The Age of Reinterpretation

By C. Vann Woodward | Go to book overview

THE AGE OF REINTERPRETATION*

C. Vann Woodward

Innumerable influences have inspired the reinterpretation of history. The most common of late would appear to have been those originating within the intellectual community, or within the historical guild itself, rather than with the impact of historical events. Influences of the predominant sort include new theories, new methods, and new sources. Of special importance in recent years has been the example of other disciplines and sciences, old ones such as philosophy and biology with new theories, or new ones such as psychology and sociology with new approaches to old problems.

With no intended disparagement for prevailing and recent types of revision, the present essay concerns itself almost exclusively with reinterpretations that are inspired by historical events and have little to do with new theories, new methods, or new disciplines. The suggested opportunities for reinterpretation are, in fact, related to historical events so recent that nearly all of them have occurred since the summer of 1945. As responsible human beings we are rightly concerned first of all with the impact of these events upon the present and immediate future. But as historians we are, or we should be, concerned with their effect upon our view of the past as well. These events have come with a concentration and violence for which the term "revolution" is usually reserved. It is a revolution, or perhaps a set of revolutions, for which we have not yet found a name. My thesis is that these developments will and should raise new questions about the past and affect our reading of large areas of history, and my belief is that future revisions may be extensive enough to justify calling the coming era of historiography an age of reinterpretation. The first illustration happens to come mainly from American history, but this should not obscure the broader scope of the revolution, which has no national limitations.

____________________
*
Reprinted from The American Historical Review, Vol. LXVI, No. 1, October, 1960.

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