Past Present Podcast: Plagiarism, Ringling Bros., and Sugar & SNAP

Ringling Bros

In this week’s episode, Natalia, Neil, and Niki debate the dangers of plagiarism, the fate of the circus, and whether sugary drinks should be restricted for SNAP recipients.


Plagiarism is in the news after it was revealed that Monica Crowley, under consideration for a role in the Trump administration, had plagiarized work throughout her career, including her Ph.D. thesis. Niki compared the Crowley controversy to Joe Biden’s plagiarism scandal, citing David Greenberg’s argument that Biden’s plagiarism was part of a larger misrepresentation of his biography. Niki also discussed the plagiarism scandals of the historians Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin. Natalia commented on the controversy over the historian Michael Bellesiles who fabricated research for his book, Arming America.

Ringling Bros.

After nearly 150 years in business, the Ringling Bros. circus is shutting down. Neil argued the circus was closing because Americans objected to its mistreatment of animals, especially elephants, that has been well documented. Natalia observed the documentary Black Fish, which exposes Sea World’s abuse of its marine animals, had also increased Americans’ awareness. Natalia also argued that the 1966 movie Born Free had shaped Americans’ understanding of animals in the natural habitat as contrasted to zoos and circuses. Niki recommended the book True Vine which tells the story of two African-American albino brothers who were displayed as circus freaks in the late 19th century.

Sugar & SNAP

The New York Times published an article alleging that large amounts of food stamps are used to buy soda. Natalia commented on various criticisms of the story, including Jacobin’s takedown of the piece. Neil discussed recent public awareness campaigns on sugar, including New York City’s “Pouring on the Pounds” campaign. Natalia mentioned a Baffler article on the fundamental dishonesty of anti-smoking campaigns. Niki recommended David Singerman’s New York Times article, “The Shady History of Big Sugar.”

What’s Making History

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