Calling it a magazine is unfair because it is so much more than that. Early last week I saw an internet reference to a new publication called Lapham’s Quarterly . It was referred to as a history related journal and treated as if it might be good for insomnia.
Out of curiosity, though, I happened to look at a copy on a visit to the local chain bookstore with my daughters one night during their Thanksgiving break. I knew from the internet reference that the following were listed as “among the contributors” on the publication’s back cover: Thucydides, William Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth, Eugene Sledge, Sun Tzu, Voltaire, Walt Whitman, Saint Augustine, George Orwell, Homer, General George Patton, Leo Tolstoy, Abraham Lincoln, Julia Ward Howe, Joseph Goebbels and Mark Twain. Paging through the journal left no doubt it was leaving the store with me.
The first issue is 200+ pages of historical writings and speeches on the topic “States of War.” But this is not your typical scholarly historical journal. Most of the writings appear in “Voices in Time,” consisting of are excerpts of two pages or less from previously published works. The first issue is broken into four broad categories from “Call to Arms” to “Postmortems.” It concludes with four longer essays by current historians/authors and all of it is interspersed with historic art and photos but no (I repeat, no) advertising other than a tear-out subscription card. The journal also is supplemented by a web site with two blogs and additional material.
Each quarterly issue will examine a separate topic currently prominent in the news. It all proceeds on the basis of George Santayana’s oft-repeated statement, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Or, as editor Lewis H. Lapham notes in the “Preamble ” to the first issue, “history is the weapon with which we defend the future against the past.”
Lapham’s Quarterly , of course, appeals to those with an interest in history. But given the approach taken by Lapham, the former editor of Harper’s Magazine , I find this far from an insomnia cure. This isn’t the type of magazine you read — or want to read — in one sitting. With its focus on one topic of current interest, it provides insightful historic perspective and provokes thought about where we’re coming from and where we’re going in that area. I know I’m going to put the subscription card to use.
We have nothing else with which to build the future except the lumber of the past — history exploited as natural resource and applied technology, telling us that the story painted on the old walls and printed in the old books is also our own.
“ Preamble ,” Lapham’s Quarterly , Vol. 1, Issue 1