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tv   James Banner The Ever- Changing Past  CSPAN  July 26, 2021 12:28am-2:01am EDT

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>> it is my genuine pleasure to introduce our speaker, our author this afternoon, james banner who is currently visiting scholar in history at the george washington university. gym is no stranger to the washington history seminar. is a cofounder of the national history center, one of its sponsors and is a regular and engaged participant in the seminar. today you won't be able to ask questions, jen. we get to ask them of your. he's a founder of the american association for the advancement of humanities but she's been a recipient of guggenheim and fellowships in the longest many publications are to the hartford convention, the federalist of the origins of party politics in
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massachusetts 79-ish 1815 published in 1969, and being a historian and introduction to the professional world of history cambridge university press 2012. in 2019 he published a rather timely volume, edited volume, presidential misconduct from george washington today put out by new press, and this afternoon he will be speaking on his just published yale university press book, "the ever-changing past: why all history is revisionist history." with that, jen, the zoom room is all yours. >> eric, thank you so much. christian, to peer rachel i think absent today, emily and peter and particularly sarah who i've known since the late '60s or the early '70s at princeton. i want to show everyone a copy of the wonderful book thinking
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about history and recommend that everybody become acquainted with it, read it, own it and taken its wisdom. i want to start this evening, this afternoon with a brief story about the origins of this book. i suppose one has to say that its origins could only happen in washington. my late colleague, some of you no doubt knew him, roger brown, and a story historian le early american republic, and i found ourselves sitting in the supreme court chambers of justice clarence thomas. roger and i were bleeding about 55 middle and high school teachers through what had been, known as constitution boot camp, a month-long program on the origins of american constitutional government and the justice had agreed to speak with us.
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he wanted to be briefed before we spoke so roger and i were sitting in his chambers and having a very lively conversation here is a very well-informed, very smiley man at ease with himself and he realized he had historians there and he said, hey guys, you might like to know that i'm spending the summer reading books about the history of slavery in the south. what could we say but terrific mr. justice. on mr. justice. tell us what you reading. so he named john franklin and janet's stamp but not, he said, the revisionists. he may have had in mind robert vogel and stanley, we didn't go down that road but instead roger and i had the wit to say do you know anything about these authors particularly john hope franklin? he did know much about them so we let him through the history, particularly of franklin from
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1947 until dashmac and franklins life, and so we said, to wind up the conversation, mr. justice, the books you're reading for the summer what you should do and keep in mind works of revisionists f revisionist history and did some of the most important work in revisionist history of the late 20th century. with that i'm easy come with the conversation, justice thomas took the conversation in another direction. now, roger and i could have attributed that switch because i think you would set this conversation is going really well and is likely to say what do you mean, professor? what do you mean, roger brown? of course we could attribute that to his regionalism. blackmore was at stake than that. estes thomas like so many people
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had a view of historical thought of being status and forever, staples insert without context, separate from its creators intentions and dispositions. and that experience nodded me for many years and that's what let me try to explain what we mean when we use the term vision asked history. my original thought was far from thinking through the subject that eventually in our recent years would come to fill the headlines but then of course the subject became more than that academic. it became urgent and relevant. i of course have written this book looking over my shoulder at the public debates about true and fake news, true and fake history and facts and everything else. but was there anything new to say about the subject? after all, all practicing
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historians orient themselves in the literature of the subjects before they dig into the subjects. don't we all know what revisionist history means? well, after thinking about the subject for a few years and writing a book about it, i don't think that we do. so i have taken the stand taken to the subject and no doubt it is not a stab you would've taken. one of the reasons is because there's not much literature on revisionist history as a general phenomenon. all of us who write and practice history know the literature of our particular special subjects. so we take it for granted that we know the literatures that we know what we are doing fits into that literature, and what contribution it may make and what we are trying to make and so on. but we are all acquainted with revisionist history. but we haven't thought about
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this subject as a whole. and, in fact, my book is only the second book that i know of in the english language on the subject, and the first one was published in 1929, was written by lucy maynard salmon, very book of its kind the one that no longer suits our own day. so what i say this advent is the result of a tour through uncharted territory. there's not a big literature about revisionist history. surely there are books about the histories of the war, tom presley for example, there are certainly books comfortable books about the history of historical thought and needless to say when i taken up as one to do with historical thought, become a particular slant, i'm not trying to make sense of how
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historical thought has changed because that has been taken up by people who are greatly my master, my better in that subject. i had been cutting into a new way, and to what i'm going to say from now on is me speaking. it's not an argument with an existing literature. i have tried to collect the subject as best i can. no doubt all of you would do it differently here you looking to do so. i think we need much more discussion on the subject than we have ever had. so let me begin and present a kind of dashmac we are dealing with the general phenomenon that has existed i think i have to argue and is a valid statement has existed from the days of
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dashmac revisionist history is an integral component of historical thought. in the second place it's a component of historical thought that has a history of its own distinct from the history of historical thought. but it's a component of historical thought that it's been little thought about. what is revisionist history, you will ask me. defining it is really quite difficult. i take a broad view of it, one that makes every work of history at least prospectively and potentially revisionist. revisionist history is any work that seems to me that adds to her knowledge of the past or that adds a fresh interpretation of some aspect of it. and that is it any challenge existing interpretations of any aspect of the past brought about by new evidence, new arguments,
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new perspectives or new methods. so i am, i offer a capacious definition of revisionist history to you. to promiscuous? some people think so. i don't think so, but much of my definition has to do with scale which i'll get to in a few minutes. i think it will help clarify the definition, broad definition that i'm offering to your. in employing such a broad definition of revisionist history, i'm trying to bring consideration of a larger phenomenon into the open. because as you probably heard me say it really deserves more attention than it is received. history, after all, i suspect some but not all of you will agree with me, sarah i believe will certainly agree with me, is a comparatively under theorized discipline. now i'm not offering a hard case
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that history should divide itself with literary scholars or historians, but we've been woefully lax in exposing ourselves to realities, logical, philosophical and just the historical realities of historical inquiry. i like to go down that road but that's the subject for some of the time, some other place, and really for people who know more about the logic of historical importance than ideal. but i think of it as a subject like the sociology of humanities, that desperately needs attention. i ask myself quite frequently, where is robert merton? why don't we have sociology of the humanities and perhaps the related social sciences as we do
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with the scientists? it is really to meet a very, very noticeable lack in our intellectual universe. let me now turn to the subject. what is it that i've concluded in looking over as best i can, basically i'm an american asked, yes, i know with western history but i'm not a specialist in the history of the west. what have i concluded in reviewing what i think is important to know about the history as it has been a suit in the west? in the first place without question it seems to me revisionist history has been with us since the beginning. it is simply wrong to think as many today on the right but some doubt on the left it is wrong to believe that revisionist history is somehow a product of the
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awful post 1960s decades. and here as my witness i invoke none other than the classicist and historian of classic times donald kagan, marriages of yale. he's a formidable scholar. he has argued in his wonderful book on -- that it is the first revisionist historian. happy to stand behind donald kagan. i think i could go back to herodotus himself took a couple of slacks but those two men come herodotus and facilities who inaugurated historical inquiry as we have come to know it, they were both inquiring minds who took take nothing for granted, who were skeptical about the evidence before them and in the
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case of -- a right off the bat different with herodotus as to what were the correct right, the fitting, suitable subjects of historical inquiry. so why did the very origins of historical fall in the west? leaving argument between these, really arguments, it's an argument that commenced within about how history is to be done. in the second place, revisionist history has never cohabited with a particular ideology or religion or a party or a group, nor again as the right so often argues in fears, does the left went all interpretive battles. now here again i think one has to point to -- for 2300 years,
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2300 years, the kind of history that he did commanded the field to excel. it was men, military affairs, political affairs, institutions between states, and struggle with people began to do from the 18th century on to break out of that sin with present of historical inquiry which really did make substantial progress in land ourselves when we are today until sometime in the 19th century. so that traditional, the conservative approach to historical inquiry has appeal to itself or twice rendered years after herodotus was the great promiscuous, curious person that
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he was about social and cultural and intellectual as well as political and military history. and look at the kind of historiography we've been dealing with since the fourth century of the christian era. it was christian historiography inaugurated, and look certainly at christian historiography has commanded the field until recently. look what happened to the historiography of the french revolution declared some years ago that the french revolution is over. well, that sounds to me like a rather middle-of-the-road if not conservative position, not accepted universally of course look at the victory the opponents of the enola gay
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exhibit on the ball and the air and space museum in the mid-'90s one. conservatives when these battles as well as people on the left or liberals here and so there's no particular stable say follow for any kind of historical interpretation of the political spectrum. in the third-place, there are many varieties of revisionist history, and i tried to give these varieties some names. all of you might find a different way to distinguish different times i revisionist history but you might even think the exercise that i put myself through to do so is irrelevant. i don't because to say that something is revisionist history, it's like saying ice is cold or milk is white picket doesn't say very much and will
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have to ask yourself when speaking of different, fresh challenging interpretations where it fits on a spectrum of revisionist history, what kind of revisionist history it is. and so i nessie revisionist history as falling into a number of categories. what i would call transformational history, deeply consequential ways of seeing the past that altar really forever the way which the past is understood. my point here is do you see this as transformation of history from the pagan classic mold, this is in the west only come to the christian mode of interpretation. i would also put marxist theories in that same category
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even though they didn't call themselves historians or thinkers of a different time. then there's philosophical revisionism, the kind of argument we have is the correct way to do history, history the traditional kind of, or can it be broader, further and can it can encompass everything from emotions, sound, bookcases do everything which we have never we have histories of everything. that would have been possible to execute ago and so some people think we have done much too far for then there's what i call conceptual history, conceptual revisionist history. distinct ways of conceptualizing the past and new ways. take for example, women's history and theories of changes in the position of women in the united states and elsewhere that have greatly come hugely advance
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our understanding of not only women's history but of history of every western society that we know anything of. and there's also what i would call method revisionism, the kind of revisionist history that arises when the availability of methods that were not available to us in earlier days. in dna sampling is in my view the major example of this. for example, it was because of dna science that we were able to learn about and i think the relationship between thomas jefferson and sally hemmings. i revisionist view of virginia, jefferson, slavery in monticello, everything else couldn't have been secured without dna science. then there's evidence driven
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revisionism, new ways of looking at the past because of the discovery of new evidence here take for example, the dead sea scrolls. they altered our understanding of the eastern mediterranean in the days of the jews and the palestinians, and that entire part of the crescent of the east. and then whatever is left over is normal revisionist history. be easy on me with that because we refine what is been argued before, we adjust our views on this and that subject. we add to what has been known or thought about a the subject, sometimes normal revisionist history can be exceedingly
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influential and important. then there's the matter of scale which i think is very, very important here when i returned to the matter of the definition of revisionist history, you have to keep in mind the nature of the subject that is being discussed, for example, no one is going to claim that a new way of looking at the battle of little whatchamacallit and lower level via is really revisionist, okay? certainly not on the scale of eusebius is christian transformation of western historiography. but if we keep scale and scholarly context in mind, in this case it worked about a battle that's scarcely going to roil any major dimension of
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historiography, in my view it's revisionist within its scholarly context and in that sense it deserves to be called revisionist history even though very few of us will read the article or the short book that takes up that battle whose name in place i just made up. so of course it's not you cvn to scale but it's revisionist history nonetheless within the context of its subject. then i asked myself so with all this about revisionist history and if i take it as a phenomenon, what does it do for public and civic life? does revisionist history have
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any use not only to historians but to people, the citizens, the subjects? i think it's better off to ask questions whether revisionist histories bear fruit, and here i think the answer is without question yes. the subject and i hear defer to sarah, a historian of france, i take as my poster subject the histories of the french revolution which really have helped to define the way in which france is understood not only as a nationstate but the french were understood as a people with potency, with political capacity, and historians have played an extraordinary role in defining the french nation to the french themselves. i think the same kind of fruit
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were generated in the enola gay controversy here in the united states in the 1990s because it made clear to those people, most of us i assume were following the debates that were being generated here in the national air and space museum, because it clarified for people what was at stake as we try to memorialize, understand and present the history of one of the defining events of the 20th century. and it made no difference to me as an analyst who won that battle here it's rather that the debate itself was being educational and that was one of the produce of the debate is to how the past was to be presented with side so to speak of the military, the air force
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association side, or the academic historians who had a different view of the past and the air force veterans did. also i think we have to keep in mind that revisionist history does not take place within the confines of the academy. it never has and it still doesn't. we do not as professional historians control the course of historical inquiry. now, this may be a truism to most of us but i think it still has to be entered and kept in mind. culture, society, the climate of opinion all play a strong role. historians may not follow the election returns but we exist in the culture into which we are born and we live our lives. and we ought to do a better job of confronting the cynicism
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about what's taken to be our partialitys. is there any human population that has no relationship to its culturalist thought, social relations, it's a geographic location? we expect chinese composers to write music in the matter of thomas addison or john adams or steve reich? we live comfortably, don't we all come with the poetry of both john dunn and e.e. cummings? there's a cornucopia of choices that we have. we are all different people, different temperaments, different dispositions. we write different histories and that's what makes historical knowledge so rich i think in the minds of all of us who are together this afternoon. and if you think that we need to pay more attention in explaining
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to her students into the general public that we do our best to be aware of the limits to our own thought. we do our best to keep in mind our search for the final truth, the objective truth perhaps, although i doubt that, about certain aspects of the past, but we remain ourselves. and we can only see the past out of our own temperament and our own places in society and her own origins. and that gets us to the fact that in less historical thought is to be divorced from all life it has to make sense to the people in the era in which it's produced so that means that historical interpretations
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eventually go out of date and no longer speak to later times in the way they did when they were developed, written and produced but it's the same thing with say popular music. the public doesn't find cole porter and dick rogers and george gershwin and steve rice, that it doesn't come into musical tastes are different because the music now appeals to the people who are alive today, and the same thing with our histories. so interpretations that historians produce not to speak to the people of the data which the histories are written, and after all historians themselves are members of the population and are part of the world for which they write so we are ineluctably part of the context in which our histories are written and so our histories are going to reflect our times and our minds and they're going to differ from histories written
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earlier. and because of that they enrich the entire body of historical knowledge that is come to exist. i think of historical knowledge now as sedimentary. maybe it's there to be tossed out by new modes of thought, by new sets of views, the same way that strata are exposed by volcanoes and by earthquakes and so on. they are there in the soil ready to be used here they are always affecting the histories that we write. we are the children of our predecessors. which gets me finally to the vexing the necessary question of objectivity. we could be empiricists without being held to the standard of godlike completion, all seeing, all-knowing, all at once.
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remove forward like snakes or crabs do, from side to side, not in straight lines. we add to what was thought, of what was written before us, but we drive ourselves still i think in hefty towards what what was called that noble dream of objectivity. now, one of the reviewers of the press of my book urged that i drop the subject of objectivity from it, and i didn't take that advice because i thought a lot had been thought about the problem of objectivity since peter novick wrote his wonderful book in the 1980s. we have learned a lot about
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objectivity that could have been thought of or hadn't been written about since then. take for example, the book the pass upon our country in which leventhal makes the sharp distinction between history as it happened and history as it is recalled and left in the evidence to the twomac are separated or distinct in ways that can't be bridged then there's a new history of scientific objectivity that go beyond tom coons work and i refer here and urge all of you to become acquainted with the wonderful book called objectivity by lorraine gaston and peter gallison. they make the case that, and it's convincing to me that scientists are implicated in
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their science. sites, there's no such thing as an impersonal science. science grows out of human intentions, and to think that even sciences objectivity is incorrect. i think one has two, we have to ask historians differ a bit to the knowledge of such historians of science and see that science itself probably can't, at least as we understand it today, the objective in the old ways that we thought it could be repented of course there's hayden whites contents of reform. there's discourse course three coming out of europe on the death of the author and so on, and then since peter novicks book there are the advantages of neuroscience and in memory. it makes it impossible for me to
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think that there can ever be certain unchanging view of any part of the past, that every interpretation of the past is relative to every other one and that you understand the past only by understanding all of the ways in which people so far have interpreted a certain part of the past. in that sense, i end up in a postmodern position, although i've never until now thought myself as a postmodernist but when he think about the subject of objectivity as told to me by others i think we accept the ideal that noble dream of trying to understand the past versus i got like a vase and bar, but we
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never get there. and, of course, bronchus statement can be translated to ways. we in the anglophone world had taken the translation to be as the past actually happened. other translations would have it as the past essentially happened. those are very different actually and essentially, and if we take that statement in the second translation, in the spirit of the second translation, we probably have it right that we are driving ourselves always get closer asymptotically to what really happened but we will never get there but if we can get to an understanding of what essentially happened and we can narrow the differences in arguments, then we are making progress. so i end with the sense that
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revisionist history is part of the richest of the open, free, democratic society, a society that prohibits its members from freely conceptualizing the past by the use of evidence, and freely criticizing what others have written about the past, is not a free society. it is north korea. it is russia. it is hungry. it is a texas, and we should celebrate revisionist history. we should explain to those who are fearful of it think there's something wrong with that, we should explain to them what we historians do and what we come out better than we have succeeded in doing. that's one of the features that makes our intellectual life so robust and so creative, that freedom creates the histories
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and comport with what we think the evidence allows us to argue and then the freedom to subject those histories to evaluation and sometimes to merciless attack. and to the possible fate i now submit what i've just said in turn the microphone over to sarah maza. >> thank you very much, jim appeared to managed to scratch the surface of a rich fasting book and we hope we get to explore what you said and other issues in it momentarily. i am delighted to note that our commentator today, as christian said at the outset, is sarah maza who is the james bond professor in the arts and sciences and professor of history at northwestern university, specials and french social and cultural history and in inches of historical theory and methods for her books include servant and masters in 18th century france, uses a multi-published by princeton university press in 1983, lives
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in public affairs that cause the prerevolutionary france university of california press 1993 this one for david pinckney prize price for french historical studies but the myth of the french mortgagee nsa on the social imaginary 1750 hi5 1850, harvard university press, 2003 which one the george mosk prize and a story of murder in 1930s paris, university of california press 2011, and thinking about history university of chicago press in 2017. sarah, we are delighted and glad you could join us. the zoom room is all yours. >> thank you. on really honored to be asked to comment on jim's rich and stimulating book, "the ever-changing past," and i'm also looking forward to the discussion as it's a book that
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given the subject invites debate. i should perhaps that my comments which may sound a little punchy won't come as a surprise to jim because we've been having this conversation since i first read the book and draft and i'm delighted to extend the conversation to a larger group. so "the ever-changing past" is a wide-ranging, eminently readable, one of the best introductions i do what makes historians tick, and i encourage anyone with a broad interest in history to read it. to cut to the chase, since i don't want to take up too much time, the way the book is set up does involve to my mind a bit of sleight-of-hand. on the one hand, as jim points out in the introduction, it really is the first book since 1929 to explicitly take on as
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its central theme the question of historical revisionism. on the other hand, and here's where it becomes controversial, jim is committed to a very broad definition of historical revisionism, and he has mentioned this, his definition, which he gives him the introduction, and i'm quoting him, i define historical revisionism not simply as alterations in historical interpretations, but more specifically as any challenge to historical interpretations brought about by new evidence, new arguments, new perspectives or new methods so the only sort of history that's not revisionist he posits his quote near additions to historical knowledge. now, the commonly accepted definition of revisionism in the
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historical profession and i think probably beyond is a preface or by a dominant interpretation that's accepted quasi-universally is challenged and replaced by a radically different interpretation which often flips the orthodoxy inside out. it's often analogized to the copernican revolution and to the shift from an earth centered qa heliocentric view of the universe. you're looking at something and it's changing it radically to almost its opposite. as the book points out, an example of the history of the french revolution, i'm not just think is because i'm a french historian but it's also absolutely the clearest case in the historiography, until about 1965 everyone including people
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who are hostile to marxism assumed that the essence of the french revolution was self-evidently the rights of the morphology and its toppling of the aristocracy and the monarchy which was an outgrowth of aristocracy. and did as a result of a massive and successful revisionist challenge by the 1980s, nearly all scholars in the field accept the view that the revolution was, as one scholar smartly put it, quote, not a social revolution with political consequences but a political revolution with social consequences. there's similar radical reframing in other fields such as the history of the cold war where the initial paradigm of soviet aggression was flipped to a paradigm of u.s. aggression. you could say that the enola gay affair reflected another kind of
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revisionist view from the decision to drop the bomb was regrettable but necessary to the dropping of the bomb was aggressive and strategic. the first act in the cold war and name the soviets and so on. so there are few, there are quite a few some clearer than others models of this flipping inside out which is what historians usually think of when we say revisionism. so these revisions that i mentioned happened rather quickly. others have been more extended in time but still a radically revisionist i would say that arguably over the last few decades and increasingly in the last few years u.s. history as a whole is being turned inside out as black and native american histories have gone from marginal subjects to centrally
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defining those. so i think it's true that there hasn't been a study of revisionism in this classic and distinct sense in a very long time. but then if you include in the definition as jim does changes brought about, and according him, by new evidence, new arguments, new perspectives new methods, then all of the numerous introduction to historical methods books out there, including my own, do some version of that. so i would say that the ever-changing past is both innovative and debatable and is collapsing together under one oe hand, a very distinctive process, the systematic challenge to a historical orthodoxy, and on the other a broader and more familiar theme which is methodological innovation in history.
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there there's one aspect ofe question that jim doesn't neglect but i think should be in my view more central and possibly the defining, i define the argument in the book such as this one, which is the sociology of the profession. arguably and paradoxically, some of the most radical revisionism in the past century came out of ultra traditional academic politics. three or four decades ago when the profession was almost entirely male, revisionist work was typically driven by a sort of testosterone fueled zero-sum game. you made your career by attacking the biggest guy in your field that you dared to take on, and being right involved proving that someone else was wrong. there should be a book or probably at least a very good article about the field of the
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17th century british history which in the 20th century was a continual muddy slugfest between various oxbridge dogs and american alaskan scones with initials instead of first names attacking each other over mystifying only obscure issues connected to the english civil war. my point is that some of the most dramatic revisionism was for ages, and insiders game. revisionism in its broader sense of methodological change came about with working-class and female gay and minority historians entering the profession. feminist historians started out saying in essence we are not going to pay attention to your boys games. we are looking at different subjects in different sources. and they tended to be more ironic, weavers rather than hunters. natalie davis who is widely
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considered the founding mother of feminist history in this country made a career out of never attacking anyone. i'm not saying that jim vander doesn't mention changing sociology of the profession he does come but just that to me this would be the defining theme of a book like this. identity politics continued to route the profession in his final chapter about objectivity jim banner stance is rather upbeat. he writes while we pretty much except the one-time ideal of objectivity is unattainable, and i certainly agree with that, with his diagnosis of there, historians quote still hold to the conviction that they can't and do make progress in closing the gap between historical ignorance and historical understanding. they still try to arrive at a reasonably impartial knowledge of what happened and why it did
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to the best of their knowledge. i actually came to a similar conclusion in my own book. we know we have a partial view we know we will never be objective, but we tried to do the best within the rules of the game that we all accept them at that kind of practical position taken in response to postmodernism by lynn hunt in telling the truth about history. and i thought that was a reasonable view three or four years ago but i'd certainly inflected now there's a powerful questioning of the very rules of the game that is being mounted in very recent years by scholars of color, including luminaries like michelle wolf, and others who point out that the very archives that we relied on our tainted since they suppress in silence the histories of groups like the enslaved who had no
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legal or social existence. how, the scarves are asking, can you possibly continue to play by the rules of the game when those rules, that is the archives that a story send worship, by design omit certain people? so while we know objectivity is impossible but we do our best is a good message for the general public. i think it may have become a trickier position within the profession. we are now facing a radical challenge that is a return, could be a return to some of the more fraught debates in the era of postmodernism. i want to end with a couple of challenges and questions to jim, or two indeed to anyone else who cares to take them up, going from the most to the least specific. first, still on the specific question of sources, i'm at odds with jim with respect to a
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statement on page 162 that quote evidence-based revisionism, the discovery of major new historical sources is the holy grail for most historians. yes, it does make a big difference when formally close archives are opened up for research and in fields that are extremely poor in sources something like the dead sea scrolls makes a huge difference. but beyond that for most historians i don't actually believe that history changes when we find a new source. it's the opposite. we find new sources when we ask new questions here the dna evidence that jim mentioned proving deficits paternity of sally hemmings children as powerfully conclusive but historians only went after the dna evidence because of jeffersons relationship to hemmings went from a salacious gossipy item to
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a foundation only symbolic story about race and gender so that particular point i would beg to differ but the other question or challenge i have returned to the capacious list of the books definition of revisionism which includes rewriting of major history come methodological change and even as jim writes, additive history, the lowest common denominator of revisionist history. given all this, given how broad the definition is, i question would simply be can offer examples of notable works of history that are not revisionist? what would i not revisionist history look like? and my final question is very brief and basic. i was curious about the accepted definition of revisionism and, of course, i went to the old internet to check it out. outside of the original
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formulation connected to marxism all of the examples i found were historical. my question is, do other disciplines engaging revisionis revisionism? and if not, why is it only history that does. so with that i will get out of the way so that the conversation can begin. >> thank you so much, sarah. i suspect we could pick up the rest of the evening just scratching the surface of the questions you posed and we have a large number of people in that you eager to ask questions. jim, if you could take a moment or two to respond to some of what sarah says and then we can open it up. >> i will come and i will be brief. sarah, you and i will continue this later, i hope, because of the questions are very rich and they get me thinking i knew and probably better than i did silences, i don't know how you
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write history if you don't have evidence. in other words, we are trying out to theorize that and i have read some words and their extorted and i just finish something that is speculative because the evidence doesn't exist and i've been crucified. it's been very hard to deal with the past if you have any evidence for the part of it that you're interested in. so i take that criticism and your comment very, very seriously disciplines yes. i mean, there are certainly revisionist historys of art and music. those of the ones i know the best and their different schools of sociology and someone. i think the answer that has to be yes. what would a non-revisionist history look like? it wouldn't be history, would be animals or conical we have those here we have been well into the early modern period. we don't like him anymore.
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they are really list of facts. they are boring. they tell us nothing to her they are devoid of interpretation of your they are devoid of causality. in fact, they look a lot like eighth grade american history. fact after fact after fact, that's what you look like. we try to put an end to those and we don't succeed but that should be part of our remit let me stop there and to thank you hugely for your comments, and i've made a note of as many as i could keep up with, and eric, i turned back over to you. >> thank you. so we are now going to open this up in the moment you can use the raise hand function and that we get to post your question directly. you can use the qa q&a functn which i get to pose your question similarly there is an e-mail address especially for those on facebook live who are watching that you can write your questions in that way. let me just take cochair
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prerogative to throw it out to get us started, jim. on the sort of issue of scale, i'm going to imagine that most historians do not view themselves nor would necessarily embrace the cast of transformative revisionist. that's the biggie. most of us normal human historians don't get that far and what we do. all water is wet. ice is culture all history is revisionism. i'm wondering -- ice is cold. i'm i wonder if there's a dift phenomenon you might reflect on. historians as kind of pack animals or heard historians or like a flock of historians or writing historians but that is to say, rather than transform knowledge because we know it, maybe within the realm of the attitude category you have.
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quite often we don't break new conceptual grantor we reinforce old conceptual ground and that we take comfort or find yourselves behind a protective barrier of what other people have done. and would you just reflect a bit about how historians go about doing their work? are we too cautious? do we follow the pied piper, the historian leader and don't attempt to be more revisionist than perhaps we could? >> eric, those are good questions and i don't view myself capable of answering them. because i think some people go in to the work and the researches and arguments with a determination to prove something wrong or as you would say, i
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think, to prove something right, to confirm what's already been known here some of us write history and we, as i also insist on, once it's out we have no control over the use to which it will be put. and so we don't know the fate of what we write, who would use it for what purposes. some very fine history of been used for the most nefarious purposes miscast and misinterpreted for those reasons. it seems to me that confirming history can be revisionist in that it adds two ways to strengthen previous arguments or that invokes additional evidence to strengthen an existing way of looking at things, or it takes an approach to one subject and applies it to another which hasn't felt the impact of that approach that was used in, on
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another subject in that subject. so i mean, what i'm really urging is that we be more generous in accepting what we do and what our colleagues try, even when we disagree with them. that's why as a collectivity, as a community of thinkers, as sir would insist on, we move forward in argument. we move forward in collective endeavor, but the both of you have raised issues of the sociology of historical work. i taught this subject now twice and i will tell you there is actually right here my students are as interested in learning
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about why historians argue with each other and where the arguments have come from and how the academy is asian of history has affected what we think about and how we go about our work, and how the introduction to new populations into our midst have transformed historiography in the last 50, 60 years, we are fascinated by that there there's a story here to tell historians have not told it. sociologists haven't told it. it needs to be told. >> thank you. robert harris has his hand up. if you would -- there you go. introduce yourself and ask the question please. >> can you hear me? >> yes. >> thank you very much. good to see you and jim, i wanted to ask you how much you work -- which is honored to have an essay in it on african-american history as sentry of american
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historiography. it seems to me that many of the issues that you are addressing here were basically raised in that book because i think most of those essays are revisionist. it's a nice nice —-dash e but it's nice to have you on. those essays cover the historiography of their respective african-american history, native american history, the history of politics, the history of international affairs and salon. i was strengthened as i think, i think all of us were professional and certainly academic historians are very well-versed in the literature of our special subjects, specialty subjects. if we are not we are not good historians. but as i said earlier i'm trying to stand back and look at that from a kind of epiphenomenal
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position i'm standing up of all of those essays that you and i were involved in bringing to publication. standing above sm and ask okay so what does all of this mean as a general phenomenon? that's the contribution that i've been trying to make. to that degree become acquainted with literature in other fields. it did make a difference to meet and help propel me toward writing this book. >> samantha ragan has a hand up. very good, introduce yourself please. >> just. hello. samantha regan from virginia tech. how do you know is there a way to know or quantify when there is enough evidence to deem, to deem worthy of revisionist history? i'm not quite sure how to ask
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you. how do you know when somebody has enough proof to qualify, to bring up that topic and to challenge that topic? is there a way to quantify that? >> i don't think so. in the matter like this i invoke lewis powell test here mainly come to know it when you see it but then you argue about it here you and i might different in both of us might be right, both of us might be wrong as to whether something is revisionist or whether the evidence that is invoked to make an argument is satisfactory, is adequate to make that argument. it's the process of debating and arguing and changing our views and learning from others.
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that is a hallmark of historical inquiry and really for two and half millennia. that's one of the points i'm trying to make. it's impossible to cleanse our work of argument, of disagreement, of controversy. sometimes a bitter battle and the only way we can make progress is arguing with each other trying to close the gaps, trying to be people of goodwill to learn from each other. and there's no way of getting unanimity on evidence and its use. it's all a matter of critical evaluation, i think. >> thank you, david as a hand up. if you would unmute and introduce. >> thank you.
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my name is david, i'm a constitutional law scholar who feels compelled to correct your misattribution to that quote to loose powder it was actually potter stewart who said -- >> i'm sorry, you're absolutely right, i'm sorry. >> that's not what i wanted to say. i read an absurdist play e they had the light anyone can predict the future but you can predict the past? history is collective memory and having neurobiologist show that all member interventions memory? more important, is there the ability to predict future revisionist history? >> well, that's a good question. i'm going to take a pass on that second question because simply because we are not predictors. where people who work with what we know and that will be can dream, and that's our
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deformation professional and a negative on. also is terribly cynical. i want to make the distinction between skepticism and cynicism. those who dismiss history and all historians work because they're only working from their own prejudices and their own origins and their own situations and so on. it's a cynical approach. we are very good through criticism and evaluation and self-knowledge, being trained the way we are here we are reasonably good at any rate of expunging our work of the most egregious of prejudices and biases. we can never escape with them. the neuroscience which you wisely site don't believe that all memory is defective.
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it's partial but so is evidence. every mind is partial because it differs from every other mind and it seems to me our job as historians is to try to determine what is valid evidence and valid argument. when we don't have evidence we are in trouble. that's the point to which sarah was alluding earlier. people are trying now to figure out what sense can be made of silence, absences in the evidence in the same way we have to begin to figure out come have to pay more attention, constant attention to neuroscience and to figure out how we use and how we evaluate and how we are cautious about memory mistakes. not all memory is defective, it really is not there the neuroscientists will tell you that some of it is but our minds
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correct for some of those defects and certainly criticism and discussion like this does the same. >> thank you. richard willie has a hand up. please unmute and introduce yourself. >> thank you very much. hi, jim. in the brief time i was a student of professor banner. jim, in the introduction to the book, congratulations by the way, bringing forth another child, amazing, in the introduction you talk about interpretive zeal not being a quality that is exclusively the property of the left you note that interpretive zeal has been expressed in the left and on the right profession. your examples of the left, howard zinn people history and i think james lowlands lies your teacher told you, and on the
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right your examples are not published works at all. they are the actions of autocrats in poland and hungary, vladimir putin and their attempts to scrub if you will to have historians or quasi historians quasi-historians do the work and scrub references to collaboration with germans during the war and to uncharitable references to the former soviet union, et cetera. i'm sorry if i feel like a little bit of a sucker punch here from you. are we doing for the evidence you present that there are no countervailing facial historians on the right who are really interpreters in the same way zinn and lwin are? >> that's a very good question and now that you point out the imbalanced in my choices, i
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regret that i left it that way. but, frankly, no one on the right -- the right has been the target of conservative history, let's put it that way. conservative historiography have been the target since the 1960s people like howard zinn and jim wolin, wonderful job of awakening as to the problems without conservative historiography. so it's the right that has been the punching bag, and so the exit seems to me had to come from historical writings and attacks from the left. i just happened to see that the dangers now underwrite our more sociopolitical. they are more states entered, more authoritarian certainly know is going to claim that
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howard exam or jim loewen have authoritarian tendencies. the danger on the right now is really authoritarian statism and authoritarian thigh gives him. that's where the danger is -- followed in some. i thank you for alerting me to that imbalance to the presentation if i can do anything about it i will. >> if i can jump in since eric invited me to, i would say that's really interesting point, that asymmetry. there are books that are published, there are right wing books, bill o'reilly for instance, is the best-selling historical writers today, last. and there's a whole industry of books about why howard zinn is wrong. so that literature does exist
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but typically it's interesting that the idea the left has been on the left more ideologically more explicitly in its purpose were as we think of as conservative historians are historians who are on the right methodologically. that is, historians who claim that only say diplomatic or military history matter, it's a rapidly changing target because some people, there are historians who are doing mainstream history who find themselves taken over on the left since the dynamic in the profession is on the left. so today's mainstream history is tomorrow's conservative history. in terms of once you get on the
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ideologically marked types like bill o'reilly is an interesting distinction i think expert somewhat i saw a brief note i couldn't read it carefully in the chat function, and name -- was really was practicing defensive history pictures offering a defense of traditional subjects into traditional ways in which historical knowledge and the advance of historical knowledge was pursued. i never considered her -- i don't, she wasn't a radical ideologue of the right. she was a traditionalist, and that's different what we see coming out of authoritarian states. ..
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thank you. i'm claudia schwaber i'm professor ad hoc at gw and professor meredith at the university of maryland global campus. i have a point that is slightly off left or right history. i have seen part of my life is to share some historical talents and ways of thinking of historians and other disciplines. to cross pollinate. one of the great gifts of historians what do historians do? we look at the literature we look at what people say as their evidence and would look and critique the evidence, where did it come from? what was the documentation was there any influence the perspective was there a
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particular grant that so-and-so had in the next part of the revisionist history but it seems to me that historians have an option or possibility of sharing this in this critical analysis of asking questions about about the evidence that supports something.i make my students ãi've taught management programs now i teach in organizational science. but the historical framework as one of the requirements if they are writing about something i want something about the sources. what other perspectives where there.
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there's a fantastic talent we need to spread outside history >> you are absolutely right. >> i don't know how to interpret what you said but if you are pessimistic you when i think after a long era historians are doing a much better job at applying their knowledge to public affairs and doing so publicly. we have opportunities that we didn't have before. and thorough until 30 years ago we didn't have c-span. the history channel and so on. i do think we have more opportunities to make a contribution that you and i ought to be made and also doing a better job of it i salute
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those historians who do so and i think we should all take hope from what they do. >> if you could introduce yourself. >> can you hear me? >> yes. >>, professor at the ããwhen the vision is history is ever apolitical. if you're questioning if you're questioning the disciplinary matrix of history you are inviting political backlash from which you are in the discipline and in his angry reaction to the publication can
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you ever be apolitical in your knowledge production introducing the history without instrumental lysing knowledge? >> that's a very good question. i'm going to answer it with a tiny bit a brief autobiographical instance. my first book was on the federalists of massachusetts they were the conservatives of their day i'm a man of the left maybe not the far left mandeville of pisa i want to rescue federalist from there bad fresh because i thought that you could not understand the history of the early american nation unless you brought them into the picture and you brought them into picture in ways that were recognizable to those of us who are doing scholarship in that
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field in the 1960s. some people think of me as a conservative historian. i was trying to rescue a group of people who have their own integrity if linda kerber is on this at this which i believe she is she did the same thing. you can write revisionist history take issue with others you can fill gaps you can do it without taking a political stand. you do it for the benefit of increasing and enriching the knowledge of the subject you're
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pursuing. your critics might identify you. >> it's great to hear from jim and see him in action. lots of interesting things here.the first is the quick comment about the conservative version as it revisionist, i think one thing you see is not conservatives response in the same playing field as historians but a switch to a different playing field there is a moment when revisionism takes the form of a certain reaction to social history in the 60s which we all certain risks historians will double down the economics of the right way to interpret social activity. in its own way was a revision by switching the playing field. but that's a side point my main
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point is the dividing line between interpretation and personality. some of the really interesting issues are not when people are trying to tinker with interpretation but really a battle between very different understandings of meaningful struggle questions and tensions. when it comes to that kind of battle i wonder if revisionist history is any different from the battles that go on in other fields. as of revisionist history a subset of other revisions. there are other battles around science theology economics and in your field of thought that really are battles and established in emerging
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epistemologies. very important question. there is to not time left for us to go into that i think in some ways what we are talking about is a subset in our discipline and what goes on elsewhere. what i'm trying to do is to bring to attention historians the history in which we are ineluctably involved. i'm certain there is more to be learned of the kind of argument that take place another episcopal's. i'm not able to deal with that question. i think you and i should pursue this matter at some other time.
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that's a significantly central question. is interesting that the term is so rarely applied to other fields. they had to of course have as you are saying is the question these epistemological shifts there's nothing quite comparable in its dimension that might be why this term is singled out and applied to
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history as opposed to anything else because of that public facing aspect. >> that's absolutely right. that makes historians more exposed to attack and history were exposed through tech. which makes it all the more important we understand the phenomenon talk about it among ourselves talk about it with our students try to bring it to the four into that we should do a better job of understanding the nature of historical thought the philosophers have convinced me understanding why it's inherent in where we do there must be other aspects of historical thought of
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historical epistemology that we don't understand and don't teach our students. i think that's a loss for us all. >> i unfortunately have to draw this to a close and very sorry to do that we have we have many people who have question unanswered and i'm posed. my apology to everyone still in that queue. i want to thank so much jim batter and sarah for this terrific discussion can i just ask, jim, if there's a special day in any way? >>. >> it's monday after sunday? >> is it your birthday? >> it happens to be. >> thank you., people wrote to us in the chapters might be the first time you've done a birthday event we wish yo
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