Before I explain what I learned, let me clarify definitions. For me, history is a construction of the past based on verifiable material evidence such as archaeological, epigraphic and textual records. Mythology is the subjective truth of a people transmitted through stories, symbols and rituals. The former tells me what happened in the past and the latter tells me how our ancestors explained life.
We must distinguish both history and mythology from cultural memory – how people remember the past. This has nothing to do with facts. It has to do with self-esteem of a tribe, a clan, or a community. One has to gently tread on it.
In colonial times, the world was divided into fact and fiction. But in post-colonial times we have learned to recognise the fluidity that makes such binaries rather simplistic. That memory of communities, their understanding of the world, and their articulation defy the rigid boundaries constructed by Marxists on one hand, and religious radicals on the other.
So here is a very short list of some of things I learned from historians from around the world. None of this information would have been available, had they not existed. In fact much of this information did not exist even a hundred years ago, and we owe a lot to the 19th century European Orientalists, their prejudices notwithstanding.
Mythical and historical figures
Historians revealed to me that Abraham and Moses can only be considered mythological figures, like Ram and Krishna, because information about them comes from the lore of the faithful and lore of the land, but not from materially verifiable archaeology or epigraphy. While there is some evidence that Jesus and Muhammad were historical figures, details of their lives, like the resurrection of Jesus and the flight of Muhammad to heaven, key to the religions they established, cannot be considered factual, and remain matters of faith.