Historical revisionism  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Historical revisionism has both a legitimate academic use and a pejorative meaning. The pejorative use refers to illegitimate manipulation of history for political purposes, for example Holocaust denial.

Within the academic field of history, historical revisionism is the critical reexamination of historical facts, with an eye towards rewriting histories with newly discovered information. The assumption is that history as it has been traditionally told may not be entirely accurate.

Contents

Examples

These are examples of historical revisionist ideas.

The "Dark Ages"

As non-Latin texts such as Welsh, Gaelic and the Sagas have been analysed and added to the canon of knowledge about the period and a lot more archaeological evidence has come to light, the period traditionally known as the Dark Ages has narrowed to the point where many historians no longer believe that such a term is useful. Moreover, the term "Dark" implies less of a void of culture and law, but more a lack of many sources in mainland Europe.

Many modern scholars who study the era tend to avoid the term altogether for its negative connotations, finding it misleading and inaccurate for any part of the Middle Ages.

"Feudalism"

The concept of feudalism has been questioned. Revisionist scholars led by historian Elizabeth A. R. Brown have rejected the term.

Agincourt

For centuries, historians thought the Battle of Agincourt was an engagement in which the English army, though overwhelmingly outnumbered four to one by the French army, pulled off a stunning victory—a version especially popularised by Shakespeare's play Henry V. However, recent research by Professor Anne Curry using the original enrollment records, has brought into question this interpretation. Though her research is not finished, that the French only outnumbered the English and Welsh 12,000 to 8,000. If true, the numbers may have been exaggerated for patriotic reasons by the English.

Alchemy

Science historians are taking a new look at alchemy. Traditionally there was little room in the history of science for alchemy, which famously tried to convert lead into gold (lead oxide has a yellow colour), and it has been seen as closer to magic or mysticism than science. However there has been a revival of scholarship on the field and historians are finding reasons to give at least some alchemy a new interpretation. Alchemists, some historians are now saying, contributed to the emergence of modern chemistry as a science.

New World discovery

In recounting the European colonization of the Americas, some history books of the past paid little attention to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, usually mentioning them only in passing and making no attempt to understand the events from their point of view. This was reflected in the once widespread description of Christopher Columbus having "discovered" America. The portrayal of these events has since been revised, and much present scholarship examines the impact of European exploration and colonization on indigenous peoples.(see Postcolonialism).

Victorianism

Some common misconceptions of Victorian morality

German guilt in causing World War I

In reaction to the orthodox interpretation enshrined in the Versailles Treaty (which declared that Germany was guilty of starting World War I), the self-described "revisionist" historians of the 1920s rejected the orthodox view and presented a complex causation in which several other countries were equally guilty. Intense debate continues among scholars, see Causes of World War I.

Guilt for causing World War II

The orthodox interpretation blamed Hitler and Nazi Germany, and Imperial Japan, for causing the war, see Causes of World War II. Revisionist historians of World War II, notably Charles Beard, said the U.S. was partly to blame because it pressed the Japanese too hard in 1940–41 and rejected compromises.

The American conservative, Patrick Buchanan, argued that the British-French guarantee to Poland in 1939 encouraged Poland not to seek a compromise over Danzig, though Britain and France were in no position to come to Poland's aid, and Hitler was offering the Poles an alliance in return. He argues that they thereby turned a minor border dispute into a catastrophic world conflict, and handed East Europe, including Poland, to Stalin.

American Business and the "Robber Barons"

The role of American business and the alleged "robber barons" began to be revised in the 1930s. Termed "business revisionism" by Gabriel Kolko, historians such as Allan Nevins, and, later, Alfred D. Chandler emphasized the positive contributions of individuals who were previously pictured as villains. Peter Novick writes, "The argument that whatever the moral delinquencies of the robber barons, these were far outweighed by their decisive contributions to American military {and industrial} prowess, was frequently invoked by Allan Nevins."

Cold War

In the Historiography of the Cold War a debate exists between historians advocating a "orthodox" and "revision" interpretation of Soviet history.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Historical revisionism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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