Revisionist History

Ficino

Ad Honorem
Apr 2012
7,054
Romania
Well, there is constant revision of history. And there is bad history – shoddily constructed arguments, untenable, improbable interpretations on slender bases of evidence, incompletely and/or misleadingly sourced.

Sometimes they are conflated, but not necessarily.
One thing is the revision of historiography when significant new data or information becomes available, another the revision of historiography under the dictates of a certain ideology/the rewriting of history according to the tenets of that ideology. Unfortunately the second kind of revisionism is much more often encountered nowadays, and besides it a third kind, revisionism for the sake of revisionism.
 

Zip

Jan 2018
759
San Antonio
Often the history being revised was just as politically correct in its time as the revised history now being criticized for being politically correct. Let's face it, history being used for political purposes is nothing new.

It's my observation that many who complain about political correctness complain because their views no longer meet with general approval or the approval of elites who once encouraged their views but no longer think them useful.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
6,090
What the political, theoretical or philosophical bias of any single or group of historians might be usually matters a LOT less than whether they have a profound knowledge of the material and sources from the period, AND do the fundamentals of "akribi" and source criticism properly. In that case they can have damn near whatever outlook and they will still produce something worth reading. The conceptual machinery etc. tends to be fairly easy to identify and manage in the reading.

The nasty ones are the ones who really argue in bad faith and simply ignore contradictions, potentially contradicting material etc.
 
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Jul 2019
1,048
New Jersey
It's my observation that many who complain about political correctness complain because their views no longer meet with general approval or the approval of elites who once encouraged their views but no longer think them useful.
...Or because they don't like to see every positive achievement their country has ever made dragged through the mud in order to please some hectoring ideologues. I have as much distaste for fanatical lost causers as I do for the 1619 Project.
 

Zip

Jan 2018
759
San Antonio
...Or because they don't like to see every positive achievement their country has ever made dragged through the mud in order to please some hectoring ideologues. I have as much distaste for fanatical lost causers as I do for the 1619 Project.
Yes, there's that too.

Over Thanksgiving the New York Times (which I read daily) printed 2, count 'em, 2, opinion pieces on the raw deal the American Indians got and how Thanksgiving is blah, blah, blah. As though we don't already know this and need to have our noses rubbed in it again.
 

dreamregent

Ad Honorem
Feb 2013
4,410
Coastal Florida
The NYT's 1619 Project is a classic example of what the OP was writing about. They didn't bother getting the input of the leading experts on the period, and as a result they came out with a version of "history" that is heavy on grievance culture and light on the facts. I've seen numerous articles from professional historians lambasting the project for its revisionism, including these three interviews on that well-known reactionary conservative site: the World Socialist Web Site.

Gordon Wood
James McPherson
James Oakes

That's a better example but the OP didn't cite something like this. Rather, he cited examples of untenable and irrational denialism. Perhaps some people consider that a branch of historical revisionism but I don't. Nevertheless, I'm glad you brought up the 1619 Project as it provides a great way to illustrate the importance of a couple of things I and @Divinespark said in reply to the OP:

In my view, you're better off teaching your grandchildren how to be skeptical critical thinkers who can ably assess the bias and credibility of their sources.
Find something that challenges your perception of history, then find out what is right about that book, and what is wrong about it. Develop your own historical interpretation by actually reading the sources.

From my perspective (like that of many others), the 1619 Project suffers from significant factual deficiencies. However, it's not entirely without merit as some of it provides perfectly valid and interesting perspectives which are rarely heard by many. If the folks who contributed to it had really done their homework (and sourced it properly), this could have been a fantastic piece of work. Because a couple of my primary areas of historical interest are the evolution of politics and the sociopolitical history of bigotry in the US, I am familiar with much of the subject matter. I'm also familiar with a plethora of primary sources I can consult to fact-check or settle questions I might have about claims I read in a work like this. For someone who isn't as familiar with the material, the 1619 Project provides a great opportunity to practice research skills and develop the means to analyze primary sources appropriately. It's the same rigorous test one should apply to any historical narrative or documentary as none of them are perfect in my experience.

If somebody expects to find the "correct" view in any one book or set of books, he's asking for nothing less than an indoctrination of dogma, at least some of which is probably unsound and/or incoherent. I think it's very unfortunate that intellectual laziness like this is often encouraged, particularly for children. "Just read this book written by X. He'll tell you everything you need to know!" Perhaps I'm overly skeptical but that simply doesn't work for me when it comes to the analysis of history. Over the years, I've found too many cases of creators who only give the part of the story they want you to believe.
 
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Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,694
Westmorland
They claim that the the Revolution was fought, not over issues of representation, but primarily to protect American slaveholders from British abolitionists.

Maybe we have different definitions of revisionism, but I'm pretty sure running roughshod over the facts to cram the history of slavery into a preconceived ideological box (which ever so happens to dovetail with the writers' politics) and radically upending the traditional understanding of American history constitutes "revisionism"
The problem here is that you seem very able to spot preconceived ideologies in the arguments of others whilst being much less good at spotting them in your own.

I may be misinterpreting your argument (in which case, my apologies), but as I read it, what you are saying is that the assertion that the Revolution was fought over issues of representation is correct, meaning that anyone who says it was fought over anything else is somehow in thrall to their preconceptions.

I would propose that your assertion that the Revolution was fought over issues of representation is every bit as shot through with ideology as any other argument. We all like to tell ourselves good stories and the steady rise of nationalism as the dominant form of self-identification means that, in particular we like to tell ourselves good stories about how super our country is (and therefore, by extension, how super we are). Many of us in Britain do this through the endless pretence that only we understand humour, good manners and fair play. From what I can tell, many of you in America do it through the endless pretence that only you know what freedom is.

As such, the idea that the Revolution was a noble struggle for self-determination is always going to be a more comfortable one that the idea that it could have been motivated by anything as grubby or sordid as self-interest. But that doesn't make it true and it certainly doesn't justify trying to prevent historians from advancing other arguments by loftily writing them all off as 'politically correct'. As I argued before Christmas, 'political correctness' is an insult, not a defined term. Specifically, it is a convenient way of persuading oneself that one does not need to pay any credence to any argument which one instinctively does not wish to be true. Call the offending argument 'politically correct' and you can cut it off at the knees without engaging with it in any meaningful way.

A person may do that if they wish, but if they do so wish, they should not flatter themselves that they are a historian.
 
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Jul 2019
1,048
New Jersey
The problem here is that you seem very able to spot preconceived ideologies in the arguments of others whilst being much less good at spotting them in your own.

I may be misinterpreting your argument (in which case, my apologies), but as I read it, what you are saying is that the assertion that the Revolution was fought over issues of representation is correct, meaning that anyone who says it was fought over anything else is somehow in thrall to their preconceptions.

I would propose that your assertion that the Revolution was fought over issues of representation is every bit as shot through with ideology as any other argument. We all like to tell ourselves good stories and the steady rise of nationalism as the dominant form of self-identification means that, in particular we like to tell ourselves good stories about how super our country is (and therefore, by extension, how super we are). Many of us in Britain do this through the endless pretence that only we understand humour, good manners and fair play. From what I can tell, many of you in America do it through the endless pretence that only you know what freedom is.

As such, the idea that the Revolution was a noble struggle for self-determination is always going to be a more comfortable one that the idea that it could have been motivated by anything as grubby or sordid as self-interest. But that doesn't make it true and it certainly doesn't justify trying to prevent historians from advancing other arguments by loftily writing them all off as 'politically correct'. As I argued before Christmas, 'political correctness' is an insult, not a defined term. Specifically, it is a convenient way of persuading oneself that one does not need to pay any credence to any argument which one instinctively does not wish to be true. Call the offending argument 'politically correct' and you can cut it off at the knees without engaging with it in any meaningful way.

A person may do that if they wish, but if they do so wish, they should not flatter themselves that they are a historian.
I have no doubt whatsoever that the causes of the Revolution were legion and extremely complex. Of course representation wasn't the sole reason for fighting the war. But there can be no denying that it was an extremely significant reason - the Nathan Hales of this country fought for an ideal. The problem with NYT's 1619 project is not because they add another motive for the revolution - it's because they take something which was, at best, a minor supporting motive for a small group of actors and project it on to the entire conflict, at the expense of the major dynamics at play.
 
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Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,694
Westmorland
I have no doubt whatsoever that the causes of the Revolution were legion and extremely complex. Of course representation wasn't the sole reason for fighting the war. But there can be no denying that it was an extremely significant reason - the Nathan Hales of this country fought for an ideal. The problem with NYT's 1619 project is not because they add another motive for the revolution - it's because they take something which was, at best, a minor supporting motive for a small group of actors and project it on to the entire conflict, at the expense of the major dynamics at play.
That's fair enough, but it doesn't take away from the fact that you are expressing an opinion about the causes of the Revolution, not a fact. You may well be right, but that doesn't permit you to write off other views as inherently flawed by reason of a dogged adherence to doctrine.

I don't know much about the 1619 project, but as I understand it, it represents respectable historical research. So, would it not be better to engage with (and rebut if you can) the arguments through proper discourse and debate, rather than hiding behind the straw man of political correctness?