New History

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FOR THE SPECIAL World War II section of this issue, we drew on the flood of first-person accounts that arrive in our office each month. It is a seemingly endless flow and endlessly interesting, for each man’s view of the event he witnessed is different from every other man’s. World War II is an old story only if you have read the same version before; it is a brand-new experience in the versions we set before you.

But is there no final, definitive version? Is history so boundless that it can never be told once and for all? Will there always be shifts of opinion and emotion, and even of facts themselves? The answer is obvious to any student of human affairs: there is no conventional wisdom that is not on the brink of turning unconventional and no unconventional interpretation that may not eventually end as a bulwark of convention.

So many of the received notions about American history have been overturned in the last few years that, with this issue, we introduce a new series, “What’s Happening in History. ” We’ll turn our attention from time to time to a subject or personality of major importance in our history—Reconstruction is the first topic—and bring you up to date on the historical work that is modifying our previous understanding. The results should be as exciting and intriguing as a narrator who says: “Whatever you always thought to be true of X (a President, a national crisis, an institution) is probably wrong to some degree. Now let me tell you the real story.” Just so primitive is the appeal of this feature to us, and just so sophisticated.

To help us with the series and to bolster our authority, we have introduced some new members to our Advisory Board, which now consists of:

DANIEL AARON , Professor of English and American Literature Emeritus, Harvard University, and the President of the Library of America.

ALAN BRINKLEY , Associate Professor of American History at Harvard. His Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression received the 1983 American Book Award for History.

JOHN A. GARRATY , a member of our board for many years, is Professor of History, Columbia University. He is the author of The American Nation , the best-selling general history of the United States.

WILLIAM E. LEUCHTENBURG , formerly Professor of American History at Columbia and now on the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Organization of American Historians, where he will serve as president starting in April 1985. He has won the Francis Parkman Prize and the Bancroft Prize for History.

JEAN STROUSE is the author of Alice James: A Biography and winner of the 1982 Bancroft Prize for American History and Diplomacy.

As senior contributing editor of this magazine as well as a member of the board, DAVID MCCULLOUGH is the author of The Johnstown Flood; The Path Between the Seas; Mornings on Horseback; and The Great Bridge . He has won the National Book Award, the Francis Parkman Prize, and the Samuel Eliot Morison Award. It was he who brought to our attention a recent comment by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings: “You ought to shoot all the economists and elect a couple of historians. ” We don’t figure to do any shooting but we’re sure doing some electing.