Monday, January 14, 2008

Please Sir, I want some more

I've been molding the basic premise of findingDulcinea for three years - to help people better discover the Web. For 18 months, we've been refining the details and furiously creating content, following the original outline we created. But the joy of forging a different approach to a relatively new problem is that you get to call an audible occasionally. A moment of inspiration becomes a core part of the game plan. One of these moments came in early November, as I glanced through a newspaper and saw the familiar "On this Day in History" feature. It doesn't matter which paper, because they all handle this feature the same way - an uninspiring listing of a dozen significant events that occurred over the past 500 years. On this particular day, this lackadaisical approach troubled me, because two of the events were momentous; Kristallnacht in 1938, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I was embarrassed that I knew less about these events than I should - and puzzled why the newspaper would waste space with such a meager listing of these events that were so rich in historical significance. The older I get, the more interesting history becomes to me. As a college student, I remember being struck, for reasons I did not fully comprehend, by the intro to Leon Uris' Trinity, which was borrowed from Eugene O'Neill's "Moon for the Misbegotten": "there is no present or future - only the past happening over and over again - now."

And so I wondered; what was the ultimate significance of Kristallnacht ? I remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, but when was it erected, and why, and how long was it ? If you happen across a terrific blog post such as this one, from prolific writer Ed Driscoll, you'll read a well-reasoned view that Kristallnacht ws not the "beginning" of the Holocaust, but merely one of the first overt manifestations of an evil hatred that had been festering for years. You'll also learn that, after 2.5 million citizens had fled East Germany from 1949 to 1961, the 28-mile long Berlin Wall was erected to stop citizens of East Berlin, which was in East Germany, from fleeing to West Berlin, which was in democratic West Germany; the Berlin Wall was only one small segment of an 860-mile barrier that rendered East Germany a veritable prison. And you'll also learn that nearly every adviser in Ronald Reagan's cabinet implored him not to demand "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall", and he said it anyway, and it became one of the seminal moments of his presidency.

And so I decided that our Beyond the Headlines section would henceforth include a well-researched exposition of a significant event that occurred on this day in history. We choose our events by mining the innumerable lists on the Web; oddly, some days are quite rich in truly momentous events, while on others we're scraping the bottom (such as today, when we explore the marriage of star athlete and an actress). We usually avoid very recent history, as there is not much perspective to bring to these events yet. And we try to steer clear of the few events in history that are generally quite well known already. It is becoming apparent to us that findingDulcinea is a phenomenal resource for students at every level. And when it comes to history, all of us need to be students. But don't take our word for it; Eugene O'Neill said it much better than we ever could.

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