This is a post to echo a good point that’s been made at HeadsUp repeatedly in the past few years: that there’s a lot of hidden or implied maths in historical stories that can be checked. Not just, say, the simple recalculating of percentages in financial copy, but the more difficult-to-spot progression of dates in a timeline, or perhaps the comparison of a biographical piece against the fixed historical dates it mentions.
In one recent story, the raw copy began:
The events in question, we soon learn, took place in 1931:
And the way she found out about them was by finding a copy of a memoir about them under her bed – a memoir that her father didn’t want his teenage daughter to read:
But despite her father’s unhappiness, what she had read left a strong and lasting impression on her:
There’s quite a lot of data there: enough, in fact, that the information can be plotted on one timeline that ought to take us from the incident itself to the present day.
But it doesn’t. Not quite. The incident happened in 1931. “Almost three decades later”, the copy says, Ms Washington was born. Let’s say three decades exactly, to make it easier; that would be 1961. So when she was 17, it would have been 1978; but “25 years” after she found the book only takes us to 2003. Ten years have gone missing somewhere. Time to email the author.