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  In historical studies, revisionism (Latin, ‘seeing again’) is a 20th-century phenomenon: either (politely put) the revising of particular views of events in the past or (less politely put) the rewriting of history. It first appeared in the 1890s, when orthodox Marxists used it as a term of ideological abuse for those in the movement who sought to challenge, or reinterpret, Marx\'s views in ways which deviated from the official line. In the 1930s it was applied in a completely different context, to attempts by countries in central and eastern Europe to rewrite the geography of their areas following World War I. In the 1960s, finally, it was one side of an argument among US historians, about who was to blame for World War II and then the Cold War: revisionist historians blamed the economic policies and (what they perceived as the) imperialistic ambitions of the USA.

In the arts, revisionism is often the work of historians engaged, sometimes in a confrontational manner, in the re-establishment of neglected or derelict reputations; an example is the rediscovery by 20th-century feminist critics of many female European painters of the last 500 years. Such revisions are not always accepted by those holding what they take to be more orthodox opinions, usually on the grounds that the creators involved have earned their obscurity by lack of talent rather than the malignancy of outside forces. The revisionist answers are: (1) that the construction of any history is an exercise in value-judgement; and (2) that the work under consideration has aesthetic as well as political claims on our attention. Revisionism is most contentious among scholars of the visual arts; in the other arts, it is both less controversial and more successful, those benefiting include such writers as Svevo and Trollope, and such composers as Alkan, Telemann and even Bach (whose ‘rediscovery’ by Mendelssohn in the 1830s was one of the first and most dazzling ‘revisionist’ coups in any of the arts). KMcL



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