History in the Making
By Dianne Bragg
Like most of you, which is why we are members of AJHA, my mind often turns to the historical importance that might be attached to current events. By nature, historians notice places and dates and ponder their historical significance. It is virtually impossible for us not to consider the past when we are perusing the present. We are not alone, though, in our predilection for doing so. It even happens in popular culture.
Recently, when Britain’s Prince Henry of Wales, affectionately known as Harry, and his bride-to-be, Meghan Markle, announced that their marriage would occur on May 19, 2018, Twitter went into a flutter over the significance of the date. Was it just coincidence that May 19 also happened to be the date that Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII, lost her head in 1536? Did anyone tell the couple about the historical significance of the day? Should they change the date? If they ever had a daughter, would they dare name her Anne? The questions flew.
We find ourselves, for whatever reason, looking to the past to offer some possible explanation or significance for the present. Events do not happen in a vacuum and historians often find themselves in the position of answering questions of how and why we have come to a particular point politically, socially, or culturally. Although those answers are not always clearly defined, we make it our life’s work to do our part in mining the fields of history and seeking context for today.
On December 20, 2017, AJHA member Jon Marshall of Northwestern University wrote a column that appeared on the Washingtonpost.com site as part of its “Made by History” project. Marshall’s piece about the Post’s Watergate investigation examines links between the Trump administration’s hostility toward the press and the Nixon administration’s similar behavior. Marshall details an error made by the Post’s Bernstein and Woodward team and highlights errors that have made recent headlines. Marshall notes the process the Post and its editors used to ensure the accuracy of their reporting and how today’s journalists should emulate that work, despite the intense time pressures that now exist in today’s news cycle.
We look to the past in order to move forward into the future. Likewise, as I begin my tenure as president of AJHA, I look to the past for my inspiration and guidance. AJHA has been fortunate to have had so many esteemed leaders who have given so much to make this organization the beacon of journalism history this it is today. I am both honored and daunted to follow in their footsteps. As we closed out 2017 and embark on 2018, I wish for you all a Happy New Year and great success in whatever historical sleuthing endeavors you might undertake in the coming months. And, as always, I am excited to see what AJHA members have to offer in helping us to explain the historical implications of the world around us.