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I am assuming a theocratic state as a matter of religious dogma is eternal. It has no beginning and no end. It has always been and always will be. In reality of course history has simply been rewritten to omit or distort anything that might imply that there was a time the empire did not exist.

The founders of the empire were intelligent enough to realize the empire must be capable of adapting to changes and in order to do that people must be able to learn from the past. So study of history can't be outright banned or even restricted to a closed inner circle.

Neither is it really practical to hide the fact other governments with different systems have existed. Such alternate systems would be too valuable as sources of wider perspective on many issues.

So what is hidden is the wider framework that could be used to compose long timelines and notice the imperial timeline starts after some other timelines.

Essentially for time a modulus calendar is used. Say this year would be the 15th year of the current century. But there would be a number given for the century and no concept of millennia, other than noting that since the empire is eternal it must have existed for countless millennia. People might also talk of events of the previous century. So George Orwell wrote a book about the 84th year of the previous century. Also allowed would be speculation and expectation of the next century. So there would be sliding time window of few hundred years as the maximum length of historical context.

Geographical context would be similarly localized. A scholar might note that the heretical kingdom he is studying has familiar features, but only the most radical heretic would even suspect the kingdom was located at the location of the Imperial Capital. And even he would simply assume there was another capital at the time, not that the kingdom existed before the empire.

I doubt there would be major issues from this as rulers generally fail to learn from history anyway, but just in case:

How would this limit the study of history and the development of related sciences? Would there be some practical issues? Would there really be practical benefits over simply banning the study of history?

Edit based on answers (or some stuff I clearly should have mentioned):

The eternal empire has no particular desire to make itself look better than it is or its alternatives worse beyond what comes naturally from self-censorship. It is eternal. Resistance is futile. So the powers that be, are actually more concerned about having access to accurate information they can use to secure the future than looking good. As a theocratic state the nominal head of state is probably the national divinity anyway. People are welcome to go complain to him, if they think the government is messing up.

Actually, a big part of what I'd like to know, if this kind of selective "tolerance" based on the government itself believing itself to be eternal and God ordained would be practical given that things contradicting the dogmatic stance on the empire being eternal are hidden. That is the context for the third question concerning practical benefits above.

Second edit:

Leushenko reminds of the vast difference between eternal and long lasting. Quoting my comment to his answer since it explains why the empire values study of history and does not ban it or outright falsify history. I thought that just stating they do in the question would be enough, but in retrospect that was simply wrong.

Yes, the question assumes this difference between eternal and merely ancient. Being eternal does not imply being cyclical unless you also assume reality to be finite in some way. The empire rejects the idea of God's creation being limited in a way meaningful to mortals as heresy. I imagine their view of time would be an infinitely ascending spiral that goes through same general pattern but never repeats. So you could learn from the past, but not repeat it. As matter of dogma they'd continually face entirely new events that resemble past events. That is why they would value study of history.

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    $\begingroup$ The opening 2 paragraphs desribe Orwell's 1984. The protagonist was employed in that capacity and his work is described in detail: read that book! $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 29 '15 at 18:31
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    $\begingroup$ When I saw this, I didn't think 1984, but rather Mistborn. The "Final Empire" has been led for centuries by the Lord Ruler, ruling the world as essentially a god-king. History of the time before the Final Empire is controlled and dogmatized by the Lord Ruler's bureaucracy/priesthood, and figuring out how certain events really happened is crucial to the storyline. The first book of the trilogy is set in the Final Empire, and the next two deal with the aftermath of overthrowing it, and it's there that the author really explores the concept of rewriting history. Definitely worth reading! $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Jun 29 '15 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ Did you ask a question with a similar first paragraph before? I had a huge feeling of deja vu when I read it. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Jun 29 '15 at 20:42
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    $\begingroup$ I feel like there's a gaping hole in your description. Why did this empire want anyone to believe it was eternal in the first place? The origin of the falsehood and the reasons for propagating it would tell us a lot about the character of this empire, and that would greatly affect any answer. False religious dogma doesn't just come from nowhere. It either comes from someone's desire to manipulate others or from their belief in it's truth (either as a reinforcement or a misunderstanding of other beliefs they hold). $\endgroup$ – jpmc26 Jun 29 '15 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ I can't imagine how this empire got started. Emperor: "We've existed for millenia." Common Folk: "Um, you just founded the empire 15 minutes ago." $\endgroup$ – Kevin Jun 30 '15 at 0:01

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Each year reckoning is kept in terms of the reign of the current Emperor. So centuries are not really used, rather something is said to have happened during the year 283 of the reign of Emperor Marx Eugenes Harkonnen. Each time a new emperor ascends, the count reckoning is restarted, with year 1 being the year starting at the last beat of midnight on the Imperial Clock in the Capital on 1st day of the month of Germinal after the ascent.

Any and all early history is placed in an undated mythological time: "the Forgotten Times," with the understanding that all the crises of the present have happened and been successfully weathered in the past, and so the diligent will study history so that lessons may be learned.

In the imperial histories, there is a rather tenuous reckoning going back many centuries (although heretical thinkers suggest that official histories are probably severely time inflating reign times towards the start of the continuous reckoning, i.e. Merk the Giant and the Walden and Buffetti princes might have been a mere 5 centuries ago, not the 20,000 years claimed in official histories. All other historical documents have been purged over the centuries, starting with the great fire documented to have happened 18,000 years ago (4 centuries, suggest skeptics) that wiped out the old imperial (or not so imperial) archives.

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  • $\begingroup$ There is already a "calendar" supplied in the question. The empire does not allow timelines longer than the one supplied by the example calendar. This includes lists of emperors (that could easily be combined to cover several centuries) and mentions of things happening a specific number of centuries or millennia ago. The empire does not wish suppress doubt of its age, it wishes to prevent it by going to great lengths to avoid providing anything concrete you can doubt. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Jun 29 '15 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi, the 10,000 year rule of Merk the Giant before the Fiery Cataclysm (believed to have been caused by the Uprising of Chin the Giant) that ravaged the old archives --- well, it may or may not have been overstated. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Jun 30 '15 at 0:01
  • $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi, moreover, the Emperor-reckoning can be easily confused by not assigning numbers (a string of 20 emperors called Louis), and moreover, has the advantage of historical precedent in both the Roman and Chinese worlds. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Jun 30 '15 at 0:04
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, honestly, it was my first idea as well, precisely because of the historical precedents. But those same precedents tell us that if you provide such contextual data the timelines can be reconstructed. Essentially if you provide the names and years you are providing two separate ways of counting time that can be combined. It leaks information. I decided that people serious about hiding time elapsed would not do that and simply use years with data "cut". I do not think they'd use names for rulers in records, just titles. (And I did not realize that before your comment, thanks!) $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Jun 30 '15 at 0:30
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The Empire has no problem with people studying history as long as they are using the Empire's version of it. They will do their best (read: remove those who oppose them and burn the heretical books) to promote their version of history. Think about it: after enough time has passed, those that had the memory of past events are dead. The history only exist in the local folklore and history books. But if the Empire decides to silence the historians and burn the historical books, there will be nothing left of this knowledge after 3 or 4 generations maybe. Nothing except the book called "History of the Empire: Form the Big Bang to the present era."

I think this kind of government would rather try to hide the mistakes of the past than trying to learn lessons from them. Why? Because it gives the impression that it's perfect and cannot be wrong/ cannot make mistakes. Therefore, the Empire has always been there and will always be because there are no alternative. Rebels, minorities and foreign countries might be turned to ridicule to enforce this feeling of superiority.

Well, the above is true mostly for the common people but it could be different for the elites. In Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, they've burned all the books but surprisingly, the elite still have access to some of them. Or North Korea is banning American cultural products for the masses but the Supreme Leader likes to watches movies from Hollywood.

In your case the explanation could be that the history books always depict the Empire in a glorious way. They tell how mediocre the other countries were and the terrible mistakes they have done. These mistakes are in fact the Empire's mistakes but the books will say the opposite. The Empire has always did what was right.

The historiographers are bureaucrats in place to decide what version should be the official one. They usually work for the "Ministry of Truth" and edit the books to keep them up to date.

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    $\begingroup$ sounds like ISIS $\endgroup$ – hownowbrowncow Jun 29 '15 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ @hownowbrowncow actually… no. Just because it's a bad thing, you can't attribute it to a random bad guy… $\endgroup$ – o0'. Jun 29 '15 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ @hownowbrowncow ISIS is doing it like countless other before, it's a very old concept actually. But the idea of having historical engineering (?) the way I described it comes from Orwell. $\endgroup$ – Vincent Jun 29 '15 at 23:08
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Well Assuming that there are or were known to be other 'countries' much of history could be pointed to as some other country that was 'benevolently' absorbed by the empire to make life better for all.

Would there really be practical benefits over simply banning study of history?

For general consumption? yes. it is much easier to control a population that you keep ignorant. It is distinctly possible that real history is kept for those deemed worthy, and a test to find those that could cause trouble for the empire later. If someone starts asking questions about inconsistencies about the 'official' history they can either be indoctrinated or quietly removed, in either case a problem is eliminated.

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  • $\begingroup$ This reminded me of the Aiel's history, from the Wheel of Time. In that case it was a completely different setting, though with surprisingly similar results. $\endgroup$ – o0'. Jun 29 '15 at 22:00
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Consider how (political) historiography and the economy interact.

  • Could there be things like 99-year leases if you discourage the concept of a century? Copyright expiration dates? Helps if all copyright belongs to the Empire, anyway.
  • The Brits recently decided to pay off WWI debts. That may be a pointer how you do it in your Empire, debt has no due date, simply interest until it is paid off.
  • Will people get pensions at a certain age? The emperor is dead, long live the emperor. And the retirement of John Doe is now officially set as the 37th year of the reign of Emperor Random XXIV, provided Random XXIV lives that long. Perhaps it will be redesignated several more times.
  • Can you have long-term analysis of weather data, like the impact of the Year Without a Summer?
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  • $\begingroup$ Good questions, although not sure why you are asking questions in an answer. A deal can be perpetual, fixed term of few decades max, or renewable. Fifty years with option to renew would cover most cases of longer deals that can't be made perpetual. Until some condition actually sounds in character for the empire. Why set time terms at all when you can use some other condition? People would still know their own age. The imperial calendar in the question would work until 199 years of age. Stuff like weather and economic trends is exactly what I was worrying about. How much of an issue is that? $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Jun 30 '15 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ With calendar working for age I mean that since they have the concept of "99th year of previous century" they would by analogy understand age of "99 years plus century". And, really, going to "plus two centuries" would be a minor infraction. And pretty rare. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Jun 30 '15 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi, I'm answering some of the questions, and 600 characters were not enough for that. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Jul 1 '15 at 5:00
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I think that one approach to balance official version and the truth would be to systematically undermine truth. That is, learning external versions of history would be permitted to academicians. However, an emphasis should be made on how often different countries have varying views on the same events. And if several countries have the same view on the past, for example claiming that the Empire lost a certain battle, or led a genocide, or even didn't exist at a certain period in time, then it is clearly dictated by their jealousy towards the superior Eternal Empire.

This approach encourages the following mindset of educated society:

1) all versions of history are equally unreliable, so the choice of version should be based not on logic, but on loyalties

2) external versions should be hidden from common people, to avoid confusion

The danger of accepting external versions for truth may be pointed out to particularly inquisitive students. People who insist that different versions will be evaluated objectively, using scientific methods, as well as those who teach unapproved versions to the uninitiated, will be labelled enemies of the State and dealt with accordingly.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think it was C. S. Lewis who said that if you want to hide the truth, you get the schools and intellectuals to discuss, not whether an idea is true, but rather to discuss its origins, what motivated the writer to think of it, and what interest groups benefit from it, and so on. Freely discuss and debate everything about an idea EXCEPT any evidence that it is true or false. "The writer of this book was a black man. Need I say more?" "People who seek order in life find this pleasant to believe." "The rich want you to believe that because it encourages you to work harder." Etc. $\endgroup$ – Jay Mar 29 '16 at 20:07
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If they want to preserve history for educational purposes but likewise want to pretend the empire has always been even when historical events say otherwise then they should maintain an almost honest history--simply relocate it to somewhere outside the Empire.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that is exactly what they do. That is what the paragraph about "localizing geographical context" is referring to. The basic idea is to give an honest history of events apart from hiding the fact that the empire was founded at a specific time and some events happened before that. Basically, histories yes, chronologies longer than the cut off, no. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Jun 30 '15 at 0:40
  • $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi Oh, I misunderstood. I wouldn't scramble the timeline, only the geography. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Jun 30 '15 at 2:50
  • $\begingroup$ The question is about the consequences of scrambling both. Either might be enough. I'd accept an answer to that effect if it explains why scrambling one is better than both in enough detail to cover the details I am asking about. (Effects on study of history and related sciences, practical issues and benefits.) After all, showing something would be better would cover the issues part pretty well. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Jun 30 '15 at 4:34
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Adding to Vincent's answer, I recently had a glimpse of Russian history through Leo Domidov's Child 44.

If you choose to ban history, you must also assert the perfectness of your own empire. This means that you'll choose to simply ignore anything that disturbs the equilibrium: terrorism, murders, coups etc.

Banning history will not prevent people from the above. Rather banning history is simply one of the many steps establishing the image of a perfect empire, for only that can be eternal.

A perfect empire is ideal for curbing the people and suppressing revolutions. People simply don't know what those are.

So as a close real world example you would have a situation similar to the Soviet Union for the better part of the 20th century.

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  • $\begingroup$ The question posits an alternative to banning history and asks if it would really be better than a banning history or forging it outright. They would not ignore anything that happens, merely pose the existence of the empire as being above such transient events. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Jun 30 '15 at 17:25
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If the empire has no beginning, then its history up to this date is infinite. A finite number of books could not record the complete history. This either presents a problem for the empire to explain, or it gives them a way out: Over the millennia the books eventually rotted away, or the material to make them had to be recycled. So you could say, yes, the empire has existed for an infinite amount of time, but we only have history going back a few hundred years. Maybe you say that we have preserved a few very old records, perhaps a list of emperors going back 20,000 years, but you say all information besides their names has been lost. Or maybe you make a few fragments, here's a mention of a battle fought 5000 years ago, here's the winning song from the Singing With the Emperor finals 10,000 years ago, etc.

You run into some problems with physics: If the empire has existed for an infinite amount of time, then presumably the world and the universe have also existed for an infinite amount of time. So why haven't they died an entropy-induced heat death? Maybe the science of the empire isn't advanced enough to understand this, maybe they explain this away somehow, or maybe people who bring it up mysteriously disappear never to be seen again.

If there are other nations in the world not under your control, I'm not sure what you'd do to prevent them from telling your people that this empire really just began 200 years ago. Likewise, what happens if someone finds an old book that discusses the founding of the empire or a time before the empire. Oh, you tell them these people are liars and heretics, I suppose. "You say the empire really isn't eternal? That's crazy! All the members of the Emperor's Science Advisory Board agree that it is. I just saw a documentary on the Imperial History Channel that explains it. What are you, some kind of anti-science religious fanatic?" Maybe you can keep enough people convinced and the rest intimidated into silence. And many apathetic. "You say the empire is really only a few hundred years old? Maybe so. Hey, look at this funny cat picture!"

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If they truly believe the empire and therefore the world are eternal, then the solutions to recording history could vary from insanely stupid to insanely brilliant. I doubt I can come up with the latter.

Current emperor state - Warning on current solution expiration through private lineage storage - Instinct will to control history - No desire to control history

  • 3 is easy, let it roll, storage degrades naturally.

  • 1 is tough because you have to decide whether to restart the current solution or start something new.

  • 2 Regulate information storage unofficially. Research longest storage possible for private lineage information. Research information degradation rate and adapt acceptable blocks of time for record keeping. Set up release of Empire history encyclopedia every n number of years. Instill religious sense regarding history in population and more so in record keepers. Set up institution to handle one offs. Calculate divergence of one offs and solution longevity. Store estimates in private lineage storage.

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Scrambling geography works quite well. If the Empire now is strong enough and controls a lot of territory, it can appropriate the earlier history of other nations it controls now.

At risk of starting the political discussion here - but that is exactly what Russian empire did in 17th century. Although the Moscowian Rus is known historically from 15th century only, it appropriated the history of earlier Kievan Rus, claiming that the 'spiritual' capital moved about 700 km, from one independent duchy to another. It also claimed the descent from Byzantium and Rome, but since those territories were not under it's control, it didn't stick.

Since this is not so easy to confirm, your empire can claim the spiritual descent from all the other earlier states in the territories it controls, appropriating their rulers and histories as the earlier dynasties if the same empire. 'The Empire didn't change', they would claim, 'different dynasties ruled, coming from the whole multitude of the nations, capitals moved, but the Empire stays there same'.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, it works but I do not think it would be the way the Empire would do it. They are not trying to boost their legitimacy or prestige by claiming ancient heritage. They have no competition or challengers. They simply state they have always been and will always be as a matter of religious dogma. For them it would be more valuable to state that there was such a state and claim by omission (if not directly) that the Empire existed both before and after that state. Their dogma is that they are fundamentally different from all other states. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 2 at 9:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Ville Niemi - but this strategy works for this purpose as well. China is another good example of such strategy. There always was China in one way or another, they always were an empire and different from surrounding barbarians. If I understand you right, your Empire still wants to use history to increase it's legitimacy - to it's people, not to the outside competitors. There lack of external competitors only makes that easier. If someone controlled the whole Europe today, it would be pretty simple to construct the narrative where the Roman empire never fell. $\endgroup$ – Cumehtar May 2 at 9:18
  • $\begingroup$ Their legitimacy comes from the same religious dogma that claims they are eternal. Propping legitimacy by reference to history would be counter-productive. That said, somebody did comment on the issues the Empire would have claiming it is eternal in the first few generations after its founding. I think you just provided a very good answer to that issue. I kind of feel bad that it is not the question I actually asked. You kind of deserve +1 but I do not feel I can give it. Well, I can at least say "thanks!" $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 2 at 10:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Ville Niemi - you are welcome. One more way they can make the 'eternal' history work, I just thought about, is to reduplicate history. Say, they appropriate some of the earlier known states to their own history, leave some of the others as 'heretical' states that were conquered later. But they twist it so that the earlier known state was just at the beginning of the current 'Era'. Since the Empire is eternal, it survived countless such Eras - the one before that is similar, but different. Similar occurrences in the different order, similar historical characters, etc. $\endgroup$ – Cumehtar May 2 at 10:24
  • $\begingroup$ Ctnd. This trick had such an advantage that it is easy to explain the similarities by the manner of the ancient historians to model the description of the later events on the earlier events. It can work nicely as long as scientific archeology doesn't develop. Tolkien famously used this trick several times in the history of Middle Earth, for example to extend dwarven history by thousand of years (that is why we have two Thrains and dwarves returning to the Lonely mountain twice). $\endgroup$ – Cumehtar May 2 at 10:27

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