“The newspapers are making morning after morning the rough draft of history. Later, the historian will come, take down the old files, and transform the crude but sincere and accurate annals of editors and reporters into history, into literature.”
- “The Educational Value of ‘News’,” The State [Columbia, S.C.], Dec. 5, 1905
In writing polio eradication history as it happens, I draw heavily on what journalists write. I interview some of the same participants. To say journalists cover the present, while historians treat the past, is only partly true. Six weeks after an event, both the magazine or website journalist and I may write accurate accounts, but they will differ in focus and perspective. Beyond past versus present, the difference is also about the future. Journalists ask, what matters to readers today? Writers of current history ask, which of today’s events will readers five years from now care about, looking back?
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative began thirty years ago, in 1988. This year's World Polio Day event will be livestreamed in Philadelphia this Wednesday, Oct. 24, with a recording posted soon afterward. Journalists will watch for the latest news on efforts to end polio. As a historian, I’ll also be looking for clues to major turning points in the polio story—developments that will still stand out when we read about them long after the world is free of polio.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.