Plus: The CIA and Walt Disney |

February 23, 2017

By Lily Rothman

Back in January, when President Obama was leaving office, we asked 10 historians to reflect on what their colleagues of the future might say about Obama’s tenure. The criteria used to rank a presidency and the insight they offered at that early moment provided a fascinating way to interpret very recent history.

This past week, C-SPAN released the results of a much larger survey of presidential historians who were asked to rank all of the past presidents from 1 to 43. (Cleveland only shows up once.) The results included a couple of noteworthy points. Though the top-ranked presidents — and Abraham Lincoln in the No. 1 spot — were consistent since the last time C-SPAN asked historians this question, some, like Andrew Jackson, saw their legacies falter. And Obama, just a few weeks removed from the Oval Office, is already ranked the 12th best president in American history.

You can click here to read more about the full list.

Here’s more of the history that made news this week:

This Decoded Message Changed History

The infamous Zimmermann Telegram was given to President Woodrow Wilson 100 years ago, on Feb. 24, 1917

A ‘Warning’ From George Washington on His Birthday

John Avlon, author of the new book Washington's Farewell, talks to TIME about the wisdom of the first President

50 Years Ago This Week: Inside the CIA

Also in this issue: LSD and a Rosenberg appeal

Portraits From a Japanese Segregation Camp in 1940s California

Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Executive Order that led to the internment of Japanese-Americans on Feb. 19, 1942

Celebrating Sidney Poitier at 90: LIFE's Best Photographs

The actor and icon was born Feb. 20, 1927


Feb. 23, 1953

Today in 1953: Rosemary Clooney

“With six other big record labels last year (Capitol, Coral, Decca, Mercury MGM, RCA Victor), Columbia shared in the pressing of something like $100 million worth of popular music. The product, boosted around the world by disk jockeys, record-players, TV, movies and old-fashioned stem-winding phonographs, is as ubiquitous as the American candy bar, the milkshake and the neon-lighted jukebox. And to ballad buyers, the voice of Rosemary Clooney, 24, has become as familiar as the voice of F.D.R. was to their parents.” (Feb. 23, 1953)

Read the full story

Feb. 24, 1941

This Week in 1941: Arming the U.S.

“The people are aware that change is afoot, but only half aware of the bigness, the imminence of that change. Waiting for spring to soften the February air, they scarcely realize that summer skies will be darkened by something more ominous than clouds—by fleets of airplanes, on their way to help England, if the Isles still stand; on their way to U. S. airfields, whether Britain stands or falls.” (Feb. 24, 1941)

Read the full story

Dec. 27, 1954

Oscars History and Walt Disney

“It had long been his heart's desire, but by this time it was a business necessity; cartoon costs had risen so high that it was no longer possible to make a profit with shorts. So he borrowed $1,500,000 and made Snow White. Released in 1937, it was one of the biggest hits that Hollywood had produced since The Birth of a Nation. It grossed $9,000,000 on its first release (it has since earned $5,000,000 more), produced seven top tunes, won eight (one for each dwarf and one for the picture) of Disney's 22 Academy Awards, sold more than $10 million worth of merchandise. It also made Dopey, the seventh dwarf, the darling of millions, and Disney himself more than ever the darling of the intellectuals.” (Dec. 27, 1954)

Read the full story


Educated At JSTOR Daily, the blog companion to JSTOR’s archive of scholarly journals, Livia Gershon looks back at a vision of the “high school of the future” as imagined a century ago.

Eyewitness At the New York Times, a recent installment of the Daily 360° series of videos tells the story of the assassination of Malcolm X, through a combination of animation and the voiceover recollections of someone who was there when it happened.

Coming in First Another take on the C-SPAN survey mentioned above comes from Jennifer Schuessler, who writes for the New York Times about some other ways (eg. facial hair) in which we might want to rank past presidents.

Forgotten Shame While many know about the shameful internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, John Smelcer at NPR’s Codeswitch says the nation has forgotten that indigenous people in Alaska were also rounded up and held against their will.

Oscars Fun Heading into Academy Awards weekend, Andrew Liptak at The Verge brings together a bunch of supercuts of past winners — including one that looks at every Best Picture winner ever, in under 15 minutes.

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