All Historians Are Revisionists

Beard's thesis was eventually discredited by revisionist historians who argued that the founders were motivated not by economic gain, but by political ideas. It was, more than anything else, the theory of republicanism and the political thought of pamphlet writers in England who defended individual rights and liberties that motivated the founders and the framers of the Constitution. These revisionists, in their effort to offer a different interpretation of the American founding period, have given us a more complete picture of why the founding fathers framed the Constitution in the way they did.

Finally, one of the most recent developments in the historical profession has been the dominant role that religion has played in the way historians are writing about the past. As I mentioned in last week's column, revisionist historians are making religious belief and practice an important part of the stories that they are telling. No longer is the study of history dominated by economic or military themes. Historians are now taking seriously the way religion shapes behavior. Religion is now the most thoroughly studied topic among members of the American Historical Association. American religious history is one of the hottest subfields in American history. I would imagine that this is a form of revisionism that many supporters of David Barton could embrace.

In the end, we are all revisionists. As new evidence emerges and historians discover new ways of bringing the past to their audiences in the present, interpretations of specific events change. This makes history the intellectually engaging and exciting discipline that it is.

5/17/2011 4:00:00 AM
  • Evangelical
  • Confessing History
  • History
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  • Revisionism
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  • John Fea
    About John Fea
    John Fea chairs the History Department at Messiah College in Grantham, PA, and is the author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction (Westminster John Knox Press, 2011). He blogs daily at