Thursday, January 24, 2013


Blog post (from readings) #1: Before class begins, read excerpt from The Telephone Gambit. Does this reading give you a feeling of what historical research can do and how it can be useful to a journalist? What did you think of what you read?


  1. As our class' resident journalism and history double major, I of course know that there is a huge correlation between history and journalism. The way I explain it to my friends is "combining the study of history and journalism is studying storytelling then and storytelling now."

    "The Telephone Gambit" was a great example of this because it shows you exactly how history (and in this case historiography) can make a great story. Although it was only an excerpt, the article was easy to read and fun; I felt like I knew the author and made the discovery of Bell's fraud along with him, instead of just reading about it.

    Offering this kind of historiographical context can completely transform a work from "telling" the reader to "showing" the reader, and I think that's precisely what our jobs are as journalists.

  2. The excerpt from The Telephone Gambit works as a solid introduction to the convergence between historical research and journalism. Shulman is able to show not only the information he found, but how he found it and the different processes he went through to do so. To me, it can even serve as a kind of how-to guide for young journalists hoping to do a large historical investigative piece - he left nothing else.

    Unfortunately, that took away a lot of the joy in reading it for me as well. I did not find any of the passages in which he detailed, at great length, the different people he spoke to and what they said along the way of his research - only because the parts in which he described the evidence he found supporting his claims against Alexander Graham Bell were just that much more compelling.

  3. The Telephone Gambit embodies the importance of historiography. The piece was written in the point of view of a journalist who specialized in science and technology. The journalist was struck by the drastic changes in Bell’s research methods that he read in Bell’s journal. This article shows the power of research. Bell’s strategies and trips to Washington, D.C. were well documented, yet raised a lot of questions. The author of this piece was able uncover the inconsistencies of Bell’s story (like patenting an invention he never made) and is able to challenge the reputation of one of the most famous inventors of all time.
    I enjoyed reading this piece because it read more like a mystery than anything else. The author of this piece became curious about some of the things in Bell’s story and became obsessed with researching. Everything the author needed was right in front of him. He just needed to dig further and get to the bottom of it, which is what historiography can offer.

  4. I heard of this story before, but usually in drips and drabs. The excerpt from The Telephone Gambit proves that investigative journalism is necessary for any aspect in history. Journalism is developed on the principle of discovering the truth of an event, regardless of the horror behind it. Consequently, it's important that we as journalists recognize that most truth behind important historic figures can and will eventually be proven false.

    I liked reading this excerpt much more than the typical assigned history passages. In stead of presenting fact after fact, Shullman tells his discovery in more of a story-telling fashion, which makes it much easier to read. I'm assuming that after reading this, our term papers at the end of the year should be written in this type of journalistic style, rather than just a standard history research paper.

  5. I enjoyed the excerpt of The Telephone Gambit quite a bit once I sat back and reflected upon it. My concentration is in history so I have always had a nagging curiosity about important events and such. Not having much background about this subject in particular it was interesting to follow along with the author the path Bell took in "inventing" the telephone. Schulman thoughtfully lays out his process in going about researching this issue and I thought it was noteworthy that he did not go into this project on a mission to discredit Bell and prove he was a phoney (no pun intended). This proved to me that embarking on a historical research adventure with one thought or feeling in mind doesn't necessary rule out discovering conflicting, yet true information about your subject.

    The story kept me wanting to read as I got further along as well. I enjoyed the narrative form rather than the standard history paper that I am more accustomed to writing at this point. Schulman mixed in enough of his personal story to intertwine the relevance of why he was working on Bell's case and at least to me I found it thought provoking and enjoyable. Anytime I can come away from reading something wondering more about the subject, I credit the author for a job well done.

  6. I enjoyed learning about the invention of the telephone and the side of the story that not everyone knows. I did not know that Bell may have stolen the idea and design from someone else and the story piqued my curiosity in how many other revolutionary inventions were stolen.

    "The Telephone Gambit" was a great example of how every story has two sides. As journalists it is important to talk to both sides and get the full story before reporting on the events. The story of looking into the history of the invention of the telephone demonstrates how the more popular side of the story is not necessarily the correct side and that doing research is more important than reporting on what people tell you.

  7. I actually really enjoyed reading "The Telephone Gambit" and the plot of the story was completely new to me. The piece became a “page-turner” for me as I anxiously awaited the information that each paragraph had in store. Before I comment on the aspect of historiography, I have to mention that I admire the author’s passion for his topic. I think that’s where the best journalism begins. Passion is such a key element in journalism and research, and its presence really shows in this piece as the author thinks critically and researches constantly to develop his story.

    "The Telephone Gambit" is a great example of the power that is created when journalism and history work together. The author’s interest in science and innovation fueled his motivation to take on this specific theme, and he consulted so many different materials in order to pursue the truth. He looked at primary sources from Alexander Graham Bell, secondary sources from other inventors and scientists, and employed the help of a colleague. The author practically put himself in Bell’s shoes and tried to derive the answer to his research question analyzing a lot of information.

    It is also noteworthy to mention the idea of Whiggism. It occurs when one does not analyze the information in context, but rather draws conclusions of the past based on the norms or standards of the present. I think it’s important that journalist’s keep this idea in mind when researching and to make sure that their historical research does not become biased from today’s culture.

  8. I really enjoyed the excerpt. Someone in class said that it was an easy read because it was so interesting and I agree. It read like a novel with several hints of what was to come (that Bell possibly didn't invent the telephone). I think it emphasized historical research and it's importance and that just because something is in the past and deemed part of history does not always mean it's factual. Today, journalists are accused of not fact checking enough, especially when a story is "too good" to not report. Similarly, The Telephone Gambit brought up that idea but in this case it was a myth that was so ingrained in American history. The author was willing to follow the oddities in Bell's journal rather than dismiss them and may have uncovered an alternative truth.

    One thing I did feel the reading did was romanticize research... It was so interesting to read but then I thought about him laboring over all those books and research and also willing to travel to get his answers. I realized it was a slow but (sometimes) rewarding process.

  9. "The Telephone Gambit" was certainly an interesting read. I had heard the story of a competing telephone patent before, but never read it in a narrative form. There was a good mix of historical information, along with the drama of discovering that one of the most renowned inventors in history may have been a fake.

    The portion assigned for reading pointed out some facts that journalist must face. Foremost, we must question the traditional historical narrative when we are writing and researching. Just because it is in a textbook, does not mean it is always true. Journalist may fact check, but what if the "facts" are flawed? The excerpt reminds journalists to always challenge what is "true." Second, "the Telephone Gambit" reminds journalist to pursue leads, even if they might seem outlandish. A good story is often not the safe story. A journalist should challenge norms and search for alternate truths. And lastly, while challenging the dominate narrative of history, journalist should be also wary of "Whiggism." There should be some reasonable doubt within one's own work, as to whether the journalist is jumping to conclusions too quickly. Journalistic research is challenging, time consuming and often filled with doubt. But determined journalists often come away with great stories.

  10. Who is ‘Elisha Gray’ would be a great answer to a final Jeopardy question of what inventor submitted a patent for the telephone just a few hours after Alexander Graham Bell.

    The Telephone Gambit was an interesting read and provided a great example of how a journalist can use historical document to contradict a historical narrative that’s widely accepted.

    I thought Seth Shulman organized his investigation in a way that left the reader intrigued at the end of each chapter. I wanted to know if Alexander Graham Bell had stolen or plagiarized the idea from an inventor who was very well known in the 19th century. I liked the way Shulman described his own reaction to learning this information and his trepidation in trying to debunk a myth that has been engrained in history textbooks for decades. Overall, it was an enlightening read that shed light on how historical research can unearth new information and help correctly revise the narrative of an important historical event.