I almost ignored a recent New Yorker Out Loud interview when I saw it was about the Dreyfus Affair, a familiar dot on time-lines of high school history curricula. Snore.
Then I paused, feeling dim. I was losing mental Jeopardy. Other than recalling a fuzzy picture of Alfred Dreyfus, I was a vacuum of information. French, yes, but was he a politician? Was this before or after World War I? Did he get shot or was that another Affair?
I was taught that history education is twofold - You must learn the factual details of the event and you must consider the broad, sweeping thematic meanings. With the Dreyfus Affair, I failed to be imprinted with either, despite being exposed to the story numerous times.
So with that, I pressed "play".
The interview with Adam Gopnik about the Dreyfus Affair accompanies his article for the magazine. In the interview, he mines the event for insights about the different forms and definitions of national pride; talking about allegiances that are based on values and laws and allegiances which are based on spirit and national identity, all of which help to explain why the event is so historically important, why it shows up so much in history textbooks. Brief and memorable, the interview is a great way to get up to speed.