The Future in Context
Our resident humanities scholar laments that we thought we were immune to the human condition. We were wrong.
Tuesday’s speech was in keeping with a tradition dating back to the republic’s founding, including an increasing element of ‘bread and circuses,’ a mix of political policies and entertainment, ceremony and spectacle, in service of endless campaigning by both parties.
With Joe Biden delivering his third State of the Union address this week, our resident humanities scholar set out to make sense of the American presidency. Each president campaigned and governed to suit their respective times with a mix of shared and unique traits.
What do you do when you feel trapped by family lineage? Prince Harry of Britain chose a scorched earth approach. A century ago, a sharp-tongued daughter of American royalty known as Princess Alice blazed a different path.
America’s incoherent immigration policy is caught between the competing instincts of “give me … your huddled masses” and “build that wall.”
As a country, we don’t remember what happened 222 years ago, because we tend not to remember history. But also because that political storm “rolled harmlessly away.” Will we be as lucky?
The excesses of the American dream fill 50,000 storage facilities across the country. This material overflow results from crisis, indecision, laziness and selective forgetfulness.
With his unprecedented call for the termination of the U.S. Constitution, Donald Trump seems to ignore the lesson of Andrew Jackson, another aggrieved presidential aspirant who lived to fight – and win – another election.
Born of opportunities created in the aftermath of the Civil War, modern day carpetbaggers are simply opportunistic — and voters no longer seem to care anymore about unrooted candidates.
Former presidents have managed to talk their way out of trouble, even if by the skin of their teeth. There may be a lesson in that for us today.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, more than a dozen states enacted legislation barring Asians from purchasing property. But immigrants and their families used the court system and legal loopholes to fight back.
Museums are the institutional embodiment of the historical practice that to the victor go the spoils. More recently, the return of select artifacts is intended to set things right, but it’s complicated.
Bans are an illiberal idea that undermines a long and honorable tradition of making knowledge and ideas widely available, making people free to choose what to read for themselves.
There are few experiences that connect modern travelers to America’s past than on a train. Our resident humanities scholar recounts his journey west in preparation to tell the story of the man called both "The Empire Builder" and "The Devil's Curse."
The former president’s time in France changed him, and changed America. From haute culture to a silly spat over “freedom fries,” the two countries are inextricably linked.
The Corn Palace in South Dakota romanticizes the history of corn in rural America. But the current reality is that corn is now less of a food than an industrial product, raising questions about sustainability.
The outside mosaics of the Corn Palace change every year, the inside mosaics almost never. A committee meets to choose each year’s theme.
There are contemporary lessons to be learned from the way Theodore Roosevelt, then the most popular man in the world, navigated a royal funeral 112 years ago.
In 1968, thousands of Mexican American high school students in East Los Angeles walked out of classrooms to protest discriminatory and substandard education. Despite mixed results, their demonstration ignited a new civil rights movement.
In 1990, a quirky campaign run by the then-upstart music channel MTV encouraged its viewers to Rock the Vote. Now, three decades later, we need a similarly audacious bid to have Americans trust the validity of the vote.
The passing of the United Kingdom’s longest serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, sparks reflections on English history and former British kings named Charles. By George, the House of Windsor may have missed the mark on this one.
Our resident humanities scholar asks, what happens when the glue that holds our society together stops sticking?
Thomas Jefferson thought that each generation should rewrite its own founding document. A constitutional scholar talks about the changes that could have happened if Americans had taken Jefferson up on his challenge.
Since the country’s founding, the federal government has had its fair share of scandals often followed by a congressional hearing to find out what went wrong and why. Some are famous, others less so.
The 33-year ordeal of Salman Rushdie came to head with a knife attack at a venerable cultural venue in upstate New York. That the onstage stabbing took place in America is a grim reminder of the need for eternal vigilance in defending the First Amendment.
In the 1940s, Black Georgians elected the second woman in the state to Congress. Her political rise and fall reveal the lengths that state officials would go to disenfranchise Black voters.
This large and largely unpopulated western state with a rich history is pioneering a new future by setting aside several million acres of public and private land to serve as natural habitat for returning bison and other displaced animals.
Two artists see the potential to bring theatrical disciplines to public meetings to better define the public’s role and make its participation more meaningful.
The Good Roads Movement of the late 19th century began as a grass-roots crusade to improve roads for bicyclists. By the 20th century, it had turned into a national effort embraced by the automobile industry, railroad tycoons and presidents.
As the country rapidly approaches its 250th birthday, it is not too early to define how it will be marked. Our resident humanities scholar wants to return to the Jefferson idea of rewriting the constitution — one that is for and by all Americans.
Our mass shootings confuse and dismay international observers. A journalist and scholar explains why Europeans cannot understand our inability to control gun violence and how that makes them uncomfortable with America today.
About This Podcast
The collision of technology and society and the fallout consequences can be hard to figure out. Context can help. Our writers and editors probe important questions about where we are going by first asking about where we have been and why.