This hands-on interdisciplinary undergraduate seminar is for students who want to think about what a book is and how to read one. Readings include historical and literary narratives of reading by Cervantes, Richardson, Franklin, Sterne, Ellison, and Bradbury, together with research exercises in Harvard library and museum collections. Jointly taught by Jill Lepore (History) and Leah Price (English).
History 97 is a team-taught introduction to the discipline of history. It is required for all sophomore History concentrators. Six different seminars are offered. In each, over the course of the term, you will explore the historian’s craft by studying and practicing a particular method. In my seminar, we will consider the methods used by biographers. Biographers write histories of lives. Their storytelling is often novelistic but their standards of evidence are those of the historian. They confront distinctive questions: What lives are worth writing? Read more about Historical Methods | History 97i | What is Biography?
This course, offered at the Harvard Law School and jointly in the college (open to advanced undergraduates), will examine and compare the rules and standards of evidence in law, history, science, and journalism. What counts as proof in these fields varies and has changed over time, often wildly. Read more about The History of Evidence | Harvard Law School
A survey of the field, with an emphasis on the range of interdisciplinary methods in the humanities, history, and social sciences. Required of first and second-year graduate students in American Studies and open to others by permission of the instructor.
The course is designed primarily for students interested in further study in the field, but all students are welcome. We cover topics, from the seventeenth- to the twenty-first century, in political, social, intellectual, and cultural history. Students read both primary and secondary materials, and receive intensive guidance for their writing. Taught jointly by Jill Lepore (History) and Louis Menand (English). Note: Ninety-minute lecture-discussion, plus one-hour section led by the instructors.
This hands-on research seminar and conference course will take you out of the classroom and into the archives. An intensive study of the political, cultural, literary, and social history of the American Revolution, with an emphasis on Boston from the Writs of Assistance, in 1761 to the British evacuation of the city, in 1776. The class includes field trips to Boston and Cambridge historic sites, archives, museums, and graveyards.
The seminar investigates Charles Dickens’s visit to the United States in 1842. Readings will include Dickens’s bitter and controversial account of that trip, American Notes; an American parody called English Notes; Dickens’s American novel, Martin Chuzzlewit; and accounts of his visit by Americans, in diaries, letters, and newspapers. We’ll also read other antebellum travel narratives, including those of Frances Trollope and Alexis de Tocqueville, and, after a field trip, we’ll write some Dickensian travel narratives of our own.
An intensive writing workshop for history graduate students across field groups. Readings consist of essays on historical writing and samples of particularly effective prose. The purpose of the readings is to help you think about how and maybe even why you want to write about the past. The work of the course consists of weekly writing assignments that we will together critique in class, paying special attention not only to standards of evidence and modes of argument but also to plot, character, and storytelling.
In 1800, Thomas Jefferson ran against the incumbent, John Adams, in arguably the most important presidential election in American history. Students in this seminar will re-visit the election by researching the debate, state by state, in newspapers, political pamphlets, and the private letters of politicians and political observers. Meanwhile, as the semester progresses, we will watch the current presidential election unfold, giving us ample opportunity to contrast contemporary political rhetoric with the charged campaigning of two centuries past.
A Finalist for the 2013 National Book Award for Nonfiction
From one of our most accomplished and widely admired historians, a revelatory portrait of Benjamin Franklin’s youngest sister and a history of history itself. Like her brother, Jane Franklin was a passionate reader, a gifted writer, and an astonishingly shrewd political commentator. Unlike him, she was a mother of twelve.
Benjamin Franklin, who wrote more letters to his sister than he wrote to anyone else, was the original American self-made man; his sister spent her life caring for her children. They left very different traces behind. Making use of an amazing cache of little- studied material, including documents, objects, and portraits only just discovered, Jill Lepore brings Jane Franklin to life in a way that illuminates not only this one woman but an entire world—a world usually lost to history. Lepore’s life of Jane Franklin, with its strikingly original vantage on her remarkable brother, is at once a wholly different account of the founding of the United States and one of the great untold stories of American history and letters: a life unknown.
A finalist for the 2013 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
Renowned Harvard scholar and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore has written a strikingly original, ingeniously conceived and beautifully crafted history of American ideas about life and death from before the cradle to beyond the grave.
How does life begin? What does it mean? What happens when we die? “All anyone can do is ask,” Lepore writes. “That’s why any history of ideas about life and death has to be, like this book, a history of curiosity.” Lepore starts that history with the story of a seventeenth-century Englishman who had the idea that all life begins with an egg, and ends it with an American who, in the 1970s, began freezing the dead. In between, life got longer, the stages of life multiplied, and matters of life and death moved from the library to the laboratory, from the humanities to the sciences. Lately, debates about life and death have determined the course of American politics. Each of these debates has a history. Investigating the surprising origins of the stuff of everyday life—from board games to breast pumps—Lepore argues that the age of discovery, Darwin, and the Space Age turned ideas about life on earth topsy-turvy. “New worlds were found,” she writes, and “old paradises were lost.” As much a meditation on the present as an excavation of the past, The Mansion of Happiness is delightful, learned, and altogether beguiling.
A finalist for the 2013 PEN Literary Award for the Art of the Essay
In The Story of America, Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore investigates American origin stories—from John Smith’s account of the founding of Jamestown in 1607 to Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural address—to show how American democracy is bound up with the history of print. Over the centuries, Americans have read and written their way into a political culture of ink and type.
Part civics primer, part cultural history, The Story of America excavates the origins of everything from the paper ballot and the Constitution to the I.O.U. and the dictionary. Along the way it presents fresh readings of Benjamin Franklin’s Way to Wealth; Thomas Paine’s Common Sense; “The Raven,” by Edgar Allan Poe; and “Paul Revere’s Ride,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; as well as histories of lesser-known genres, including biographies of presidents, novels of immigrants, and accounts of the Depression. From past to present, Lepore argues, Americans have wrestled with the idea of democracy by telling stories. In this thoughtful and provocative book, Lepore offers at once a history of origin stories and a meditation on storytelling itself.