Historical revisionism is a term used for the reinterpretations of facts and narratives based on new evidence and sources. It took on some negative meaning when revisionists began spinning history in some new direction, pursuing an agenda to cast a different light on some subject, or outright create false histories. While revisionism is an inherent part of historiography, since “good” historians try to avoid bias, the negationist point of view is an extreme case of revisionism where facts are chosen to be presented while withholding others expressly to support a new narrative. Revisionist history can be useful in the academic world as well as the socio-political realm, but revisionism doesn’t always have to underscore something nefarious. But just as well, revisionism can be a blow to an expert historian’s ego when he or she is suddenly proved wrong.
Things that can affect change in historiography can come from many sources; access to new data, scientific developments, nationalist pride, culture and ideology. These ever-changing academic disciplines contribute to a greater wealth of knowledge in academia; new developments create a basis for rewriting the known and accepted narrative. The problem comes when that new information diverts so drastically that the majority begins to refute it, sometimes to the point of completely ignoring the evidence. Of course, when the “new development” is entirely fabricated, it is up to historians to use their professional discretion to establish truth.
Again, truth becomes an important theme in historiography as I’ve attempted to point out in the Objectivity post. Some truths can be very hard to take, such as Gar Alperovitz’s The Dicision to Use the Atomic Bomb, where the evidence tends to point at the motives of historical figures; importantly, though, “truth” is relative term and it should be noted, here, that the interpretation of sources can be construed in different ways by different people. Sometimes these reinterpretations can reveal something important in the psyche of the population, culture, or society or it may shed new light on an old problem in science and technology.