Friday, July 01, 2005

Historical benchmarks and choices in what to highlight

I've read in a couple of places where a report filed by Reuters just had to take a dig at America when discussing the death of a 115-year-old Dutch woman. Here's the text people are a bit disgruntled over:

::::::::Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper, a former needlework teacher, was born in 1890, the year Sioux Indians were massacred by the U.S. military at the Battle of Wounded Knee.::::::::

Thanks. Doing this kind of thing is like continuously referring to Germany and following it up with "the country who attempted to exterminate all Jews and spread Aryan fascism across the globe." Or never talking about the British without saying, "The British, who sent their military to force the people of southeast Asia to keep taking Opium..." While true in the sense of history, it's a very thin slice of history that gives an incredibly distorted picture of the subject, not to mention being needlessly rude. Captain Ed asks on his blog, "Was Wounded Knee the only historical event of 1890 that Reuters could discover?" He mentions that Kaiser William II dismissed Chancellor Bismark that year. There was a whole world of events going on in 1890:

  • 1890 AD Bismark Resigns -William II Emperor of Germany dismissed Chancellor Bismarck. This ended the career of the man who was singly responsible for the unification of Germany.
  • 1890 AD Eiffel Tower -In 1890 the Eiffel Tower was completed.
  • 1890 AD Uganda Occupied by Britain -The Germans and the British resolve their differences in Africa when the Germans give up claims to Uganda which the British occupy, in return for receiving the island of Hegoland in the North Sea from Britain.
  • 1890 AD Van Gogh Dies -On July 29, 1890 Vincent Van Gogh the Dutch painter committed suicide. During his lifetime he sold only one painting becoming successful only upon death.
  • 1890- Womens Suffrage Groups Merge-The nation's two largest women's organizations, the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Women's Suffrage Organization, merged to form the National American Women's Suffrage Association. NAWSA was dedicated to obtaining the vote for women.

And that's just from the 1 site. Only interested in US items? How's this?

  • Mar 01 Readers picked up copies of the Literary Digest for the first time.
  • Mar 18 First US state naval militia organized (Massachusetts).
  • Apr 11 Ellis Island designated as an immigration station.
  • Apr 18 New York Commission of Emigration ends, closing Castle Clinton.
  • May 02 The Oklahoma Territory was organized.
  • Jul 02 Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act, prohibiting industrial monopolies.
  • Jul 03 (new state) Idaho is admitted as the 43rd state.
  • Jul 10 (new state) Wyoming, the state with the smallest population entered the Union this day. The 44th state was named after an Algonquin Indian word meaning ‘large prairie place’. Appropriately, the Indian paintbrush that covers much of the large prairie is the state flower and the meadowlark, frequently seen circling the prairie land, is the state bird. Another Indian term, Cheyenne, is also the name of the state capital. Wyoming is called the Equality State because it is the first state to have granted women the right to vote (1869).
  • Aug 16 Alexander Clark, journalist/lawyer, named minister to Liberia.
  • Sep 25 A U.S. National Park was established in Central CA. It was called Sequoia National Park after the giant redwood trees that grow there.
  • Sep 25 Congress establishes Yosemite National Park (Calif).
  • Sep 26 US stops minting $1 & $3 gold coin & 3¢ piece.
  • Oct 01 Yosemite National Park is dedicated in California.
  • Oct 11 Daughters of the American Revolution founded.
  • Nov 04 First American Kennel Club licensed trial for Beagles held in Hyannis, Massachusetts.
  • Nov 18 Battleship U.S.S. Maine launched.
  • Dec 31 Ellis Island (New York NY) opens as a US immigration depot.
  • ::::::::

    All of this from a single Google search and 3 minutes of reading, cutting, pasting, and formatting. Reuters could certainly have done better. They just chose not to do so. Their use of this item as the defining mark of a year - and in defining the birth of a woman on a different continent, let alone in a different country - was deliberate and that makes it a cheap shot. Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper lived a long life. Imagine what her eyes beheld - 2 World Wars that she no doubt saw with her own eyes. The invention of flight, telephones, television, medical miracles that we take completely for granted today, the advance of women's rights here and in Europe... The history that I learned - hell, that my father learned - from books and films, she witnessed in person. A fascinating life, even if removed from the beaten path. She deserved better than to be the medium of a cheap shot. Reuters doesn't care as long as they get to fire off a few digs at America. Shame on them.