History is the study of past events and revise means to reconsider and alter something in light of further evidence. Therefore, historical revisionism can be valid, and the negative connotation the term carries is not necessarily justified. In fact, the term should be used to differentiate it from people who advocate untruths, such as holocaust deniers and Boston Marathon bombing truthers.
We can see both legitimate and unsound examples of rewriting history by considering some aspects of the slave trade. One of the images most associated with slavery in the United States is the plantation. However, most masters owned just one or two slaves. There is nothing about this that would be controversial, nor would any controversy be enough in itself to lessen the legitimacy of the fact.
Then we have the fact that there were black slave owners in the United States. And in Virginia, white indentured servants could be sold. These statements have the redeeming value of being true and bringing them up for the sake of education is fine and even encouraged if someone asserted otherwise. The misuse would come if a member of Stromfront.org wrote, “Blacks owned slaves and whites could be sold, so the races were equal under the law, and those who say otherwise are the true racists and trying to promote their Zionist agenda.”
While this hypothetical keyboard bigot would be drawing a false conclusion, he at least he began with a correct statement. It gets worse when someone uses selective facts to justify a position. An example would be, “Most slaves who were given the option of staying with their former owners after the Civil War did so. This shows that the horrors of slavery were greatly exaggerated.” This conclusion glosses over the lack of options for people who, through no fault of their own, were penny-less, uneducated, and living in a country that granted them no rights, save the ability to leave their former owners. This position would also fail to address the moral failure of buying and owning humans, confining them against their will, and abusing them with impunity. So while it would be absurd to conclude that former slaves staying with their owners proved slavery wasn’t that bad, the notion at least began with an accurate statement that was then twisted in to a pretzel of faulty logic.
Taking it even further are those who just make stuff up, such as those espousing Armenian genocide denial. Another example is Joseph Stalin having enemies erased from photos, which his minions did an amazing job of, considering what they had to work with in those pre-computer days.
But even these fabrications are related to a single event that took place over a limited number of years. There are a handful of people who take it much further and seek to erase centuries from the history books. They invent an alternate chronology that discards or rearranges elements of traditional history to form new narratives. This does not refer to reexamining evidence, considering new angles, or confronting recently unearthed information. It refers to wiping out entire swaths of history to fit an agenda, be it nationalism, religion, anti-religion, or ego.
One could consider Young Earth Creationists and Hare Krishna creationists to be alternate chronologists, albeit lazy ones who are single-minded and offer no evidence to support their position. YECs aim to reduce the amount of time life has existed on Earth by four billion years, while Krishna creationists want to extend it by that amount. In both cases, they are limited to one topic (how old Earth is and long it has been inhabited), and their rationale exists solely in their interpretation of their sacred texts. Full-blown alternate chronologists, by contrast, launch far more ambitious plans and at least try to come up with evidence for their positions.
The most prominent modern-day alternate chronologist is Anatoly Fomenko. He is something of an anti-creationist, but just as wrong as the YEC and Hare Krishna gangs. His chronology asserts that most of recorded history was written by the church in order to match Biblical events, and that genuine history only began in the 11th century.
He argues that events attributed to the civilizations of the Roman Empire, Ancient Greece, and Ancient Egypt actually occurred during the Middle Ages. Fomenko also claims historical characters are reused or conglomerates. For example, Plato, Plotinus, and Gemistus Pletho were the same person, and Ivan the Terrible is presented as a composite of four rulers. He accuses historians of reusing the same account of events in multiple times and locations. For example, Byzantine history from 300s to 800s and English history from 600s to 1000s are the same historical cut and paste. And rather than being documented accounts, tales from Mesopotamia, Greece, and Egypt are Renaissance-era fiction.
This may be the longest and most detailed conspiracy ever alleged. It involves denying major events, such as insisting there were no Tartar or Mongol invasions and conquests. The subterfuge also addresses minor issues, with ancient Greek and Roman statues actually being built during the Renaissance to provide historical cover. Fomenko is a Russian imperialist and his incentive for all this is in denying that lowly ethnicities were capable of squashing his beloved motherland.
His ideas are refuted by archaeological dating, carbon dating, and Mesopotamian astronomy records. Of course, these are dismissed as fabricated artifacts that are part of the cover-up. This cover-up would be mean that conspirators would have had to write records on clay and in cuneiform, long after this method and style of writing went extinct. Also, many of the rulers that Fomenko claims are fabricated are on coins that are still being unearthed.
The primary issue with his hypothesis is the selective pruning and mixing of dates, events, and rulers, which makes the whole idea a perpetual ad hoc exercise.
Another alternate chronologist is Heribert Illig. His phantom time hypothesis holds that the years 614-911 were fabricated so Holy Roman Emperor Otto III could be on the throne at the new millennium. This would mean no Charlemagne, no defeat of the Tang Dynasty, and no Vikings raids. Ancient astronomy records, archaeological remains, and dendrochronology dating methods all refute the notion of phantom time.
Then we have Jean Hardouin, who detected a plot to forge almost all classical texts, ancient art, and coins. Hardouin deduced this through a series of clues embedded in classical works. He believed 13th Century forgers had not only manufactured the texts but a host of later references to them. The forgers’ goal was to bolster atheism by introducing elements of heathenism into Christianity.
None of these men put forth anything resembling a plausible scenario, although a drastically altered timeline could explain the skills of Stalin’s henchmen if they were using PhotoShop.