SHREVEPORT – LSUS history professor Dr. Cheryl White has always been drawn to the unknown.
While history is the study of past events and their impact, many historical topics have disputed facts or disputed reasons for why something happened.
It’s only fitting that White will appear on three episodes of the History Channel’s “History’s Greatest Mysteries,” which evaluates the top theories around the world’s most enigmatic mysteries.
“Just like anybody, as a historian, you’re drawn to the actual fact of the narrative,” White said. “Then part of the human condition is to naturally want to follow the unknowns.
“What questions haven’t been answered? To me, it’s equally fun to consider the possibilities.”
White’s first episode centers around the Knights Templar and if the Knights have a great treasure that’s never been found. That episode airs Feb. 12.
White, a specialist in the medieval time period, will also appear in a Feb. 19 episode about the Shroud of Turin. The controversy surrounding this shroud is whether or not it was the linen that wrapped Jesus’ body following his crucifixion. There’s an image of a figure that appears to be a man stained on the shroud.
Her final episode of the current season (Season Five) will be about the impact of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian leader who defeated the mighty Persian empire and expanded his own empire into present-day India. The airing of that episode hasn’t been announced yet.
The Knights Templar, one of the wealthiest Christian military orders who raised armies to fight in the Crusades for control of Jerusalem, were founded in the 12th century and operated for nearly 200 years.
White has visited fortifications in Portugal which the Templars used, noting that there were tunnels underneath the structure of the fortification.
“These tunnels may lead you to believe that perhaps they were used for the transportation of treasure, but they could have easily been the transporting anything else,” White said.
White is considered an expert on the Shroud of Turin and on the rise of Christianity.
With the Templars episode, White said a History Channel producer asked her to tell them what she knew about the organization in an open-ended format.
“Fifty minutes later, the producer held up her hand and said, ‘We got everything we need,’” White said as she laughed. “Don’t ask someone accustomed to lecturing for 50 minutes an open-ended question.”
The Shroud of Turin interview was much more controlled. Because of all the conspiracy theories surrounding the shroud, White wanted to give more succinct and direct answers to illustrate her position.
It’s not White’s television debut – she was involved in a 2019 Discovery Channel documentary about the shroud.
“In that documentary, they brought in a witch who said that the shroud was actually used for Leonardo Da Vinci,” White recalled. “Sure, the shroud appeared 100 years before Da Vinci was born, but ok.”
While White hasn’t seen any of the History Channel episodes beforehand or know how the program will use her input, she said her experience on screen this time has been much better.
White participated in several rounds of casting interviews via Zoom before being flown out to Los Angeles on two separate occasions this past summer to participate in the show.
She said while she isn’t entirely sure how the History Channel found her, she does know that the program listened to at least one of her history podcasts “The Shadow Files” that airs on Red River Radio every Thursday morning.
“The Shadow Files” examines history’s mysteries and sheds light on historical aspects while parsing through legend and theory.
White said while television documentaries can lean toward sensationalism, she added it’s important for trained historians to be a part of a medium that influences popular culture.
“Someone is going to guide the narrative, someone is going to inform the people,” White said. “I think it’s important that we (historians) are at least a part of the conversation if not at the center. As someone who is used to teaching a classroom, this is just another way to reach people, to tell the story. And it’s in a way that my students are going to connect to.”