A World War II Scale Effort: The American Scholar

What level of public attention is required for the “WWII-scale effort” urged by Thomas Friedman and others? To provide a provisional answer to this question, GW students in Professor Svoboda’s UW-20 classes examined ten magazines published during WWII and still in print today. They compared each magazine’s coverage of WWII during 1942 with its coverage of climate change from July 2008 to June 2009 . Up to 12 issues were examined for each period. (See a more detailed overview of the project here.) Today we present a second analysis of The American Scholar, a quarterly magazine dedicated to current events, politics, history, science, culture and the arts.

Comparison of Coverage of WWII and Climate Change in
The American Scholar Magazine during 1942 and 2008/2009

By Benjamin Yarmis, Daniel Kattan, and Roy Ghantous

The American Scholar is a quarterly journal dedicated to scholarship in the humanities. In September, in Gelman, we examined four 1942 issues in a bound archival volume; then, in Eckles, we examined four hard copy issues from 2008/2009 (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter).


We followed the same general plan as the group as a whole.  We, however, did not look at advertisements, and our op-eds were labeled “Discussions.” The total percentages we report above are the sum of all articles and discussions related either to World War II or to climate change divided by the total number of articles and discussions for each time period.

Coverage of WWII

Because the American Scholar is dedicated to scholarship in the humanities, we did not expect to find many articles dealing with World War Two. We were therefore surprised to find that nearly 60% of the articles and discussions had some connection to WWII. For example, a spring 1942 article by Frederick Keppel, “Will the American College Survive,” explored the new connections between America’s military services and its colleges.

World War II
Articles 51%
Discussions 58%
Editorials 100%



Coverage of Climate Change

As with World War Two, we expected to find very few articles about climate change, but in this case, we were surprised by how few there actually were.

Climate Change
Articles 13%
Discussions 0%
Editorials 0%




Overall, we were not surprised by our results. We expected World War Two to get significantly more coverage than climate change, but the size of the difference is larger than we would have predicted.

Our results show that America, overall, paid much more attention to WWII than it is paying climate change.  We believe that this is because WWII was much more immediate and dramatic. We could identify the threat and how to beat it.  Everyone, even scholars, could do something to help the war effort.  And during 1942, few people published dissenting opinions on the war. Readers of American Scholar could look at past wars and see what should be done about the current war.  Climate change, however, has no precedent; nothing like it has happened on this scale in human history.

Some of the problems we encountered while conducting our research were time constraints and the nature of the journal we were working with. The American Scholar does not largely does not focus on war or environmental issues. Additionally, it is a quarterly publication, meaning that there were only four issues for each year we looked at.
The amount of coverage given to WWII in American Scholar was significantly larger than the coverage given to climate change. The scale of the difference suggests that these problems are vastly different in both scale and scope. With few if any dramatic events directly linked to climate change, there is much less to write about than there was for World War Two. This low coverage suggests low interest, that public interest in climate change can hardly compare with public interest in WW II.


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