When Past is Prologue

At this moment of deep crisis, inflection and reflection, historians are taking center stage

Studying the past helps us process complex current events. We often reach backward as we ponder what we want to do about the present day and who we want to be. 

We also – if we’re honest – sometimes look for history simply to provide comfort that we’ve persevered through similar— or at least similarly difficult— challenges. In this spirit, we here at Capital in Context call out a few recent, prominent offerings from historians:

  • There is the regular Letters from an American newsletter by a Boston College American history professor, so exploded in popularity that it attracted a New York Times profile (and we particularly recommend her Dec. 30 dispatch about the through-line role of race in Republican politics). 
  • There’s UNUM, a platform created by PBS and Academy and Emmy Award-winning historical documentarian Ken Burns to provide historical context for today via curated snippets of his films. 
  • More than 1,000 historians and writers signed an open letter for President Trump’s impeachment, citing the unprecedented nature of some of his actions. 
  • This piece detailed another little-remembered time, in 1861, when a hell-bent mob intended to block Congress’ tallying of electoral votes but was thwarted
  • And Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder, an expert on fascism, political atrocity and the Holocaust, wrote this remarkable essay on how we got here and where we might be going.