The Ever-Changing Past Why All History Is Revisionist History James M. Banner

Publication date:
11 May 2021
Yale University Press
304 pages: 235 x 156 x 27mm
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An experienced, multi-faceted historian shows how revisionist history is at the heart of creating historical knowledge

"A rallying cry in favor of historians who, revisiting past subjects, change their minds. . . . Rewarding reading."—Kirkus Reviews
History is not, and has never been, inert, certain, merely factual, and beyond reinterpretation. Taking readers from Thucydides to the origin of the French Revolution to the Civil War and beyond, James M. Banner, Jr. explores what historians do and why they do it.
Banner shows why historical knowledge is unlikely ever to be unchanging, why history as a branch of knowledge is always a search for meaning and a constant source of argument, and why history is so essential to individuals’ awareness of their location in the world and to every group and nation’s sense of identity and destiny. He explains why all historians are revisionists while they seek to more fully understand the past, and how they always bring their distinct minds, dispositions, perspectives, and purposes to bear on the subjects they study.

James M. Banner, Jr. is the author of many books, including The Elements of Teaching. Most recently, he is editor of Presidential Misconduct: From George Washington to Today. A founder of the National History Center of the American Historical Association, he lives in Washington, D.C.

“A genuinely impressive book that traverses the history of history, spanning millennia, taking its readers on a literary ride that encompasses countless issues that are historical, historiographical, and philosophical.”—Eric Arnesen, George Washington University

“As James Banner explains in this clear analysis, all good history is ‘revisionist history’ because it is written from the perspective of the ever-changing present to tell us how that present evolved over the past.”—James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom

"A wise, erudite, and, perhaps most important, a clearly written examination of the ways historians go about their craft of interpreting and reinterpreting the past."—Gordon S. Wood, Brown University

"A wide-ranging, insightful meditation on why the histories inherited by one generation rarely satisfy the next. A book for everyone who sometimes wonders why old historical certainties now feel controversial."—Linda K. Kerber,
author of No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies

"A wonderfully lucid presentation of the way historians actually work, and the way that historical knowledge develops. Instructive and engaging."—David A. Bell, Princeton University