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Throughout American History the views of many historians conflict, reflecting the various influences of the time and place in which they lived. A famous saying goes Each generation writes its own history. Among primary influences in the lives of historians that effect the view of the history they document are: Social circumstances, religious beliefs, contemporary ethnic stereotypes, as well as sexual attitudes. Historians also disagree as a result of their own social, religious, ethnic and sexual differences. Personal ideology is one of the greatest sources of disagreement among historians a scholars assumptions about the past, the present, politics and society. To quote from Why historians Disagree: There are as many different ways of viewing a historical event as there are historians viewing it…The history of the world, like the life of an individual, has so many facets, such vast complexities, so much that is unknowable, that there will always be room for new approaches to understanding it.A supreme example of this idea is shown when historians analyze a very important event in American history, the American Revolution. One has to ask the question was the American Revolution revolutionary or not revolutionary. Well one might ask what the definition of the word revolution the Websters New world Dictionary defines revolution as a complete or radical change of any kind. In that case we have to ask was the American revolutionary in the fact that it was colonists wanting a change in rule from British to American, or was it not revolutionary that it was just colonists trying to reclaim their rights as Englishmen?One of the first historians to write about the revolution was George Bancroft. He wrote during the 19th century when most scholars held by the assumption of that era, that the theme of American history was the quest for liberty. The Revolution was therefore viewed as a struggle of liberty versus tyranny between America and Britain.America in his eyes represented liberty and progress, Britain on the other hand tyranny and reaction. Bancrofts writings had a spark of nationalism that was prevalent during the nineteenth century. Bancroft fulfilled the Americans necessity of an American historian who told the revolution in patriotic terms.During the time that Bancroft published his works from the 1830s to 70s, the country was split politically. He had also written that the Revolution was achieved because the American colonies were united to fight for freedom. Although this is point is not agreed upon by all historians, Bancroft reminded Americans that unlike the present once fought united for common beliefs. This shows how a historian writes about history depending on the time it was written in. According to Bancroft we see that the Revolution was actually revolutionary
After 1870 when the Treaty of Washington was signed, making a reconciliation between America and Britain, there was a tendency to view the revolution in a different perspective. No longer would many historians view the Revolution as ultrapatriotic way as Bancroft did but rather as an uprising of the lower classes against the control of the upper classes. This idea is well expressed by the Progressive and Imperial schools of historians that followed Bancroft although they disagreed with Bancroft on the exact nature of the Revolution they agreed with him that the movement was, a revolutionary one.The Imperial school believed that political and constitutional issues had brought on the Revolution. They were prone to be less severe to the Britain than Bancroft had been. They thought that Britains colonial policies were not as unjust as Bancroft had set them out to be.The Progressive school including historians like: Carl L. Becker, Charles A. Beard and Arthur M. Shlesinger, was convinced that social and economic issues were the causes of the revolution. They tried to stress the growing economic split between the colonies and Britain as well as the conflict of the classes in the colonies themselves. This way they though is not very unexpected due to the fact many of these historians were committed to the reform movements of the early 1900s and viewed their era and therefore wrote their history with this idea of struggle against the upper classes in their minds.Another Historian Robert E. Brown challenged the progressive way of thought saying the purpose of the Revolution was to preserve the existing democratic social order on the local level not to change it. According to another historian, Daniel J. Boorstin, the colonists rebelled against Great Britain to maintain the status quo, not to initiate a new order. What this meant was that the colonists didnt want full revolution rather just wanted to maintain their rights as Englishmen. They didnt think of themselves as Americans but as Englishmen, and thought they werent being treated fairly. This point of view represents the view of the Revolution being not revolutionary.After the 1960s a new class of historians arrived who viewed history from an intellectual point of view. These historians saw the Revolution as a radical movement rather than a conservative one. This new view to history came in reaction to the progressive historians rejection of the role of ideas in history. Bernard Bailyn was one of the most foremost scholars to view the Revolution as an intellectual movement. In The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, Bailyn took the position that ideas themselves constituted the major determinants in history.To Bailyn the Revolution depicted an intellectual revolution where a change took place in the way Americans looked upon themselves and their establishments. In Bailyns view this change in perspective was the American Revolution. This view of the American Revolution seems to lead toward the path at being revolutionary but at a more ideological level.Another group of historians from the mid 1960s to 1990 was the neo-progressive. These historians took to view the Revolution like the Progressives did, although arriving at a different time, as political and economic clashes with the Britain and within the colonies themselves.To answer that undying question of whether or not the American Revolution was revolutionary or not is impossible to answer. The reason for that is because there are too many different answers to it each from different historians. The efforts of countless scholars lead to a new view of the past with each generation. But the challenge and the excitement of history lie in the knowledge that the view can never be complete.
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