Studying the past using magazine archives can enhance academic research by adding unique insight into historical events. The magazines are primary sources that feature opinion pieces, photo essays, news reports and personal accounts from witnesses to history. They covered the major news events of the 20th century including those that changed the course of international politics, contributed to the advancement of science and technology and altered society in significant ways. What better way to research these impactful moments in history than referencing digital versions of the same magazines people were reading as the historical happenings occurred?

Magazine archives including Forbes, Life, TIME, Jet, Ebony and U.S. News & World Report cover a wide range of global historical events and how they affected the people living through them.

Here is a look at seven of those significant 20th century events and the magazine coverage that provided a glimpse into the lives and culture of citizens across the globe at the time.

1. World War II (1939-1945)

The second World War had a major impact on American culture as well as the world. Most families in the U.S. experienced a loved one being deployed overseas into a conflict they knew little about. Europeans residing close to battlefields lived in constant fear of raids or bombings by opposing armies. For much of the world it was a dark time. Magazines published during World War II serve as a time capsule for the experience of living through such a massive military conflict. Lifestyle magazines covered nationwide rationing, victory gardens and the changing industrial landscape on the home front. Political magazines covered news about the war and published opinion editorials criticizing world politics. The Nation, Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes, TIME and Life extensively covered the war as it was happening as well as the social, political and economic ramifications that it caused for the decades that followed.

2. The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1963)

November 22, 1963 changed American and international politics forever. John F. Kennedy, a beloved president with a high approval rating, was assassinated, leaving the country distraught and afraid during the tense Cold War. The assassination is one of the most covered historical events of all time in newspapers and magazines, with major publications ranging from The New Republic and U.S. News & World Report to TIME, Life and Fortune running multiple articles and cover stories about the president’s life in the months following his death. President Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline had already been at the center of American culture and their influence on politics, fashion and lifestyle remains to this day.

3. The Space Race (1950s-1970s)

The world was gripped by the two decades-long saga of advancing space travel. America was one of the leaders in the Space Race, and its citizens were very excited about it. A record-breaking number of children dressed up as astronauts for Halloween, magazines and newspapers included how-to instructions to create your own rocket at home, and millions sat in front of their television sets to watch news coverage of global updates. Life and TIME both ran iconic features on the race to the moon in the late 1960s and expanded their coverage when the crew of Apollo 11 successfully made the first moon landing in 1969 with the famous moonwalk by American astronaut Neil Armstrong.

4. The Civil Rights Movement (1950s-1960s)

The 1960s marked a pivotal time for African Americans living through oppressive segregation in the U.S. Segregation was pervasive in schools, public transportation, housing, and many other aspects of daily life. The movement was characterized by prominent leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X, all of whom received media attention for the civil rights advocacy work they were doing. Numerous protests and marches made national news, most notably King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington. This march was the most photographed event of the Civil Rights Movement, and many popular magazines circulated the photographs as well as articles describing the events of the movement and how they impacted the entire country. Magazines such as Jet and Ebony have continued to include coverage of King’s legacy and impact and the Civil Rights Movement in every decade of its publications.

5. Invention of the Home Computer (1970s)

In the late 20th century, technology and communication innovation took center stage with the creation of the World Wide Web, cellular phones and a very important home device - the computer. What we know now as the computer can be traced back to early tabulating machines in the 19th century, which evolved with 20th century innovations such as the stored-program computer. Personal computers connected users to an unimaginable wealth of information, all stored conveniently in the World Wide Web. The first personal computer model to be sold was the Kenbak-1 in 1971, followed by Apple and IBM producing and selling their own devices in the 1970s and 1980s. Print, television and radio advertisements for the new computers were everywhere during this time, and many publications such as Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes and Esquire covered the new technology and its impact on daily life.

6. Sandra Day O’Connor Appointed as Supreme Court Justice (1981)

The world had its eyes on the U.S. Supreme Court on September 25, 1981 when the first woman was appointed to serve as a Justice. Sandra Day O’Connor made history that day and became a trailblazer for women in positions of power, paving the way for other “firsts” by women in politics, including Geraldine Ferraro, Janet Reno, Madeline Albright and many more. A highly respected justice who always offered astutely researched opinions, O’Connor served on the Supreme Court from 1981 to 2006 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 for her contributions to the American judicial system. O’Connor’s time serving on the Supreme Court was a popular subject in magazines such as People, Vanity Fair, U.S. News & World Report and The Atlantic.

7. Early AI Beats a Human Chess Champion (1997)

International chess champion Garry Kasparov received the surprise of his life when an IBM computer beat him in a six-game chess match chess match in May 1997. Deep Blue, the artificial intelligence device, was originally released in 1996 where it played its first chess match against Kasparov and lost. After a few upgrades over the next year, the machine was able to successfully stump Kasparov and win the milestone match. Deep Blue is credited as one of the first successful applications of artificial intelligence and spurred new advances in technology across the world. The famous chess match became a widely debated topic in global culture, earning Deep Blue celebrity status due to the high level of media attention. Life, TIME and Forbes all capitalized on the public’s growing interest by publishing articles and photographs of the chess match, Deep Blue and the future of artificial intelligence.

These are just a few of the newsworthy events from the 20th century covered in magazine archives, but students will find first-hand coverage of many more events and turning points in history to supplement their research. Serving as primary source documents as well as time capsules, magazine archives are a unique research tool.

Magazine archives can support all kinds of subject research

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