IF THERE’S A single word that has been used more than any other to describe last week’s election, it is “historic.” In a different year, this might be dismissed as the hyperbole that comes with the season, but this time the word is undeniably apt. The sense of history has been palpable. It was felt in the spontaneous street celebrations, in the way words faltered, in the keen conviction that a sprawling, modern nation had just achieved a measure of old-fashioned redemption. But what place will the elevation of the senator from Illinois really be given in history? In 50 years, will the election of Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, be judged a pivot in the grand national narrative, or just a symbolic footnote?
Ideas put this question to five American historians. Their task was an act of imagination: to project themselves ahead to the middle of the century and gaze back, following the long threads of American politics and society; to report how the emotionally charged event might appear from a cool distance.
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