Revisionism is the practice of rewriting or distorting history in order to misrepresent past events, or radically misconstruing what an historical source states. This is often done for political or propaganda purposes, for example falsely claiming that a respected figure had similar views to one's own or that a despised figure did not have similar views to one's own, or attempting to demonize or elevate a particular group contrary to the evidence. In some cases, evidence contradicting the revised version of history is destroyed.
Historical revisionism in America has been taking place in America since the early 1900s. One well known revisionist is Charles Beard, who was at the time considered to be "the most influential historian in America" Other revisionist historians include William Appleman Williams and Frederick Jackson Turner. However, the first American revisionist in the modern sense is generally considered to be Carl Becker, who wrote History of Political Parties in the Province of New York, 1760-1776 (1909). Another revisionist, Charles McLean Andrews, wrote a book in 1912 titled The Colonial Period, in which he wrote the following:
The phrase "natural rights of Englishmen" is vague and meaningless in the history of constitutional development and political philosophy, and deserves to stand with that other equally abused phrase, much on the lips of the colonists at this time, "taxation without representation."
One example of revisionism concerns Richard I of England. He has often been represented as an English hero, particularly in contrast with the weak King John, but in reality he cared little for England except as a source of tax revenue, did not speak English, and seldom visited the country. Another similar example concerns Robin Hood, who was revised by Joseph Ritson from recognizing the ill of high taxation into a redistributionist.
In a more recent example of a one type of revisionism, a recent five-year study by researchers Dr. Gary Tobin and Dennis Ybarra of the 28 most widely-used history, geography and social studies textbooks in America, found some 500 instances of "errors, inaccuracies and even propaganda" on these issues. Revisionist claims among textbooks included statements that Arab countries never initiated wars against Israel, and that Israel does not desire peace while Arab nations do, and that Moses claimed to have received the 10 Commandments while stating as fact that the Koran was a book containing revelations from God. Ybarra stated that "The textbooks tend to be critical of Jews and Israel, disrespectful about Christianity, and rather than represent Islam in an objective way, tend to glorify it." One textbook also claimed that "Christianity was started by a young Palestinian named Jesus." The textbooks were published by some of the largest publishers in America. According to Tobin, these books are used by tens of millions of schoolchildren in all 50 states. The Trouble with Textbooks: Distorting History and Religion book-length study was released by the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish and Community Research.
Education expert Gilbert T. Sewall, the director of the American Textbook Council is another researcher who also reports a decidedly "whitewashed" version of Islam in school history books. An example provided by Sewall is the textbook World History: The Modern World, which intentionally omitted the religion of the 9/11 hijackers, simply referring to as "teams of terrorists."
Another form of revision is seen in the area of Biblical studies, in which even extreme and unwarranted views on morality are presented as viable, such as which force homosexuality into passages describing Biblical characters, while engaging in "grammatical gymnastics" to disallow condemnations of it. For a more detailed treatment, see Homosexuality and biblical interpretation.
- (2009) Why American History is Not What They Say: An Introduction to Revisionism. Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 79. ISBN 1479295043.
- (2007) The Great Tradition: Constitutional History and National Identity in Britain and the United States, 1870-1960. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 141. ISBN 0804756864.
- (1912) The Colonial Period of American History. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 251.
- BBC - History - Richard I
- World History: Continuity and Change
- The World, Pearson/Scott Foresman
- Haviv Rettig Gur, 'US textbooks misrepresent Jews, Israel' THE JERUSALEM POST Sep. 25, 2008.