Revise, revise, revise. That’s how history works

tags: history, higher education, academia, writing, revisionism

Jeff Kolnick is professor of history at Southwest Minnesota State University.  

Every few years, Minnesota becomes embroiled in a debate over our shared history. Currently, two of our state’s most important cultural institutions, the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Historical Society, are coming under fire for “historical revisionism.”

The University of Minnesota is painfully reckoning with its past by debating whether to rename a handful of buildings based on convincing scholarship that shows several former high-ranking administrators maintained discriminatory practices aimed at African Americans and Jews. At the same time, the Minnesota Historical Society has run afoul of state senators who find adding a Dakota place name to a welcome sign at Historic Fort Snelling to be “highly objectionable.”

Among professional historians, revisionism refers to the regular process of revising historical interpretations based on asking new questions, finding new evidence, or gaining new understandings of older sources. This is something we do regularly and is at the heart of the profession.

Revisionism is not something to be feared or rejected, nor is it something to be celebrated or revered.

It is what historians do, and we do it all the time.

History is different from the past. The past is everything that has happened before the present. The problem with the past is that there is a lot of it, and it is neither organized nor already made into stories.


Read entire article at Twin Cities Pioneer Press

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