Steven Biel

Steven Biel,
the director of the History and Literature Program at Harvard University, is the author of
American Disasters and American Gothic: A Life of America's Most Famous Painting.

Recent Articles

How We Got Here and The Seventies

Accustomed as we have been to periodizing history into decades, we're in for some confusion now: What are we supposed to call this decade? The zeroes? The Os? The aughts? We have no precedents to guide us, since nobody in the past century seems to have spoken in terms of decades until the 1920s, or really until the 1930s, when people began to look back on something they called the 1920s. History, we've come to believe, occurs naturally in 10-year units. We even assume that decades possess their own agency--David Frum subtitles How We Got Here , his new book on the 1970s, The Decade That Brought You Modern Life . Where will we be if we can't properly label the '00s? We also assume that decades possess their own moral character. Frum's sub-subtitle is For Better or Worse . In Only Yesterday , the archetype of popular histories of American decades, Frederick Lewis Allen gently rebuked the 1920s for their disillusionment and ballyhoo. Allen was a liberal, but his critique had no explicit...

The Performer-in-Chief

Viewers who stayed tuned to network television immediately following the first Kennedy-Nixon debate on September 26, 1960, saw the Original Amateur Hour on ABC, Jackpot Bowling Starring Milton Berle on NBC, or a prerecorded interview with Lyndon Johnson on CBS. In that unenlightened time when the network news broadcasts lasted only 15 minutes, people had to wait until they read the newspapers the next morning to be told what they had seen. Stranger still, at least from the vantage point of the 2000 presidential campaign, is the almost complete absence of predebate coverage in 1960--even on the day of the event. Newspapers buried the story deep in their front sections, if they mentioned it at all, and the network newscasts barely squeezed it into the middle of their 15 minutes. There was no discussion of the campaigns' negotiations over the schedule, sites, staging, and format, no semipublic jockeying for competitive advantage, no attempt to manipulate the public's expectations by...