The concept of historical revisionism is rife with pejorative and negative connotations, as James McPherson notes in his article in the American Historical Association “Revisionist Historians”. Oftentimes the concept is equated with deliberate and malicious reworking of historical narratives to serve a purpose, whether political or ideological. His specific reference to this phenomenon in modern times is the Administration of President Bush in 2003 stating that criticism for the war in Iraq was coming from those who were deliberately revising history in order to cast a negative light on a controversial war. This attempt to cast historical revisionism in a negative light is damaging to the process of writing and investigating history, and undermines the work of many professional historians who engage in historical revisionism as an essential process in the field.
McPherson argues that in fact historical revisionism is an important, and integral part in seeking to learn the truth, or gain a different perspective on historical events. To not engage in the process of analyzing new data and evidence, view an event from a “different lens”, or consider that certain accepted facts or narratives may be fabrications would be equivalent to historians actively choosing not to do their job. This negative connotation may in part be due to the related but different practice of negationism or denial, the practitioners of which deliberately lump themselves into the revisionist school of thought in order to lend credibility to their claims. Often denial and negation in the field of history are self-serving, whether for political or ideological reasons.
The practice of historical revisionism is crucial in presenting an objective, academic, and truth based narrative on a particular historical event. The historian must be willing to look at history, and accepted narratives, and be willing to adapt their perspective based on new evidence, or analyze an event from a different perspective. While this may be difficult and challenge long held notions about a historical event, figure, or process; as the Conger article “How Revisionist History Works” notes, it is absolutely essential in the practice of truly academic historical pursuit. We, as amateur historians, must be willing to accept that our preconceived notions may not be an absolute, or follow a particular worldview which we are accustomed to. In order to engage in academic historical work we have to be able to adapt and accept new evidence, counter-claims, and varied perspectives in order to maintain objectivity in our work.
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“Revisionist Historians | AHA”. 2017. Historians.Org. Accessed September 14 2017. https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/september-2003/revisionist-historians.
Myth, History. 2009. “How Revisionist History Works”. Accessed September 14 2017. http://history.howstuffworks.com/history-vs-myth/revisionist-history.htm.