
- Job Simulator takes place in a distant future where Job Stealing Robots have made human workers obsolete, and one of the past-times available to humans is experiencing virtual recreations of "jobs". These recreations of such jobs as office worker, gourmet chef, convenience store clerk, and automobile mechanic are not very accurate, and mostly an excuse to have you mess around with random objects in each scenario.
- The Legend of Zelda:
- The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker takes place hundreds of years After the End of a prosperous "ancient kingdom" (that is, the Hyrule seen in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time) and as such many of the details of the ancient world have been muddled. For instance, there's legend of treasures at the bottom of the sea called the "Triumph Forks." They turn out to be pieces of the Triforce.
- The Opening Narration of The Wind Waker recounts the legend of the Hero of Time defeating Ganon, and is rife with this. For one, the name of the peaceful and prosperous "ancient kingdom" has been lost to time (it's "Hyrule", of course), and the Hero of Time was an adult when he defeated Ganon (17 years old), not a young boy as the story claims.
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword has the Goron archeologist Gorko speaking of ancient legends of a sky-bound people who live on an island with streets of gold and water that grants youth. Obviously, being a resident, Link knows it's pretty mundane other than the floating land.
- The series overall in regards to the legend of the Master Sword. In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, it's said to have been forged by sages in the distant past, while The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past claims the people of Hyrule did it themselves (though there could be overlap, obviously). The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, again, settles the matter: Link did it himself, with the help of the sword's spirit, Fi.
- Despite surviving a fourth world war, the humans from Machines Wired For War are... absent, considering the machines started terraforming over a thousand years ago and they haven't been heard of since they could all be dead.
- In Mass Effect 3, it's revealed that many quarians actually fought to protect the geth from being exterminated during the Morning War, but were violently cut down by the quarian military. Tali is rather disturbed to discover that her people have revised their own history to strengthen their hatred of the geth and rationalise their attempted genocide.
- Many theories about the Protheans (including Liara's) are shown to be wrong in Mass Effect 3, with the awakening of Javik showing the Protheans to have been Social Darwinist Space Romans. This trope can actually be discussed shortly before Javik's awakening; upon finding the stasis pod, Liara gushes about how the Protheans spread throughout the galaxy and uplifted countless species, intending them to be part of a magnificent galactic community. Shepard has the option to say that her reading sounds far too good to be true, to which Liara will acknowledge that they must have had a formidable military, but basically brushes it off. Her eventual lashing out at Javik after is in no small part because of her dismay at what the Protheans she had spent her life studying and idolising really were, ignited by the discovery that they had extensively manipulated asari prehistory worsening her general Heroic B.S.O.D. caused by the Fall of Thessia.
- The Leviathan DLC's revelations about the origins of the Reapers does this to much of accepted galactic history. Admiral Hackett outright states that the discovery has pretty much rewritten the history books overnight.
- Anna in Metro: Last Light mentions this trope, saying that the next generation of humans living in the post-apocalyptic metro tunnels probably won't know how to operate pre-war trains, while the generations after that will think that trains were built by the gods.
- An archaeologist in a sidequest in Naev thinks that a skateboard you bring him is a religious artifact.
- Inverted in Shin Megami Tensei IV: the hero and his friends are from the medieval kingdom of Mikado. When they arrive in modern-day Tokyo, they're confounded by all of the modern-day items they come across, and the descriptions of them in the item menu are Entertainingly Wrong. For example, they think a computer mouse is some kind of medicine box.
- The Space Bar takes place on an alien planet far in the future. One of its areas is a historical museum in the form of a Wild West bar, with Entertainingly Wrong descriptions for everything. (Did you know, for instance, that diving helmets were used by cowboys to help defend against Indians and Nazis?) The main character even lampshades it at one point, snarkily noting he thinks the bar's creators did about fifteen minutes of research.
- Spaceout Combreak Vadermand: The concept behind the game: A group of archaeologists in the distant future attempt to create a "scientifically-accurate reconstruction of one of the very first forms of electronic entertainment." They mistake fragmented records describing three separate games (Space Invaders, Breakout, and Missile Command) for descriptions of one game. Spaceout Combreak is the result of their efforts. It's surprisingly playable.
- As the Literature section mentioned, this trope pops up occasionally in the background material for StarCraft. Other than the examples with World War II and King Kong (1933), this trope is also the reason why the Terran Confederacy used the "Rebel Flag" as their symbol.
- Superhero League of Hoboken is set an unspecified length of time after "The Great Collapse", and thus things have gotten... strange. For one, George Washington and Johnny Appleseed have gotten conflated, and there's a cult based on Wheel of Fortune.
- The Talos Principle: The inhabitants of Gehenna spend a lot of their time trying to understand how humans thought in the previous era. Though they are able to recreate a lot of human culture, they are limited partly by the restricted library they can access, and also by the fact that as AIs, they lack insight into fundamental human biological processes.
- X: Beyond the Frontier:
- Due to the fact that their progenitors erased all mention of Earth from their histories, the Argon believed Earth a myth whose only propagators were the wacky but harmless Goner fringe sect. They believed this right up to the part where a Terran test pilot named Kyle Brennan got himself marooned in the X-Universe due to the experimental jumpdrive on his ship going haywire.
- Downplayed in the novelization, Farnham's Legend. Elena Kho finds a guitar in a Teladi antiques shop. The owner thinks the instrument is just a piece of visual art; Elena proves him wrong.
- The time travelers in these two Dresden Codak strips.
"If the future did a documentary of the last fifty years, this is how badly their reenactors would dress."
- Inverted in other strips, with the Historical Preenactment Society. Yes, they recreate (if that's the right word) historical events that haven't happened yet, such as robot uprisings. How their accuracy compares to that of more mundane historical reenactment societies is left as an exercise for the reader.
- This Freefall comic takes the idea to its logical extreme with Florence freaking out at the sight of a sparkly Hitler doll.
- Homestuck: Kanaya, after accessing the playthrough for Sburb that Rose planted in the Outer Ring, concludes that a) the session Rose was a part of took place in the very distant past (when, by the timeless nature of the Outer Ring where all universes are "placed", no universe's timeline truly takes place before or after any other's; if anything, the troll universe precedes that of the humans, as the troll session created the human universe.) and b) Rose was herself a troll, and must logically have guarded a Matriorb to spawn a new Mother Grub to propagate her species. This can be considered an inversion, as the trolls' universe and game session, as stated, "happened" millions of years before Rose wrote her walkthrough.
- In My Name Is Might Have Been, most of the Future Imperfect is about classic rock. There is a debate about whether Mick Jagger was a man or a woman, for one.
- This The Perry Bible Fellowship shows how the future might interpret World War II in true Hollywood fashion, although it is perhaps a little exaggerated.
- Schlock Mercenary is set in the far future, and many things are grossly misunderstood (though Gav, a frozen refugee from the 21st century helps). The correct information does exist, and historians mostly get things right, but "common knowledge" is all mixed up with pop culture and legend. One character quotes Shakespeare as "a lie will find the airlock while the truth is still putting on its boots."
Gav: I don't think that was Shakespeare.
Cindy: My reference has a six hundred year authentication stamp.
Gav: Well, my thousand year old brain says Shakespeare didn't know about airlocks.
- Stand Still, Stay Silent: Sigrun thinks plastic books existed back in the Old World. Emil's knowledge on the matter is only slightly better.
- Starslip Crisis features a 35th-century holodrama called The Concrete Universe, a CSI-esque Police Procedural set in 2002. Nearly every detail is anachronistic, with the main characters traveling around in covered wagons and using fingerprint rays and scimitars.
- xkcd gives us the blagofaire, the future's Renaissance Faire, as well as the look at possible troubles with Queen's English during play re-enactments. Forsooth!
- Associated Space has the following exchange as two characters are debating strategy before an upcoming space battle:
Fatebane: Fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of man. Admiral Patton punched right through the Western Wall and sank the Japanese fleet. And that was in the days of triremes? oar-powered ships that couldn't fire back as well as coastal fortresses.
Nazar: And how many ships did he lose in that battle?
Fatebane: It's the principle that matters! If she could do it, so can we!
- Babe Ruth: Man-Tank Gladiator is built on this trope.
- Was the legendary hero Chuck Norris a real person, whose actual actions became exaggerated and mixed up with tall tales over time? See the debate here.
- Cracked has "A History Channel documentary on the Beatles from the year 3000", viewable here.
- Among other things, it attributes many songs to them, such as "Jimmy Crack Corn", "Don't Stop Believing", and "Battle Hymn of the Republic". It says they invented the concept of a song less than 3 hours long, and Scottie Pippen was the fourth Beatle, instead of Ringo.
- Their best album is Sgt. Pet Sounds and the Spiders from Aja, they invented the "thumbs up" gesture and Mickey Mouse, and were the stars of I Love Lucy.
- Also the article 25 Common Items that Will Baffle Future Archeologists And its kinda-sequel, 23 Modern Images as Misunderstood by Future Archeologists.
- One such contest had a "fertility goddess" statue with exaggerated sexual characteristics, more identifiable as Dragon Crown's Sorceress.
- Starting with John Conway's All Yesterdays, many paleoartists on Deviantart started to draw today's animals like future's (non-human) paleontologists would imagine them. See for example a Hippopotamus or an Orca.
- In Dragon Ball Z Abridged, Trunks gets a quite incomplete picture of his parents' youth before going back in time, to the point where he doesn't even know his father used to be a villain. It's Bulma's fault, though; she didn't want to tell him his dad was a murderous douchebag. He also doesn't know what country music or a fax machine is.
- The latter case is justified since that same episode ends with the implication that Android 18 consciously set out to destroy all country music after she and Android 17 killed off the Z Fighters.
- This is the premise for most of the humor in Earthling Cinema, in which Garryx Wurmuloid analyzes a piece of ancient Earthling cinema.
- In Pay Me, Bug!, most of the people who were born and raised on Earth like to claim that it's the original homeworld of humanity, but nobody else takes them seriously.
- We Are Our Adventuring Avatars: The historical museum within Shift City. It's an old skyscraper that was converted into a museum of the World of Yesteryear sort of exhibition about what Humanity was like before everything got Pokerized...except their idea of what Humans are like is...not so accurate. In fact, the museum's depiction of the Apollo 11 lunar landing has what looks like a space laser shoot out between a bunch of Clefables and Jigglypuff, humans in spacesuits...and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
- Shows up a few times in Adventure Time, which takes place in a world created by the aftermath of "the Mushroom War". In "Five More Short Graybles", Finn and Jake mistake an old book of nursery rhymes for a Tome of Eldritch Lore.
- An episode of The Batman features future archaeologists excavating the Batcave. They find a picture of a young Bruce Wayne with his parents, and logically, but incorrectly, conclude that Thomas Wayne was Batman, and that young Bruce was "The Red Robin". They also conclude that Oracle's wheelchair (interestingly, Barbara Gordon's transformation from Batgirl to Oracle has not occurred yet in The Batman's continuity) belonged to Alfred. An interesting look at how perfectly reasonable assumptions on the part of archaeologists can be way off base.
- Futurama has an extreme version of this — human civilization in the 3000's has an absolutely abysmal knowledge of history.
- In "The Series Has Landed", they mistake Ralph Kramden of The Honeymooners for a space pioneer because of his (misquoted) Catch-Phrase "Bang! Zoom! Straight to the moon!", and think that whalers were the first people to land on the Moon.
- The Past-o-Rama theme park (supposedly based on the year 2000) in "The Lesser of Two Evils" is probably the best example: in a commercial, cowboys with surfer accents and hover-mopeds hunt mammoths with harpoons, and Albert Einstein and Hammurabi (who ruled Babylonia c. 2000 BCE) are seen disco dancing in a hot air balloon, and Hammurabi uses the catch phrase "Dy-no-mite!" from Good Times. In one exhibit, Gerald Ford is credited with inventing the automocar, which is built by primitive robots (who dress and behave like human cavemen) and runs by burning fossil fuels (as in actual dinosaur bones rather than petroleum biproducts). An ad in the re-created subway seems to assume that "Spanglish" was an actual language.
- Fry, who is actually from the past, is either not believed when he tries to correct the errors, or just makes them worse with his unique perspective (What were those booths on the road used for in your time? Bathrooms). This is despite several living heads of people of 20th century people with their memories living in the time and even winning elections.
- To put things in perspective, the difference in time between Einstein (who was from the 1900's) and the year 3000 is four times smaller than that between Einstein and King Hammurabi. The people of the year 3000 seem to have a decent grasp of the past millennium or so of their history, but collapse any and all human history before that into a single homogenous, garbled mess.
- "Roswell That Ends Well": After the Planet Express crew is accidentally thrown into the past, The Professor orders from a 1947 diner "a croque monsieur, the paella, two mutton pills, and a stein of mead!" That same episode has Leela note that they should try to talk like Fry, since he was from around this time period. That fifty-plus year difference still made her incomprehensible.
- People's knowledge of the past follows the Rule of Funny. Anything the audience would see as the past is usually Entertainingly Wrong to provide humor, but just about everyone seems to be an amateur history buff when it comes to events that occur in the audience's future (and thus would need to be explained for the viewers at home).
- All of this is possibly justified in-universe, as during Fry's frozen montage in the Pilot, the window beside his pod shows New York being destroyed by alien spaceships (revealed much later to be a time-traveling Bender), rebuilt as a medieval society, then destroyed again before New New York was built on top of it. If this mass destruction happened the world-over, it's no wonder history got a bit distorted.
- Phineas and Ferb: One month after the end of Doof-2's rule over the second dimension's Tri-State Area, the kids find a stash of sporting goods and, not knowing how they used to be played with in the past, come up with a new game that uses all of them.
- The Maximals and Predacons in Beast Wars Transformers have a sort of mythical misconception about the Great War, especially how it got started. Partly justified in that the Maximal government has done a thorough cover-up and control of all info relating to Earth, where the bulk of the Great War was fought (for some odd reason)...but then Fridge Logic smacks you in the face with the fact that several of the original Transformers (including the rebuilt Ravage) are still around and would know a great deal about what really happened. This is especially weird since transwarp technology means that anybody with a transwarp-capable ship can jump back in time to see how things were.
- Nearly every episode in the first season of The Zeta Project has a brief segment at the end where Zeta and Ro look at an object from the past and come up with assumptions on what they were for that are way off. On one such occasion, Ro jumps to the conclusion that a diaper pin was used to actually pin the diaper to the baby rather than to keep the diaper together so it didn't fall off. Zeta replies to Ro's conclusion by reminding her that the past was a very barbaric time.
- Most of what historians have discovered about past centuries has been revised when new facts were discovered.
- When occasionally people dug up dinosaur skeletons in the centuries before the 19th century they believed they had found the remains of animals that didn't survive Noah's flood. In China they thought they were digging up the bones of dragons.
- Even once the true nature of fossils was recognized, scientific assumptions about them could still be rather wide of the mark. Paleontologists of the early 19th century thought that the dinosaur genus Iguanodon was built like a reptilian rhinoceros, complete with a horn on its nose. Once more complete remains were uncovered it was realized that it had a considerably lighter build, could likely switch between moving on two legs and four (previously it had been assumed to be entirely quadrupedal), and the "horn" was actually a misplaced thumb claw.
- Many older visual representations of Ancient Greece or Rome show temples and buildings that are completely white, just like the ruins of these temples look today. Actually: back then all temples were painted in bright colors.
- Historical Beauty Update: Many famous people in history have been portrayed according to the beauty ideals and standards of later centuries. Thus nowadays when we think of Jesus Christ we imagine him as a white skinned, brown or black bearded man which would be very odd in the Middle East in the days of the Roman Empire. Cleopatra VII is typically imagined to be a thin, slender 20th century style fashion model, while many rich people were actually quite plump and obese back in the day. And, of course, all these people had perfect teeth, beautiful haircuts, no warts or other beauty spots and all look as if they take a bath every day.
- Our idea of The Dark Ages is also colored by 19th century ideas that this time period was savage, primitive and filthy, compared to the more civilized Greek and Roman era before it and the Renaissance and Enlightment that came after it. Modern research has proven that the Middle Ages weren't always that backward.
- Before the age of photography almost every visual representation was made years later, since it was impossible to capture something on the moment it happened. This allowed artists to fantasize their own ideas of how a certain person or historical event looked. Even paintings made by eye witnesses or while the subject was present to pose are dubious, since artists were forced to idealize or romanticize everything according to their patrons' wishes (when they didn't outright depict historical figures with the faces of the patron). It's a good rule of thumb that, the less idealized a portrait looks, the more likely it is accurate.
- Very old paintings like those of Hieronymus Bosch, for instance, mystify people of our day, because many scenes appear to be surreal antics. A lot of stuff, however, is actually biblical symbolism or puns on old sayings that are now mostly forgotten.
- That was the concept of the Swiss exposition "futur antérieur", with how archaeologists of the Fifth Millennium might interpret 20th century society based what few archaeological remains would be conserved. The expo proceeded to lampshade the guesswork and conflation which sometimes occur in the historical reconstruction, as well as our tendency to link every little artifact with religion. Highlights include conflating the victory pose of sportsmen and that of a crucified Jesus; garden dwarves interpreted as statues of important leaders or priests (pottery conserves well) and motherboards reconstructed as 3D city maps.
- For decades, Billy the Kid was believed to be left handed because the only known photograph of him was reversed. This was corrected when experts more closely examined the rifle that he was holding in the photograph.
- The Bible, of all things, underwent this sort of thing in 17th century Japan. With Christianity outlawed and European missionaries expelled or worse, the few thousand Japanese Christians (or Kakure Kirishitans) left had to worship in secret. Problem: there wasn't a Japanese translation of the Bible. So they wrote their own, with half-forgotten Catholic ideology and already badly-translated, misremembered stories that had been passed down: hence in "Beginning of Heaven and Earth", "Deusu" creates "Adan" and "Ewo" in a Japanese Garden of Eden. The "Biruzen Maruya" is impregnated when Deusu, in the form of a butterfly, flies into her mouth. Pontius Pilate is distilled into Ponsha and Piroto. Jisusu proclaims: "The person who eats his rice with soup every morning is the one who will betray me." Maruya's friend composes a prayer at the River Abe (Ah-beh) — "Maruya, full of grace, to you I bow." Consequently, the prayer becomes known as the "Abe Maruya."
- The science of numismatics (study of money) can invert this trope for future archeologists too. A future archeologist would only have to dig a lot and he would probably find thousands of different loose coins, tokens and medals all made from metals. He might even find entire coin collections, or entire commemorative coin boxsets. This would mean that a future archeologist would be able to trace many historical rulers, events and figures to something approximating their right place and time. This is incidentally how we know so much about the late Roman empire.
- Another good source of historical information would be commemorative and memorial plaques, grave-stones and decorative dishes.
- Given all that, the "States Quarters" series will be a godsend in determining which states the US had ca. early 21st century while the most remembered thing about Germany will be eagles, oak leaves and some weird building in Berlin... And given the love for sports teams to spam the years of their championships, we'll probably get a somewhat complete record of who won the FA Cup or the NFL when....
- A popular joke is that North Korean children learn that Kim Jong Il invented electricity, the bicycle, film, etc. Whether these children actually are told this or not is for the well-traveled to determine.
- Although they actually do make the claim that he invented hamburgers, as introducing Western products is difficult for a communist government that wishes to maintain hatred of the capitalist West.
- Really, almost everything we know about history might fall into this. We assume what little we have about ancient civilizations is true and common. However, with paper being incredibly valuable and literacy increasingly rare the farther back you go, it stands to reason the things that were written down might have been unusual rarities, rather than the norm we might assume.
- The fixation on paper as the only way to record things is a pretty modern thing and usually a huge mistake. A lot of what's known about ancient Rome, for instance, is from crudely scrawled, badly spelled graffiti. And literacy is very dependent on the specific culture and time period, often proportional to general standards of living. The good historians and archaeologists, at least, can attempt to compensate for differing literacy rates.
- Luckily for the people of the future, documentation of world events has become more widespread and redundant in the past couple of centuries, making it more likely for future historians to get what happened correctly. At least, we can only hope.
- On that note, historians of the future will love Wikipedia... if they still speak the same languages, that is. And if subjective contributors or unfunny jokesters ever quit adding nonsense or bad facts to the site! And if the Internet still exists by then, and computers (if they're still around) can read whatever obsolete format Wikipedia is stored in.
- Consider, also, the vast gap in 19th-21st century historical documentation that's been left, thanks to the invention of the telephone. Before, when long-distance communication was written down, and more recently when it's transmitted electronically, at least later historians could consult old letters or e-mail trash folders for reference. But a phone conversation leaves nothing behind but the (fallible) memories of the speaking parties if not transcribed or recorded. And with digital conversations, there is the problem that they are stored on external servers (i.e. unless one party to the conversation makes a conscious effort to save it, it is only stored as long as the servers store it). And most servers do not indefinitely store all e-mails, Facebook conversations and so on. The Library of Congress saw this problem for future historians and agreed with Twitter to archive all tweets for future reference... Only they gave up after a few years. Yeah, the history of Donald Trump will be hard to document if us contemporaries don't make sure to archive his tweets...
- There's also the not-inconsequential efforts of people throughout history attempting to shape it for their current ends. Monuments are especially vulnerable to this. For example, there have been groups active for over a century erecting monuments praising the Confederacy in areas that leaned towards the Union (besides the states that didn't secede, that's particularly true for East Tennessee and West Virginia, rural and rough country that was of little value for slavery then and is largely hillbilly now). And by the sheer disproportion between monuments to the North and monuments to the South it become easy to forget who actually won the war...
- Similarly, they've been numerous examples of later leaders vandalising or rebuilding historical sites out of propaganda. A recent example of this is when Saddam Hussein turned an ancient Mesopotamian ruin in Iraq into a shrine to himself.
- Saddam was taking a page from the playbook of the Egyptian pharaohs, who would obliterate the names of their predecessors on monuments and in official records in order to magnify their own accomplishments. Establishing a truly accurate dynastic history of pre-Ptolemaic Egyptian history is a matter of contention, to say the least because of this and other practices.
- Ancient Egyptians are also known to have written stories or erected monuments in the style of older pieces, claiming to be a true work of some long dead pharaoh. It's not clear whether the ancients themselves knew they were reading historical fiction, but it definitely has caused confusion among modern archaeologists.
- And speaking of archaeologists and ancient Egypt, a number of early adventurers, trying to explain what they had dug up, simply made up stories that fit. A classic example is the idea that Thutmose III hated his stepmother Hatsheput for stealing his throne and destroyed everything of hers as soon as he became king. Modern analysis has indicated that the campaign to erase her reign likely began later in his rule and a modern theory is that he was possibly eliminating questions to his son's claim to the throne.
- A less extreme present-day example: There's a nontrivial number of people (outside the fandom's Kayfabe, that is) who think Sherlock Holmes was a real person, presumably because the series has just the right combination of age, popularity, lack of Speculative Fiction elements, and Literary Agent Hypothesis to encourage such things.
- A real and utterly unlikely example: Pope Joan, the Englishwoman who not only allegedly became Pope, but whose tale was widely believed right into the 19th century. Of course, anti-Catholic prejudice probably had something to do with that.
- Modern depictions of prehistoric people painting invariably show them doing it deep in a cave. They likely painted on any surface available, especially outside where the light's better. However, only paintings deep in caves survived to the present day.
- Likewise, control of fire and stone tools are always credited as "the" milestone inventions of early Homo. Our early ancestors had to have invented dozens of other things that were just as innovative - rope, bags, blankets, walking sticks, bowls, dolls, nets, snares - but because they made them out of wood, hide, reeds, hair, and other perishable materials, it's only rocks and fire-pits that are left to impress anyone.
- Most of what we believe about The Wild West is greatly exaggerated. Cowboys rarely fought Native Americans. Most settlers' wagon trains weren't attacked (and circling the wagons created an almost unbeatable defense); similarly, most settlements didn't fight with the Native Americans very much. Desperadoes robbing banks were very rare, and most of those who did (the James gang, for example) were die-hard Confederate guerillas, not freelance criminals. The image of dozens of wandering gunmen plying their deadly trade is an almost complete fabrication.
- What's interesting about this is that most of these exaggerations of The Wild West happened during the period that was being exaggerated. One of the most popular forms of entertainment at the time was the dime novel; many of these depicted the mostly-fictional exploits of outlaws and lawmen out West to readers in the tame Old Northwest and out in the cities of the East Coast. (A tableau that probably happened: real-world cowboys relaxing with a dime novel about cowboys with lives much more colorful than theirs, at the end of a long day of driving cattle.) Later on, the Wild West Shows of Buffalo Bill during the twilight years of the West helped cement the public image of the American Southwest Frontier, both in the United States and in Europe. (Annie Oakley famously shot the ashes off a cigar Kaiser Wilhelm II was smoking; when WWI broke out, she wrote to him asking for another shot.) After Buffalo Bill came radio and the movies; some of the first motion pictures, like The Great Train Robbery, were about the Wild West, and the Western remained a lively genre down into the 1960s. It was only once popular enthusiasm for the Wild West had died down, in the 1970s and onward, that historians were able to start informing the public about the relatively prosaic reality of the period.
- Events in the late 20th century are already being rewritten or heavily distorted by romanticization. As older generations die out, future generations will base their entire idea of The '50s on films and TV series such as Back to the Future and Happy Days, while The '60s will be caricatured as they were idealized in Forrest Gump, which was only 25 years after the fact.
- Keeping future generations from doing anything stupid with radioactive waste is a serious challenge, and there will be a lot of future generations who need to be kept from doing anything stupid with radioactive waste. Future generations' understanding of English, or of radioactivity, might break down. The radioactivity sign might look benevolent to someone who doesn't know its context. A primitive shaman with more ambition than morals might decide to worship the Fallouts. Savvy, cynical scientists might decide that "warning, these rocks shoot death rays" is as spurious as miasma theory. (Voltaire ridiculed both evolution and plate tectonics; if fish bones were being found in the Alps, he said, some monk must have dropped them there.) An intrepid yet Wrong Genre Savvy archaeologist might conclude that this tomb's message that "beware, this place is full of invisible dangers and contains nothing valuable at all" is no more true than all the others'. The list goes on...