The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998 Page: 2
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
you understand my trepidation at standing here tonight. I finally
resolved my doubts by realizing that your current president and former
president sitting here at the head table are both journalists who have
not only survived hanging around historians but were chosen by histori-
ans to lead this association. Some might call that "Defining deviancy
upward", but I call it a triumph for both journalism and history, for the
two pursuits are concerned with trying to understand The Big Story that is
my topic tonight.
There's always been a tension between these two ways of figuring the
world out between history and journalism-and when you first think
about it, the historians seem to get the better deal. Journalists tackle the
here and now, which can rear up and bite you: historians tend to deal
with the dead and gone, who are in no position to complain. Journalism
encourages the making of snap judgments and the drawing of facile
conclusions: history tends to grow out of sustained study and a patient
resolve to connect the dots. Journalists who make mistakes get sued for
libel; historians who make mistakes get to publish a revised edition.
And there's a bigger difference yet. One of my most valued colleagues
is both a journalist and historian. Her name is Andie Tucher, and she
won the Allan Nevins Prize a few years ago for her doctoral dissertation,
which was then published as a fine book entitled "Froth and Scum." As a
high school student Andie was fascinated by my PBS series, "A Walk
Through The Twentieth Century," and in time she wrote me to inquire
about working in television. For five years she was my senior researcher,
and made many singular contributions to my productions, as well as to
this speech tonight. When we were talking about this event I asked
Andie what she thought the difference is between history and journal-
ism. "About a year," she said. And that year is precious. Because histori-
ans have more leisure to reflect than journalists do, they rarely have to
crawl quite so far out on the limb which means they rarely look as dumb
as we journalists do. Just about a year ago, remember, reporters were
calling Steve Forbes the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomina-
tion, Richard Jewell was living in total obscurity in Atlanta, and Dick
Morris was advising Bill Clinton on family values. Time can make all the
difference in our understanding of the events of our lives. George
Bernard Shaw once complained that reporters "are unable, seemingly,
to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civiliza-
tion." But some of history's most epic collapses started out looking no
more significant than a bicycle accident. A handsome young Greek
named Paris ran off with a beautiful woman named Helen who was not
his wife, and then the civilization of ancient Troy collapsed. A middle-
aged black seamstress riding a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, sat her
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998, periodical, 1998; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117155/m1/30/: accessed May 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.