Tag Archives: history

“Into the Wild” : A journalism classic revisited

By Christopher B. Daly 

As usual, I’m using the summer to catch up on my reading. Here’s a look back by Jon Krakauer, revisiting his break-out work on the death of Christopher McCandless, which became the basis for Krakauer’s best-seller Into the Wild. Krakauer makes a good case about the scientific validity of his original hypothesis — that McCandless died from ingesting wild foods that poisoned him.

This piece points up the importance of something we do too rarely in journalism — that is, stop chasing the next thing for a moment and go back over the ground we have already plowed. We should test and validate our work more often than we do.

So, kudos to Krakauer for both the original and the look-back.

Chris McCandless, the subject of "Into the Wild"

Chris McCandless, the subject of “Into the Wild”

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Iraq: Why journalists should study history

By Christopher B. Daly 

As I like to say: History keeps happening.

The events of recent days in the part of the world known as Iraq cannot be understood or explained without mastering a lot of history, going back well before the U.S. invasion and occupation. A good starting point for journalists covering the region (or merely pontificating about it) and for news consumers would be this map, drawn up in secret by the Great Powers who won World War I. In this historical map from 1919, British and French diplomats literally drew lines across the sand and decided how to divvy up the remains of the defeated Ottoman Empire.

(Don’t miss: the notation “secret” on the upper left.)

Map of British and French plans for dividing the Ottoman Empire.  (British Library)

Map of British and French plans for dividing the Ottoman Empire.
(British Library)

This map shows how the European powers essentially created Syria (A) and Iraq (B) without regard for traditional ethnic, religious, tribal, or commercial interests. There was no plebiscite, no consultation with local leaders. That’s the fundamental (modern) problem in the region.

To zero in on Iraq at present, here’s a valuable recent map from the Washington Post, showing a much-needed degree of granularity that goes beyond the artificial “national” boundaries. At a glance, the grey area suggests the need for an independent Kurdistan. The green area from Baghdad to the Gulf suggests the contours of a smaller country populated by Shiites. The yellow areas may well make more sense as a new Sunni country that includes parts of Syria.

An ethno-religious map of Iraq.  Washington Post

An ethno-religious map of Iraq.
Washington Post

 

My suggestion: Don’t listen to any journalist, analyst, or U.S. politician who could not intelligently discuss these maps for at least an hour in an informed way.

[My personal view: these are not real countries with genuine borders, so they cannot be effectively governed by anyone until borders are brought in line with social reality. In any case, this is not a U.S. problem. This region belongs to the people who live there. If they want to have a civil war or a religious war, they are entitled to have one. If any outside parties bear any responsibility, it would be the British and the French.]

 

 

 

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Data viz: 19th Century Edition

By Christopher B. Daly 

Thanks to TNR and this terrific piece by Susan Schulten about two very powerful maps that could have (and should have) shaped the settlement of the United States. Essentially, they tell the same story: do not attempt European-style agriculture west of the long-grass Great Plains. 

Here’s a map made by the great one-armed Western explorer John Wesley Powell for the U.S. Geological Survey:

drainage_thumb

In it, he drew a north-south line from the middle of North Dakota to Houston and warned against even attempting to farm those areas (except for the far West Coast). The wonderfully colored areas depict the watersheds of the region’s major rivers.

 

And here’s an earlier map showing rainfall totals across the country. Again, the message is pretty clear.

U.S. rain chart

U.S. rain chart

 

 

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D-day media roundup

By Christopher B. Daly

On this historic occasion, here’s an array of historic media images from D-Day and the following couple of momentous days as the Allies fought their way off the beaches and began the horrible “hedgerow campaign.”

–Robert Capa’s iconic photos for LIFE magazine can be seen at this memorial page maintained by Magnum (the photo agency Capa helped to found.) These are the highest quality I have found yet.

D-Day invasion photo by Robert Capa

D-Day invasion photo by Robert Capa

–Recently discovered are these rare color moving images made by Hollywood film director George Stevens while he was volunteering to aid the war effort. (Thanks to The Telegraph (U.K.), via HNN.) Stevens directed “Shane” and “The Diary of Anne Frank,” among many others, including “Gunga Din” with Cary Grant and “Woman of the Year” with Hepburn and Tracy.

unnamed

–Here is an image of the NYTimes special “extra edition” on June 6, 1944, with a “time stamp” of 6 a.m..

NYT D-Day Extra

 

Here is the front page from the following day:

D-Day plus 1

D-Day plus 1

–Here is the Times‘ own version of the June 6 paper.

–Here is a gallery on Google’s new “Cultural Institute,” where I compiled more images from the U.S. National Archives. (This is my first use of this feature. What do you think?) This gallery includes some great images of Higgins boats, which carried the day on June 6, when many of the heavier tank-landing craft (LSTs) got bogged down. Amazing fact: most of the Higgins boats were made of plywood, not steel.

–One more, from the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division:

Americans in Times Square learn the news about D-Day

Americans in Times Square learn the news about D-Day

 

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A pox on “A pox on both their houses”

By Christopher B. Daly 

I spend a lot of my waking hours at the intersection of Journalism and History, two empirical fields that share a lot of DNA. It’s an interesting place to hang out, and I wish more of the residents of each street would roam around more on the other street.

Today, a story in TPM about an item on a blog known as the 20Committee, nicely frames an issue that highlights one of the distinctions between the disciplines of journalism and history. The upshot is that journalists do us all a disservice when, in the name of non-partisanship or “fairness,” they throw up their hands and blame Democrats and Republicans equally for behaving in ways that are partisan, counter-productive, hypocritical or the like. As a former political journalist myself, I know this phenomenon well, and I know where it comes from: it is an adaptation to the pressure many American journalists feel to write as if they have no stake in the outcome, to show an aloof indifference to cause or candidate or party.

Many journalists, particularly in the mainstream media who work in the reporting tradition, apply this technique to coverage of hard problems like Obamacare or fracking or political spending. This is the problem often referred to as “false equivalence” or “false balance.”

But, I would submit, no historian who studies our current period in the future would be caught dead doing that. Every historian of our present situation will look at essentially the same facts and will exercise judgment.

[I will further predict that 95 percent of them will conclude that our current messes are the fault of Republicans. But, to use another favorite journalistic evasion, Only time will tell.]

Shutterstock/ Christos Georghiou

Shutterstock/
Christos Georghiou

 

 

 

 

 

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Trouble for oral history?

By Christopher B. Daly

As I like to tell my students: History keeps happening.

The past is always with us, and here’s a case in point: the arrest of Irish leader Gerry Adams as a result of an oral history project carried out at Boston College by researchers who promised their interviewees that the contents would remain confidential. As my friend and fellow journalism professor Dan Kennedy points out, the prosecution of this case represents just part of the Obama administration’s campaign to undermine the rights of reporters (and now, researchers too).

More reports keep coming in:

 

From today’s Boston Globe, stories about the impact on Boston College and on Adams himself, as well as a strong column by Kevin Cullen. (plenty of comments, too, naturally)

From today’s NYTimes, a good overview by Boston correspondent Kit Seelye.

And more, from the Irish Independent and the Irish Times.

 

 

 

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The best book you may never have read (or forgotten about)

By Christopher B. Daly

Thank you, Dwight Garner, for the appreciation in today’s NYTimes for a neglected American classic — the 1974 oral history All God’s Dangers. It’s amazing to think that this wonderful book has fallen below the radar. Even compared to the other books that were finalists that year for the National Book Award, All God’s Dangers deserves to be read, taught, and remembered.

[What were those other books? It was a non-fiction all-star team:

--The Power Broker, by Robert A. Caro

--All the President's Men, by Woodward & Bernstein

--Working, by Studs Terkel

--Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig.]

Rosengarten’s book, which began life as his dissertation for his doctorate in the History of American Civilization at Harvard, tells the story of an Alabama sharecropper, Ned Cobb, in his own words.

Ned Cobb (aka Nate Shaw)

Ned Cobb (aka Nate Shaw)

It was was an inspiration (and a model, along with Terkel’s book, Working, another oral history) for the book that I and five co-authors began working on in 1982, called Like a Family. Like those two 1974 books, our book focuses on working-class people, telling their own stories in their own voices.

 

 

In his piece in the Times, Garner focuses on the book All God’s Dangers and does not pay much attention to whatever happened to the subject, Ned Cobb, or the author, Ted Rosengarten. You can find more about Cobb here and here. And you can find more about Rosengarten, who became a writer in South Carolina, here and here.

Ted Rosengarten

Ted Rosengarten

 

 

 

 

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