History on Trial on the Campaign Trail


While it is popular for presidential candidates to mythologize America’s founding fathers on the campaign trail, it is important to pause and put political rhetoric into historical perspective. Recently, The New York Times launched a new online series “Historically Corrected”- a collaborative research project that unites historians, journalists and readers to expose the “uses and abuses of history in politics.”  In each published piece, authors Adam Goodheart and Peter Manseau interrogate campaign speeches, utilizing a range of primary sources and expert opinions in an effort to separate historical fact from fiction. Each installment will target a different current event dominating the attention of the mainstream media and culminate in November with the 2012 presidential election.

In the opening installment, “History Hits the Campaign Trail”, Goodheart and Manseau take aim at President Obama’s often repeated stump speech that paints a rosy portrait of the creation of the American infrastructure.  In a speech delivered just a month ago, Obama glowingly declared: “We built railroads and highways, the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Interstate highway system, the transcontinental railroad — we built those things together.” Goodheart and Manseau point out, however, that these achievements resulted from decades of intense partisan bickering and even dirtier labor politics, not at all the picture of national unity Obama implies.

But the fun of historical investigation is not limited to the experts.  Following each online installment, readers will have the opportunity to weigh in on each topic and offer their own opinions. Thus far, readers have flooded the comments section of the first three installments with a wide spectrum of responses and ideological perspectives. If the introductory comments are any indication of the debate to follow, readers are in for a lively intellectual dialogue in the next few months.

For a link to the current installments of “Historically Corrected,” please click here, here, and here.

Historically Corrected

is a collaborative project of students and scholars at Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience. For more information about the project and its research and writing team, please click here.

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