Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Revising history

I'm reading a lot of history these days: two dueling interpretations of the American colonies' revolt against the Brits. The fruit of this, if any, won't turn up for awhile. Both books are more than 20 audio hours long. It's my idea of a pleasurable project.

Oddment on the pediment of a San Francisco school

Meanwhile, here's Jelani Cobb explaining what history is for. Emphasis mine:

A growing body of progressive white scholars and scholars of color have spent the past several decades fighting for, and largely succeeding in creating, a more honest chronicle of the American past. But these battles and the changes they’ve achieved have, by and large, gone unnoticed by the lay public until benchmark anniversaries occurred, and the scholarship collided with a public unsettled by how distinct that version of history was from the anodyne tales they imbibed in school. Claims of “revisionist history” greeted each of these moments, but this, too, missed the point.

History exists in a constant state of revision, as we learn more about the present and the worlds that preceded it. This is why contemporary books about Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Harry S. Truman take a different, and far more laudatory, view of their subjects than do books written closer to their lifetimes. Revising history is the whole point of having historians. ...

 The nation needs historians, even if some who'd like to enshrine their understanding of the past in amber don't much like them.

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