The first of many events marking The Nation’s 150th anniversary in 2015 occurred last Friday, at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in midtown Manhattan. At a panel moderated by our editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, four historians discussed The Nation’s coverage of their respective areas of expertise. In his preliminary remarks, longtime Nation Deadline Poet Calvin Trillin recalled fond moments aboard the magazine’s annual cruise (“lefties at sea,” as he dubbed it) and the intense negotiations in which he persuaded former Nation editor Victor Navasky to raise his pay per poem from something in “the high two figures” to a clean $100, making him, if reports were true, the highest-paid poet in America when measured by dollars per line.
In her introductory remarks, vanden Heuvel toasted the magazine’s traditions of “truth-telling, rooting out corruption and, yes, publishing heretical, often unpopular, ideas, challenging the limits of the debate.”
The first historian to speak was Sara Alpern, author of Freda Kirchwey: A Woman of the Nation, which no reader interested in the history of this magazine can afford to go without. Alpern recounted the story of Kirchwey’s career at the magazine and the intensity of her engagment with international affaris in its pages and beyond, not least in battles over the Spanish Civil War, American entry to World War II and the establishment of the state of Israel.
Following Alpern was the celebrated NYU historian Greg Grandin, author of the critically acclaimed The Empire of Necessity, published last year. Grandin, whose blog post at TheNation.com on the dissolution of The New Republic was widely read and cited last month, discussed the differences between The Nation’s coverage of political turmoil in Latin America in the last century and The New Republic’s. He particularly focused on the work of Ernest Gruening, Nation managing editor in the 1920s and later one of only two senators to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution escalating the Vietnam War, and the great William Appleman Williams, about whom Grandin wrote a brilliant, must-read tribute in our pages a few years ago.
Next up was the University of Michigan historian of the Middle East and South Asia, Juan Cole, whose delivered a characteristically detailed examination of The Nation’s coverage of Jawaharlal Nehru of India and Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt in the 1950s. Generally, Cole argued, The Nation’s coverage of the countries holds up well more than fifty years later, but he also noted the not-infrequent instances of Orientalism and political bias in what we published at the time.
Closing the session with a timely dose of oomph was Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian history at NYU, who looked back over his more than three decades of questioning conventional wisdom about US-Russian relations in the pages of The Nation. Cohen surveyed with disapproval the lamentable state of press coverage on the issue in the mainstream media and called out some of the most prominent American journalistic institutions for their lapdog coverage of our government’s sins of omission and commission in Eastern Europe and across the world.
The Nation will be hosting many more events, in New York and all across the country, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Western Hemisphere’s oldest weekly magazine. Stay tuned to our events page for details. Many thanks to the indispensable History News Network for the above videos and for their coverage of the entire conference.
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