Living in History

Whether you think we are making history or repeating it, it’s safe to say we are living in a historic time. In this episode, Why It Matters asks three historians to weigh in on how to use the past to examine the present and make better choices for the future.

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  • Gabrielle Sierra
    Director, Podcasting

Asher Ross - Supervising Producer

Markus Zakaria - Audio Producer and Sound Designer

Rafaela Siewert - Associate Podcast Producer

Episode Guests
  • Richard Haass
    President Emeritus, Council on Foreign Relations
  • Margaret MacMillan
    Professor, University of Toronto
  • Annette Gordon-Reed
    Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History, Harvard Law School

Show Notes

Around the world and across the political spectrum, there is consensus that we are living in a historic time. But what kind of history? Is the world drifting toward the isolationism, economic catastrophe, and retreat from democracy that characterized the 1930s? Or are the world’s current problems a prelude to the type of global cooperation that followed World War II? Three historians examine these and other examples, and offer their insights into the use and misuse of history. 


From CFR


Teaching Notes | The World: A Brief Introduction, Richard N. Haass


Could the Coronavirus Pandemic Revive International Cooperation?,” Stewart M. Patrick


Epidemics in World History, With Frank M. Snowden,” The President’s Inbox


Lessons From History Series: Learning From Past Pandemics,” Sheri L. Fink, Laurie Garrett, Julie L. Gerberding, and Jeremy Greene 


Read More


The Pandemic Will Accelerate History Rather Than Reshape It,” Foreign Affairs


Historian puts the push to remove Confederate statues in context,” Harvard Gazette


Margaret MacMillan on covid-19 as a turning point in history,” Economist


What Historians Will See When They Look Back on the Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020,” New York Times


1968 and 2020: Lessons From America’s Worst Year,” Atlantic


What the first world war tells us about battling coronavirus,” Financial Times


Coronavirus Recession: It Will Be a Lot Like World War II,” Bloomberg


The 1619 Project,” New York Times


Watch or Listen


American Nightmare,” Today, Explained


The 1930s,” American Experience


Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, PBS


Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the most popular man in India. On track to be elected for a third term, he has transformed the country’s economy and global standing while silencing dissent and galvanizing majoritarian support for his Hindu nationalist agenda—all while growing closer to the United States. How could Hindu nationalism reshape India?


In a wide-ranging conversation, Foreign Affairs Editor Dan Kurtz-Phelan joins Why It Matters to discuss nonpartisan publishing in a polarized political climate, the state of press freedom around the world, and the future of journalism.

Genocide and Mass Atrocities

Thirty years ago, Rwanda’s government began a campaign to eradicate the country’s largest minority group. In just one hundred days in 1994, roving militias killed around eight hundred thousand people. Would-be killers were incited to violence by the radio, which encouraged extremists to take to the streets with machetes. The United Nations stood by amid the bloodshed, and many foreign governments, including the United States, declined to intervene before it was too late. What got in the way of humanitarian intervention? And as violent conflict now rages at a clip unseen since then, can the international community learn from the mistakes of its past?

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