Revisionist History Abuse: How to Study History Part 2


Revisionist History, what is it? Well, first off, let’s start with what it isn’t. Revisionist history is not people in power “revising” history to make it more palatable to either themselves or those whom they deem “the masses”. That isn’t really called anything other than rewritten history or “lying”. It has, however, often been mislabeled as revisionist history, and I, for one, think that that is a bad thing. This is part of a longer thread of beginners guides to studying history which will be further fleshed out depending on you, the reader’s interest.

What is “Revisionist History”?

An example of what I’m talking about is the amount of people online who keep saying some version of, “The Lost Cause” is revisionist history. If you are wondering, what am I getting at here? Isn’t that correct? You would be partially correct if your reading of that sentence is just dependent on the definitions of the words revisionist and history individually. However, the term “revisionist history” is a historiographic school of thought, not just “history that has been retold for a political or societal purpose”. In other words, revisionist history is not just the title of a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell (even though said podcast has better SEO than the Wikipedia page on the school of thought). 

canon - revisionist history
Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

Typically, historical revisionism is going back into the original texts, finding new information from other first and secondhand sources, and studying the archaeological record for the purposes of reevaluating the orthodox telling of the story. Revisionist historians have challenged the status quo of traditionalist storytelling and are responsible for our better understanding of how things were. It’s an evolving practice and dialogue about what caused historical events and why. 

Revisionism has unfairly developed a negative connotation that was seeded by traditionalist historians. It’s negative connotation has now bled over to the very people who should proudly stake their claim on it. In conclusion, revisionist history ≠ ‘the lost cause”; revisionist history = history.