I am looking into the concept of an abandoned planetary colony which was, before abandonment, pretty much the interstellar version of Australia (back when it was where Britan dumped criminals). The total population of the planet is large enough for multiple large-ish settlements, but everyone's descended from criminals deemed unworthy to be bothered with. Prisoners were set up with mining equipment and told that they could, theoretically, buy their freedom, but the government which put them there has ceased all contact for unknown reasons. Old gangs quickly begin vying for control as they once had.

The question is this: would someone in this situation bother recording accurate historical info? If the colonies' history was merely oral tradition, how many generations would it take for the colonists to have a seriously warped idea of where they came from?

  • $\begingroup$ How easy is it to record anything, and then keep and preserve the record? On accounts of technology, availability of the technology, and education present. $\endgroup$ – Ranger Jul 19 '16 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ Hardly any significant technology is present other than the mining equipment, some transports and perhaps a few old rifles stolen from guards. We're back to pen and paper bookkeeping, essentially. $\endgroup$ – user15170 Jul 19 '16 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ Not a complete answer, but in a society that doesn't have readily present education, doesn't have technology to ease the burden, and don't seem to hold values that traditionally unite civilizations will have wanting record keeping of any sort, I imagine much in-line with tribal societies like the Native Americas or Australian aborigines. Even though both of these peoples probably were present for thousands of years, we lack any meaningful details to their histories, like we have with the Eastern and Western worlds. $\endgroup$ – Ranger Jul 19 '16 at 17:59

I think the main point to consider is how easy it is to live on this planet. If you have a well-ordered society with a relative abundance of resources, they're going to have a chance to develop things like art and history. If, on the other hand, life is a constant struggle for the next meal, it's not likely that anyone will have a chance to write down their day-to-day actions.

Another consideration is why they would want to keep up history. There are a few ways we've been able to see into the past in our world:

  • burial sites preserve aspects of someone's life
  • monuments remind people of important events that occurred
  • records are kept for business/law purposes
  • messages are delivered

All of these events are pretty much human-standard, so there's a good chance thy'll exist on this prison planet. If they have mining tools, they probably have what they need to build sculptures, so they should at least have some sculptures of famous people from their pasts. There should also be enough burial sites to show how many people have died. If there's law or commerce, there will have to be records, though the rate at which old records are recycled may vary. Similarly, long-range communications may persist for days to decades depending on how important they are to the recipient.

So really, the amount of history available is only limited by how much time people have, and how important record-keeping is to them. The more structured the civilization, the more infrastructure there is available for this kind of thing. So it's likely that some small gangs aren't going to be too sure what happened in the past, but once you're dealing with more people that any single person can keep track of, you'll need some sort of paper trail.


If everything is lost and you're just relying on oral tradition, consider the human lifespan/generations. The originals, that is those originally sent or those that were in contact with the empire which sent them over, would have first-hand knowledge. Their kids would get those stories, as would the grandkids, because there might be enough oldsters around to tell the stories to the grandkids. There's an outside chance, if they breed fast enough, that there will be greatgrandkids who also get second-hand knowledge, extending the time by a scant few years.

But by 4th generation, it would be third-hand knowledge, for certain. (That'd be a little over 100 years). People would still know, but things would be a bit embellished, one way or another. I think it would take another 50-100 years for it to get warped a bit more.

I will say that the more violent deaths there are, and the more concern there is for day to day survival, the less likely anyone is going to worry about passing these facts down. It's unlikely, though, that the fourth gen humans wouldn't be forming more practical societies, beyond gangs, looking at human tendencies. That might be around the time that there's more of a peace, so there's more curiosity about what came before.


Why keep records?

  • For Science. Probably not much of a priority in your setting.
  • For Administrative Purposes. Over time, an extortion racket might move to something close to taxes. This village owes the gang fifty bushels of corn every year. In a crisis the gang might still take all they can find, but they want farmers to spend their time on the fields, not digging secret shelters. That requires a non-crushing tax burden.
  • For the Glory of the (Current) Leader. This might become an issue. You talked about gangs, but also about large settlements. The leaders might want something slightly more impressive than a spray-painted tag. There might be a sign This farming village was captured for the North Pole Gang by order of John Doe.
  • For the Glory of (Aspiring) Leaders. The various lieutenants of the gang might want to remind others of their prowess. This farming village was captured by Jane Doe for the North Pole Gang. She personally defeated the champion of the Islands Gang.

Would those records mention Earth?

  • Personnel Records of Transportees. Once the gang decides that James Doe owes them corn, they have to tell James Doe, born 24xx in England, Earth, from Jim Doe Junior, born 25xx on the colony world.
  • Tradition as a Source of Legitimacy. Some of the gangs on the colony world use the name, colors, and traditions of a gang on Earth. They feel superior to newcomer gangs with a less exalted history. Jane Doe is the successor of Jim Doe. She defeated him in fair combat according to the Rules. Jim Doe was the successor of Judy Doe. Judy died of a cold at the age of 54. Judy Doe was the successor of James Doe. James died in a raid on the enemy. James came from Earth, where he was the Lieutenant of the Gotham City chapter of the gang. He didn't rat, so he got sentenced to transportation.
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, reminds me of how Egyptions wrote their <strike>history</strike>propaganda large in public spaces. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jul 19 '16 at 20:02

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