Journalists Have Ignored Historians

By: Charles Bowen

The historians have nailed us. In our reporting and editing classes back in college all those years ago, we proudly proclaimed to each other that journalism was “the first draft of history.”

In reality, though, says a lively new, history-rich Web site, “journalists traditionally have had little use for historians. The list of occasions on which journalists feel compelled to call upon historians is short. “Though a select number of historians have become media stars,” the site’s online statement continues, “the fact remains that few are publicly quoted and hardly any are given the public platform awarded economists, political scientists, or pollsters.”

Ouch. The criticism stings because we know it is true when the managers of the new site point out that the last historian “trusted to take a large and visible role” in the affairs of the day was Arthur Schlesinger Jr. And that was 40 years ago!

So, as members of the working media, expect to have your hat in your hand when you come into this Web-based venue. But do come in. This site — called History News Network — is a potentially powerful new resource, especially for editors, columnists, and publishers. And beyond being merely a resource, it also could even be a major ally for truth-seeking editorial page editors.

Consider the site’s prime objective, described in a hard-hitting mission statement. To:

* Expose politicians who misrepresent history.
* Point out bogus analogies.
* Deflate beguiling myths.
* Remind Americans of the irony of history.
* Put events in context.
* Remind us all of the complexity of history.

To get started, visit the site at, where the introductory screen provides linked headlines to its latest analyses. At the time of this writing, the war in Afghanistan and world terrorism in general were primary topics. “Who Are the Afghans?” asked one article. “How,” asks another, “Do You Respond to Terrorism Without Making a Bad Situation Even Worse?” “Acts of Terrorism 100 Years Ago” and “The Terrorist Who Started World War I,” said others. Additional topics covered broader areas of “terrorism” throughout history, including the failed campaign to capture Pancho Villa, the actions of the Barbary pirates, a comparison of Timothy McVeigh and John Brown, and the story of the Wall Street bombing of 1920.

The site also has a powerful, multi-function search facility. Click the Search option at the top of the introductory screen to reach a search page that supports both a simple data entry box and a more detailed advanced search section. Among the features of the latter are options to match any word, all words, or exact phrase as well as “sound-alike matching.” You also can designate a range of dates or zero in on material within a specific time period. In addition, you can browse a backlog of material. Select the Archives option at the top of the main screen to reach hyperlinked lists of earlier reports.

Other features of interest in using the History News Network in your writing and editing:

1. If you write about the site in your news columns, you might want to mention that site also has a service for teachers and students. Click the “Teacher’s Edition” link at the top of the introductory page to reach a table of contents intended to help educators and students locate specific articles, especially on current events. From here are quick links to subjects such as economics, historiography, holidays, media, military, U.S. presidents, World War II, and terrorism.

2. The “History Grapevine” link on the top page gives news of historians around the world, including reports on new books, major articles, new Web sites, and related topics. The page also does some gumshoe investigative reporting, such as recently tracking down the source of a George Bush IQ test hoax that even fooled famed cartoonist Garry Trudeau.

3. The site also offers an electronic newsletter that helps readers keep track of new developments online.

To see the last 10 “Digital How-to” columns, click here. Previous columns may be purchased in our paid archives. Search for “Bowen” in the “Author” field.

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