Just came across a post from a Jesuit claiming

Historical revisionism is one of the worst, and dangerous, mistakes one can make.

It appears to be with regards to the latest news of Jesuits in US pledging USD100M in reparations to descendants of slaves.

Are there problems related with revisionism of history in the past?

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    I'm not sure this is a history question as much as it is a philosophical or ethical, or perhaps linguistic and political, one. Within historiography, the revisionism is not inherently problematic as - like any science - it is important that historians be willing to challenge pre-existing understandings. In broader English usage however, the term is often used as an euphemism or interchangeably with denialism.
    – Semaphore
    Mar 17, 2021 at 8:20
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    The danger exists that the 'absolut truth' of yesterday, that will be replaced by the 'absolut truth' of today, in not much better in quality. Who should, in an unbiased way, determine what is true or not? Historical revisionism - Wikipedia Mar 17, 2021 at 8:27
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    @GonçaloPeres龚燿禄 I think asking for historical problems caused by revisionism would be on topic, though I would suggest that you clarify what kind of problems would qualify for your question.
    – Semaphore
    Mar 17, 2021 at 9:01
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    Does "revisionism" have anything to do with reparations in point of fact? I don't believe those calling for reparations are disputing the historical consensus on slavery in the United States.
    – user15620
    Mar 17, 2021 at 14:06
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    I think that the quote should have been "ideologically motivated historical revisionism...." It would make sense if that were the context.
    – MCW
    Mar 18, 2021 at 11:27

2 Answers 2


Well, yes and no. Mostly no.

The technical definition of that term would be to revise our current view of historical events based on new information or evidence. Not only is that not a bad thing, its what should be done. This is nothing more than the Scientific Method.

When John Dalton came up with the Atomic Theory, and it tested out, we don't call that "Chemistry Revisionism". When Einstein came up with the Theory of Relativity, and it tested out, we don't call that "Physics Revisionism". Likewise when the theory that Thomas Jefferson fathered children from his slaves tested out, that shouldn't be considered Historical Revisionism. Its just applying the Scientific Method to our knowledge of the world around us, like we men and women of the Enlightenment should be doing, at all times.

There's a popular definition of "Historical Revisionism" that is roughly to change your view of history to better match what you'd personally like for History to have been. That's fairly self-evidently bad, and goes against all our enlightenment principles. Good examples of this kind of thing happening are the Dunning School of Reconstruction History and a great deal of the historical stylings of Washington Irving, Mason Locke Weems, Longfellow, and others whose ideas still infest our history instruction here in the US today. There are also some few folk who march merrily past simply correcting unjust biases in our traditional euro-centric historical view on to full-on historical myth-making of their own.

There's a fundamental meta-principle of science here, which is that one should be doubly skeptical of any theories that one would like to be true for personal reasons.

However, if you hear someone use the term "Historical Revisionism", what they are almost always talking about is that, right or wrong, they don't want the traditional view of things modified. They may want you to think they are talking about something like mentioned above, but the argument isn't that any new theories are factually inferior compared to the existing ones, but that change itself is inherently wrong. Whatever the merits of this attitude may be, it is fundamentally anti-science. Its also pretty bad logic, and one would be right to be very suspicious of the motives of anyone who appears to have no better argument available to them. Why does this person want so hard to believe this?

To be fair, this same thing happened to Dalton and Einstein too. Their theories had lots of detractors from people who had grown up on other models, and didn't want those views discarded. Its only today, now that those detractors are all dead that its obvious to everyone that Dalton and Einstein had the better theories.*

I don't know the Jesuit in question, and there wasn't much context given for the quote, but hopefully the above should be enough information for you to decide for yourself where they are coming from.

* Planck's Principle: Science advances one funeral at a time.


I understand historical revisionism to be the reinterpretation/distortion of current mainstream historical views. So I don't really understand what the article you quote has to do with historical revisionism. Unless you want call into question that the Jesuits/Catholic church did participate in slave trade.

Further I strongly disagree with the current accepted answer that historical revisionism has never led to problems. An important example springs to mind.

The stab-in-the-back-myth which was prevalent during the Weimar Republic (it basically stated that Germany lost world war one due to treason of civilians at the home front) was a big factor in the rise of Hitler.

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    The point of the other answer is there's two meanings of "historical revisionism". Revising history to better fit the information at hand and remove past biases, that's good science. And there's the term associated with Holocaust denial: revising history to fit your own purposes, ideologically motivated historical revision, propaganda. That's bad. The stab-in-the-back myth is the latter. We then had to revise our history to undo that, and a lot of other Nazi and White Supremacist propaganda that became taught history.
    – Schwern
    Mar 18, 2021 at 19:00

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