Anachronism and the rewriting of history: the South Africa case
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The use and abuse of anachronism is often seen as the quintessence of the writing of history. Historians tend to conceive it as the hardcore of their métier to avoid anachronism. It designates a confusion in order of time, especially the mistake of placing an event, attitude, or circumstance too early. The awareness of historical anachronism is omnipresent in times of a radical rewriting of history, in particular as a result of political transformation. History reflects the needs and ambitions of a political context, and the sense of what is deemed historically significant does not remain unattached hereby. Chronology and anachronism are essential to particular conceptions of history, and if history is in a process of being rewritten, they are the first items to be addressed by the defenders of the old system and the advocates of a new discourse. In political debates on the use or abuse of history anachronism is often seen as ultimate proof of the (un-)reliability of new insights and conceptions. As anachronism is defined as a way of transferring contemporary sets of values, assumptions and interpretative categories, every political reorientation inevitably provokes a discussion on that level. If a ‘new nation’ is in search of a ‘new past’, a new reflection on the basic categories of historical thinking becomes necessary. The changing discourses in South African historiography since the end of Apartheid serve here as an illuminative example.