The years following World War I were a time of uncertainty, upheaval, disillusionment. Many young Americans left behind the comforts of home in search of adventures and answers abroad. Among them were journalists who tried to make sense of a world so utterly changed, even the borders of much of it were no longer familiar. It’s these journalists whom historian Nancy F. Cott focuses on in her new book, “Fighting Words: The Bold American Journalists Who Brought the World Home Between the Wars.” Cott, the Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History, studies the work and lives of four of them at a time when authoritarianism and facism were beginning their creep across the ruins of the old international order. The former director of the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute, Cott is the author of six previous books, including “Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation.” She spoke with the Gazette on her latest and what parallels she sees between then and now.
GAZETTE: The book centers on the work of four American journalists abroad between World War I and World War II. Can you tell us who they were and a bit about each of them?
COTT: The short version is that they were young and restless Americans who each went recklessly abroad and reinvented themselves as international journalists while living very tumultuous personal lives. Dorothy Thompson was a woman who went abroad with vague intents, but with a clear hope that she would break into journalism. She quickly became a foreign correspondent and made quite a name for herself in Central Europe. In fact, Thompson was the first American journalist expelled from Nazi Germany for her reporting and came home to become one of the nation’s first “op-ed columnists” for the New York Herald Tribune. She was probably the most consistent anti-fascist voice in America in the ’30s.