Academic journal article The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

Revisionism a Dirty Word?

Academic journal article The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

Revisionism a Dirty Word?

Article excerpt

I've finished reading two splendid new books that came out earlier this year, Elizabeth Brown Pryor's Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters and my colleague Nelson D. Lankford's Cry Havoc! The Crooked Road to Civil War, 1861.

Pryor takes a new look at Lee, having used a remarkable Lee family collection acquired by the VHS and described in the last History Notes. Relying on a large body of recent scholarship, Lankford revisits the coming of the war. Of course, these are both familiar subjects to us all. Dozens if not hundreds of historians have examined them over the years. But the work of these authors is unique, and they remind me that history is not just reciting a chronology of accepted facts. How boring! History is a constandy changing interpretation of those facts. Revisionism has become a dirty word to some people, but I believe that all good history is revisionist history. Gifted historians don't just repeat what their predecessors have written. They're always looking at familiar subjects but from different angles to come up with new ways of describing the past. New collections acquired by institutions like the VHS can lead to new perspectives on events and people. …

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