Time-line to Nowhere

2010 December 7
by Josh Brown

If you look carefully enough you might find tucked away in today’s New York Times an article entitled “Drawing the Lessons of History, Poster-Size,” lauding a time-line poster series called HistoryStrips. It’s  a peculiarly superficial puff piece about the strenuous and self-sacrificing efforts of Peter Robyn to devise and underwrite a product to teach U.S. history. Obviously, I have no quibble with Mr. Robyn’s determination, nor with his distress at Americans’ general lack of knowledge about the US past. But even a brief perusal of the sample strip on the HistoryStrips website about the “Revolutionary Era, 1763-1812,” indicates that the “poster-size timelines that feature colorful depictions of the bills, battles, politicians and patriots that have shaped the nation,” each strip chronicling a fifty-year block of time, are predicated on the belief that factoids, assertions, and patriotic encomia, placed in chronological order, are the stuff of history, not to mention history education. That the New York Times chose to pump rather than actually examine such a project is, well, inexplicable.

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