Delanie Tarvin: “Revisionisms” by Peter Wood

Peter Wood’s “Revisionisms” is the introduction to an issue of the publication Academic Questions. In this introduction, Wood discusses the origin of the term revisionism and what it stands for today; moreover, he criticizes the revisionist approach to history as it relates to the World War II and Cold War era. Wood explains that  the original meaning of the term revisionism was used to characterize “radical theorists who deviated from the orthodox Marxism” during the nineteenth century (Wood, 407). He then asserts that Western intellectuals drastically changed the meaning of the word, and “by the 1960s, a revisionist was someone sufficiently brave and independent to defy tired old ways of thinking” (Wood, 408). (At least, according to Wood, that’s what progressive Americans changed it to symbolize.) The author goes on to outline the various articles this issue features, all of which somehow concern (and mostly critique) revisionism. By the end of his introduction, the author returns to the subject of Cold War revisionism, claiming that revisionism in this sense is the view that one can “recast the history of the American Communist Party as the story of well-intentioned idealists who were simply struggling to improve their nation,” and this view  “is one form of revisionism that truly cannot stand the test of historical fact” (Wood, 410). Wood defends this claim by mentioning recently discovered Soviet archives that give us new insight to the large amount of control the Soviets had over the American Communist movement, though he does not go into detail about these resources.


In a way, Wood does present a brief historiographical article, as he outlines different perspectives on revisionism. However, the article mostly critiques Cold War era revisionism, and a specific type at that. Wood does not go into detail on other revisionist stances in relation to the Cold War besides the one that he says places blame on America. Moreover, each historian cited discusses different types of revisionism (ranging from academic revisionism to feminist art, which Wood claims is “pretty much nothing but the spirit of revisionism in unhinged hostility to anything that can be counted as “male definition of culture”” (Wood, 411).) Third, the perspectives given are more or less the same in their distaste for revisionism. The author makes it clear that he is not a fan of revisionism, at least in the case he describes regarding the Cold War, so I hesitate to describe this as a purely historiographical piece. The explanation of revisionism is very narrow, and it is confusing whether he is critical of revisionism in general or just when it is written by progressive historians. He does not simply offer different perspectives; rather, he mostly offers ones that line up with his own view.


The author’s obvious bias made this article less appealing. If he would have at least given one counterexample – even if he quickly disputed it with evidence and quality reasoning – I would have taken his argument more seriously. His borderline insulting diction (using words such as “fable” to describe a historical view different than his) made his argument seem less scholarly and more like a personal vendetta for all things relating to revisionism (Wood, 410). Perhaps this journal targets a specific audience that already agrees with Wood, but, to me, that doesn’t excuse making claims without providing evidence. To give him the benefit of the doubt, however, it is just an introduction to an entire journal issue. Perhaps the journal goes on to supply evidence for his claims.


Peter Wood, “Revisionisms, Academic Questions, 22 (2009): p. 407-413.

Word Count: 560

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