The “R” word… revisionist history. There, I’ve said it. While I do believe that there are people who clearly do revise history to serve their own needs – we cannot overlook the fact that as new things are learned – interpretation of “our” history will, by its very nature, change.
I couldn’t help but think of this as we continue our process of digitizing two late nineteenth century journals here at our site (the Farmers Branch Historical Park). As part of the digitizing process, I wound up verifying each page prior to saving to ensure that the words were legible and clear and that nothing was lost in the process of merging over 7000 images together. As part of that process, I couldn’t help but read snippets about the daily life of the journals’ author – Dr. Samuel Gilbert.
At first, his cursive was barely legible but as I spent more and more time working with the project, I could begin to make sense of his handwriting and spelling. Already – these brief glimpses into the documents have changed my perception of the man.
Some of the journals are “simple” (can I even use that term in something so FULL of information?) ledgers. We’ve learned Gilbert was a member of a meat club, and we know at least during the month of October, he traveled to Dallas nearly once a week for business and shopping. We’ve learned which of the merchants here in Farmers Branch that Gilbert did business with, and how much things cost in 1870s north Texas.
I think it was fairly consistent across the board that our story of Gilbert had us believing that he was a fairly dry, dour individual without much in the way of human feelings or emotion. The little bits of his journal that had been transcribed years ago easily gave the impression that Gilbert was a man without emotion or feelings. Thanks to the magic of being able to edit a digitized image of the journal and making the text easier to read throughout (and making the assumption that the text was all written by Gilbert which may or may not pan out as we become more comfortable in identifying his writing) – we have already learned that our initial impressions of the man may have to change. It’s hard to imagine a dour, emotionless person quoting this poem, is it not?
“Dreams of fame and grandeur
end in bitter tears love grows
only fonder with the lapse of years”
A quick search determines that this is but a part of a poem titled “Dearest Love, Believe Me!” by Thomas Pringle; completely contrary to our earlier opinion of the “sour” Dr. Gilbert. So yes, our very small part of history will undoubtedly be “revised” in the very near future as we fully transcribe both journals.
And that’s OK.
4 thoughts on “Revising History”
When I think of revisionist history I think of a judgment of the past based on current thought and knowledge. Judgment being the operative word. Getting more information I only see as a deeper knowledge of the subject and person. Am I misinterpreting?
Thanks, Nancy. I think my point is that we’re always going to be learning new things about the past as more things are uncovered or discovered that have otherwise been lost or forgotten. I think the term “revisionist” history has gotten a dirty name by people who revise history to suit their own purposes rather than simply learning “new” things about history. Learning new things is always good. 🙂
Ours is a slightly different view of revisionism, as you can see here
T.H. Gray, Director-Curator
America Hysterical Society
Thank you for the response, T.H.