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23rd Texas History Forum to be Held on May 22

March 18, 2010

The DRT Library will be holding its twenty-third Texas History Forum on Saturday, May 22, 2010, in Alamo Hall on the Alamo Complex. Entitled “Historiography: Texas History Detectives,” this year’s Forum will feature presentations by three distinguished historians, Gregg Cantrell, James E. Crisp, and Light T. Cummins.

Seating is limited and pre-registration is advised. Registration is $20 per person. Reservations will remain open as long as seating is available.

Proceeds in excess of expenses will benefit the library’s operations endowment fund.

Visit the library’s website to see an event schedule, download a registration form, and read biographies of the special guest speakers. You can also call (210) 225-1071 or email drtl@drtl.org for additional information about this year’s Texas History Forum.

What is historiography?

Historiography is the history of historical writing, specifically the history of how scholars have interpreted historical topics over time. In order to understand this, historiography also necessitates the study of why historians have chosen to examine and describe the past in particular ways.

The need for historiography arises from the dichotomy between two definitions of history: on one hand is history as the irreversible, unchangeable past and on the other is history as the dynamic process by which subsequent generations analyze, interpret, and communicate about the past. “The past will never change, but the ways we think about it have never stopped changing,” writes Adam Budd in the preface to The Modern Historiography Reader (xiii). Other historians agree that their discipline is characterized by change. “Revising interpretations of the past is intrinsic to the study of history,” asserts Eric Foner in the historiographical essay that serves as the preface of Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (xvii). Likewise, in History in Crisis? Norman J. Wilson states that

history is best defined as a continual, open-ended process of argument. No question is closed because any problem can be reopened by finding new evidence or by taking a new look at old evidence. Thus there are no final answers, only good, coherent arguments: history is not some irreducible list of ‘the facts’ but continually changing bodies of evidence (3).

Why do people, especially historians, change their interpretations about the past? Norman J. Wilson provides a few answers: historians’ “perspectives change as a result of (1) different political agendas, (2) different cultural assumptions, (3) different historical methodology, and (4) different focuses of study” (3). Intertwined with the broader context in which historians operate are their individual approaches to the discipline based on personal and professional experiences. In short, point out Roger Spalding and Christopher Parker in Historiography: An Introduction, historians’ understandings of the past are “a product of contemporary society, which is in constant flux” (4). With its focus on how and why historical narratives change, historiography contributes significantly to broader discussions about what history is and why history is important.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Roger Borroel permalink
    March 20, 2010 8:18 am

    I hope that the next forum will be on the ever changing nature of revisionism. How the first revisionists in Texas history were the conservative winners of the 1836 war. When truth and facts of the event were turned into myths, lies and legend. And that in these last days when many Mexican documents are located and translated, the people who do this hard work, are called liberal revisionists, instead of being praised by the academic community.

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