Historical Fact or Fiction?
In an unprecedented partnership with one of the world’s foremost media outlets, faculty and students at Washington College created “Historically Corrected,” an online feature series in The New York Times. The series investigates and comments on the ways that politicians and special interest groups use and misuse history to promote their causes.
“History is often the language of American politics,” says Adam Goodheart, director of the College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, which is spearheading the project. “But whether it’s Democrats harking back to the New Deal or Republicans claiming the mantle of the founding fathers, fact and fiction are often much too easily confused.”
The feature highlights and examines claims made by politicians and special interest groups that distort or misrepresent aspects of American history. In the first “Historically Corrected,” published in July 2012, the series explored claims made by 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The column discussed how Mr. Romney gave a speech celebrating the United States as “unique” and “exceptional in the history of the world” as the only nation that has never taken land through war. But as the Historically Corrected team pointed out, he made the comment in San Diego – which itself was seized by a U.S. force in 1846, invading what was then part of Mexico.
Co-directing the project with Goodheart is journalist and historian Manseau, a scholar-in-residence at the Starr Center. Beginning with a handpicked group of student associates in summer 2012, the project expands in the Fall 2012 with Manseau’s “Writing for the Media,” a course that serves as a “newsroom” allowing students to track down leads, hone their fact-checking skills, and pitch topics for the series just as they might do one day at newspapers or television networks. “Working on a project affiliated with the New York Times is unbeatable real-world experience for any aspiring journalist,” Manseau says. “Students will come away from Historically Corrected with a better sense of how news and other media are created today, and the role they might play in that process.”
Washington College president Mitchell B. Reiss sees the project as “a wonderful opportunity for our students to be engaged at the intersection of history and politics in a meaningful way. They will be learning from some of the finest historians in the nation, and their research will support journalism on one of the most widely read and influential Web sites in the world,” he adds. “Adam and Peter are illustrating yet again how the work of the Starr Center can bridge the past and present and bring the insights of history to the forefront of the national dialogue.”