Category Archives: current_events

lapham’s quarterly, or “history rhymes”*

Lewis Lapham, journalist, public intellectual and editor emeritus of Harper’s Magazine, is working on a new journal that critically filters current events through the lens of history. It’s called Lapham’s Quarterly, and here’s how the idea works: take a current event, like the Israeli conflict in Lebanon, and a current topic, like the use of civilian homes to store weapons, and put them up against historical documents, like the letter between General Sherman and General Hood debating the placement of the city’s population before the Battle of Atlanta. Through the juxtaposition, a continuous line between our forgotten past and our incomprehensible now. The journal is constituted of a section “in the present tense”, a collection of relevant historical excerpts, and closing section that returns to the present. Contributing writers are asked to write not about what they think, but what they know. It’s a small way to counteract the spin of our relentlessly opinionated media culture.
We’ve been asked to develop an online companion to the journal, which leverages the particular values of the network: participation, collaboration, and filtering. The site will feed suggestions into the print journal and serve as a gathering point for the interested community. There is an obvious tension between tight editorial focus required for print and the multi-threaded pursuits of the online community, a difference that will be obvious between the publication and the networked community. The print journal will have a high quality finish that engenders reverence and appreciation. The website will have a currency that is constantly refreshed, as topics accrete new submissions. Ultimately, the cacophony of the masses may not suit the stateliness of print, but integrating public participation into the editorial process will effect the journal. What effect? Not sure, but it’s worth the exploration. A recent conversation with the editorial team again finds them as excited about as we are.
(a short list of related posts: [1] [2] [3]).
* “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes” —Mark Twain