Thursday, August 09, 2012

Discussion: Do History Books Get Outdated?

I recently was reading a friend's blog and she mentioned they had got a bunch of kids' books cheap. Many were classics and I say "awesome!"  But she also mentioned a book on the US presidents that is "newly updated" for President Kennedy and said that was okay becasue history is history.  So here's a question for everyone.  Do history books get outdated?  Obviously does the history change?  We seldom change birth/death dates (unless you are talking about the change of calendars....)!  So do they get outdated?  Well, first if you are talking about a public or school library, I'm going to say absolutely.  Student expect currency, especially today with the Internet and instant news.  If our school or public library has that book on the shelf we are making a statement that currency isn't important to us and it is quickly noted.  In addition, the way certain aspects (racial relations come quickly to mind) are approached change over time and we want that currency there as well.

Now what about us historians?  Obviously, when I'm researching a president in depth, I want to read all that has been written, past and present.  I want to see how opinions have changed over time.  So are these books that have hopefully been revised many more times still useful to us?  I know I've read many biographies that are older than I am and often learned a lot of good information as I build my own opinions.  When I wrote my thesis, I had to start with a historiography - really a list of all the historians/groups who had already discussed my topic in some form and how my topic fit in here.  So I can see a lot of use for these older books to historians, if not in a public/school library setting.  Yet, do we really need all these? Or are just the larger biographies enough? Is a compilation from the 60s still useful, even to historians? Obviously if I'm studying Kennedy, I want to see the full progression of opinion and often these compilations beat out any larger biographies. 

So I'm a bit philosophical'll have to deal with it! 

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