Living History: The False Premise of Claims of Revisionism

Continuing my theme of history . . .

I think we have a problem in how people view history, particularly in the U.S. Too many view history as a dead thing. It is not. History is a living entity, but the view that it is dead spawns myriad false claims of historical revisionism.

A brief pause.

Historical revisionism is a thing. However, historians do not (generally) perform historical revisionism. Politically, religiously, or otherwise motivated non-historians are typically those who perform historical revisionism, due to a partially false premise.

On the one hand, there’s the view that history is the past and therefore is unchanging. On one level, this is correct. However, our understanding and information about history changes constantly.

It is true that history means the events of the past. It is true that the past doesn’t change, therefore history doesn’t change.

We are constantly making new archaeological discoveries, developing new technologies that help archaeologists. We are also re-studying and thereby better understanding the discoveries of the past (such as Schleiman’s Trojan artifacts or the sack or Rome). We are always finding new documents (legal, literary, personal) and better understanding older versions of languages (whether Middle English, Sumerian, or whatnot). We also apply more advanced methods to acquire information (DNA analysis, for example). All of these shift our understanding of the information we have gathered, provide new information, and often create new questions to be answered.

I wonder, sometimes, if there is a difference between American and Eurasian understandings of history, given the wealth of visible ancient historical sites throughout Europe and Asia and the plethora of archaeological discoveries on both continents, particularly in major European cities. I’m not sure, really. But, from my own travels in Ireland and England, and to a lesser extent China, I love the fact that 500, 700, 1000, 1700 year old ruins and restored buildings are almost literally everywhere and right next to brand new buildings.

Image(Photo: Tower of London [foreground] and “The Gherkin” [background], credit: lordtaltos, 2008)

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