Monday, May 29, 2006

Historical Musings

1. I think Steven Sage's book, Ibsen and Hitler, sounds like a brilliant piece of historical scholarship/detective work. I love history books whose findings seem to jump off the page and shout 'Look what I found!' I know the 'so what' question is important... but what got to me in undergraduate history courses and what still turns me on is the discovery of something people never suspected about the past or finding a new and better (and probably ironic) explanation of why something occurred.

2. I was very disappointed with the concluding episode of the West Wing. That show had been one of my favorites since it started and I especially liked the way it incorporated historical anecdotes into its dialogue (something you can't say about most prime time TV). The final episode about the inauguration of a new president was no different. They made two references to past inaugurations. The first was a reference to William Henry Harrison's inauguration address which was the longest in history and helped lead to Harrison's death from pneumonia a month later.

The second reference, and the one that upset me, was a discussion between President Barlett and his wife, where she asked who thought it was a good idea to hold an outdoor inauguration ceremony in January. The president replied - 'Jefferson, Madison, Adams.' I wanted to scream - No they didn't! This anecdotes was wrong on two counts. First, the January inauguration did not become the standard until 1933. Originally the inauguration was held in March. But since the winter of 1932-1933 was one of the worst of the Great Depression and Hoover was a lame duck president for much of that period, Congress and the American people decided it was best to speed up the changeover process. The second way in which the anecdote was wrong was that most of the first presidents, including Jefferson, Madison, and Adams did NOT take the oath of office outdoors. It wasn't until Jackson became president in 1829 that an outdoor ceremony became the custom. Shame on you West Wing writers - no wonder the show got cancelled.


stevenfsage said...

Thanks for the kind comments, Dr. History. 'Cept i'm Steven with a 'v'. The 'ph' is in my Ph.D.
Best wishes, Steven F. Sage, author of IBSEN AND HITLER.

Anonymous said...

Ugh... sorry I'll fix it!