Friday, November 18, 2022

"Presentism" in history and the history of "presentism": Past celebration and present criticism of powerful institutions

When the issue of "presentism" in history came up again recently, I wondered about the history of "presentism": "A bias towards the present or present-day attitudes, esp. in the interpretation of history." The earliest reference for that Oxford English Dictionary definition is from 1916, as the Wikipedia page on the concept notes, while also referring to the "Whig history" of 19th-century British historians who interpreted history as culminating in their own perspective and thus celebrated the history and institutions of the British monarchy and Empire. The sense of "presentism" may be the same today, but charges of "presentism" now come up in attempts to discredit critical histories of such powerful institutions. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 November 2022)

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