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Students Celebrated at Spring Reception; Alumnus Ted Anthony Honored with Inaugural Award

On April 17th, Department of History faculty, staff, students and their families gathered for a reception at The Nittany Lion Inn to celebrate the accomplishments of undergraduate and graduate students who received awards this semester. Click here to view the program for the event.

The guest of honor was Ted Anthony, the director of Asia-Pacific news for The Associated Press, who was awarded with the Department of History’s inaugural Outstanding Alumni Award by Dean Susan Welch. He offered the following remarks about the great importance of understanding history as a journalist:

“Thank you, Dean Welch, for that far-too-flattering introduction and for this inaugural alumni award. I am honored to be here today.

You always hear a lot about journalism being “the first rough draft of history.” But I’d like to share with you a more complete rendition of the idea, which was said famously more than 50 years ago by Phil Graham, then the publisher of The Washington Post:

“… our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of a history that will never really be completed about a world we can never really understand.”

Those missing parts — pay attention to them for a moment. They are quite important. Let me repeat two of them for just a bit of extra emphasis. “Never really be completed.” “Never really understand.”

Now I’d like to pair that up with a quote I remember from the history professor who had the most profound influence on me during my time at Penn State — Jack Spielvogel, an unparalleled critical thinker and historian who helped me learn how to think critically about what history means. He said this (after 27 years, I’m obviously paraphrasing from memory):

“If you just got here, you probably don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I’m here to tell you that with journalism today, we simply can’t let that happen. It has never been more crucial for the media to know history. It’s our job to do more than simply arriving and looking around.

The media today is built on a bedrock of imagery and snack-sized nuggets that we consume continually, and even continuously. This is both positive and challenging.

These are exciting, nerve-wracking times for journalism. They are full of possibility, yes, and more people are consuming more journalism in more ways than ever before. But even in the best of circumstances, most of the time we construct a coherent and accurate mosaic of a moment in time — pieces, fragments, that if we’re fortunate form a recognizable picture at the end of the day.

Historical context we are less good at. Why things happen, how they happen, how they unfolded over time — much of that often can fall away as journalists try to do more than ever before on more platforms than ever before.

But more than ever, as the adage goes, we need to understand where we came from if we’re to understand where we’re going.

So I have a challenge that I want to issue today to all of you here — those in the discipline of history and, in fact, all of the liberal arts.

When it comes to history and context, I want you to demand more from your media. Call us to account. Help us understand the why and the how and all the things that caused, and led to, the news events we’re covering. Don’t let us get away with being shallow.

Often, when it comes to the news, Professor Spielvogel’s aphorism was absolutely right: We don’t know what we’re talking about when we first arrive. But it’s our job to learn, on your behalf, and you absolutely should expect it from us.

Because as any academic knows, even the first rough drafts had better stand up to some road testing.

I’m so glad I majored in history here at Penn State. As a journalist, I’d be crippled without it.”

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