A fast-paced and sweeping introduction to American political history, from past to present, structured around one of the most important democratic institutions: debate. Class debates wrestle with questions like citizenship, rights, and race, using readings from primary documents chronicling pivotal struggles over ongoing issues. No formal debating experience required or expected!
(An earlier version of this course was offered with the title, "The Great Experiment.")
A team-taught course. Readings include works by Homer, Plato, Thucydides, Virgil, Augustine, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Descartes, as well as the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. All sections are led by professors.
This class, which was offered in Spring 2015, is directed research. As a final project, the students in the class together wrote and performed a podcast, chronicling Charles Dickens's travels to the United States in 1842. You can listen to their podcast here, via SoundCloud. Copyright in this podcast is held by the students who created it; it is not to be reproduced.
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 paper-making, printing, and 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? What is the relationship between the...
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. Emphasis will be on the histories of Western Europe and the United States, from the middle ages to the present, with an eye toward understanding how ideas about evidence shape criminal law and with special attention to the rise of empiricism in the nineteenth century, the questioning of truth in...
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.
This graduate seminar explores the historiography of early America. Readings proceed chronologically, from 1492 to 1800. But since what constitutes “early America” is in dispute, we begin with that debate. While the emphasis in this course is on historiographical development over the course of the twentieth century, rather than on the most dazzling work of the past few years, certain recent trends emerge on this syllabus: the interest on global or at least transatlantic approaches and the rise of both cultural history and what some scholars call the “new political history...
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.
In the most ambitious, one-volume American history in decades, award-winning historian Jill Lepore offers a magisterial account of the origins and rise of a divided nation.
The American experiment rests on three ideas—“these truths,” Jefferson called them—political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people. And it rests, too, on a fearless dedication to inquiry, writes Jill Lepore in a groundbreaking investigation into the American past that places truth itself at the center of the nation’s history. In riveting prose, These Truths tells the story of America, beginning in 1492, to ask whether the course of events has proven the nation’s founding truths, or belied them. “A nation born in contradiction, liberty in a land of slavery, will fight forever over the meaning of its history,” Lepore writes, finding meaning in those very contradictions as she weaves American history into a majestic tapestry of faith and hope, of peril and prosperity, of technological progress and moral anguish. Part spellbinding chronicle, part old-fashioned civics book, These Truths, filled with arresting sketches of Americans from John Winthrop and Frederick Douglass to Pauli Murray and Phyllis Schlafly, offers an authoritative new history of a great, and greatly troubled, nation.
A New York Times and National Bestseller and Winner of the 2015 American History Book Prize
"Ms. Lepore’s lively, surprising and occasionally salacious history is far more than the story of a comic strip. The author, a professor of history at Harvard, places Wonder Woman squarely in the story of women’s rights in America—a cycle of rights won, lost and endlessly fought for again. Like many illuminating histories, this one shows how issues we debate today were under contention just as vigorously decades ago, including birth control, sex education, the ways in which women can combine work and family, and the effects of 'violent entertainment' on children. 'The tragedy of feminism in the twentieth century is the way its history seemed to be forever disappearing,' Ms. Lepore writes. Her superb narrative brings that history vividly into the present, weaving individual lives into the sweeping changes of the century.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Lepore’s brilliance lies in knowing what to do with the material she has. In her hands, the Wonder Woman story unpacks not only a new cultural history of feminism, but a theory of history as well.” —New York Times Book Review
“Lepore specializes in excavating old flashpoints—forgotten or badly misremembered collisions between politics and cultural debates in America’s past. She lays out for our modern sensibility how some event or social problem was fought over by interest groups, reformers, opportunists, and “thought leaders” of the day. The result can look both familiar and disturbing, like our era’s arguments flipped in a funhouse mirror….Besides archives and comics Lepore relies on journalism, notebooks, letters, and traces of memoir left by the principals, as well as interviews with surviving colleagues, children, and extended family. Her discipline is worthy of a first-class detective….Lepore convinces us that we should know more about early feminists whose work Wonder Woman drew on and carried forward….A key spotter of connections, Lepore retrieves a remarkably recognizable feminist through-line, showing us 1920s debates about work-life balance, for example, that sound like something from The Atlantic in the past decade.” —New York Review of Books
“Even non-comix nerds (or those too young to remember Lynda Carter) will marvel at Jill Lepore’s deep dive into the real-world origins of the Amazonian superhero with the golden lasso. The fact that a polyamory enthusiast created her partly as a tribute to the reproductive-rights pioneer Margaret Sanger is, somehow, only the fourth or fifth most interesting thing in Ms. Woman’s bizarre background.” —New York Magazine
“With a defiantly unhurried ease, Lepore reconstructs the prevailing cultural mood that birthed the idea of Wonder Woman, carefully delineating the conceptual debt the character owes to early-20th-century feminism in general and the birth control movement in particular….Again and again, she distills the figures she writes about into clean, simple, muscular prose, making unequivocal assertions that carry a faint electric charge…[and] attain a transgressive, downright badass swagger.” —Slate
“Deftly combines biography and cultural history to trace the entwined stories of Marston, Wonder Woman, and 20th-century feminism….Lepore – a professor of American history at Harvard, a New Yorker writer, and the author of “Book of Ages” – is an endlessly energetic and knowledgeable guide to the fascinating backstory of Wonder Woman. She’s particularly skillful at showing the subtle process by which personal details migrate from life into art.” —Christian Science Monitor
“Wonder Woman, everyone's favorite female superhero (bulletproof bracelets, hello!), gets the Lasso of Truth treatment in this illuminating biography. Lepore, a Harvard prof and New Yorker writer, delves into the complicated family life of Wonder Woman's creator (who invented the lie detector, BTW), examines the use of bondage in his comics, and highlights the many ways in which the beloved Amazonian princess has come to embody feminism.”—Cosmopolitan
“The Secret History of Wonder Woman relates a tale so improbable, so juicy, it’ll have you saying, “Merciful Minerva!”… an astonishingly thorough investigation of the man behind the world’s most popular female superhero…. Lepore has assembled a vast trove of images and deploys them cunningly. Besides a hefty full-color section of Wonder Woman art in the middle, there are dozens of black-and-white pictures scattered throughout the text. Many of these are panels from Marston’s comics that mirror events in his own life. Combined with Lepore’s zippy prose, it all makes for a supremely engaging reading experience.” —Etelka Lehoczky, NPR
“If it makes your head spin to imagine a skimpily clad pop culture icon as (spoiler alert!) a close relation of feminist birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, then prepare to be dazzled by the truths revealed in historian Jill Lepore’s “The Secret History of Wonder Woman.” The story behind Wonder Woman is sensational, spellbinding and utterly improbable. Her origins lie in the feminism of the early 1900s, and the intertwined dramas that surrounded her creation are the stuff of pulp fiction and tabloid scandal….It took a super-sleuth to uncover the mysteries of this intricate history, hidden from view for more than half a century. With acrobatic research prowess, muscular narrative chops and disarming flashes of humor, Lepore rises to the challenge, bringing to light previously unknown details and deliberately obfuscated connections.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“This captivating, sometimes racy, charming illustrated history is one part biography of the character and one part biography of her fascinating creator, psychologist and inventor William Moulton Marston—an early feminist who believed, way before his time, that the world would be a better place if only women were running it….In the process of bringing her ‘superhero’ to life in this very carefully researched, witty secret ‘herstory,’ Lepore herself emerges as a kind of superheroine: a woman on a mission—as energetic, powerful, brilliant and provocative as her subject.” —Good Housekeeping
“This book is important, readable scholarship, making the connection between popular culture and the deeper history of the American woman’s fight for equality….Lepore restores Wonder Woman to her rightful and righteous place.” —The Kansas City Star “Fascinating…often brilliant….Through assiduous research (the endnotes comprise almost a third of the book and are often very interesting reading), Lepore unravels a hidden history, and in so doing links her subjects’ lives to some of the most important social movements of the era. It’s a remarkable, thought-provoking achievement.” —Bookpage
“The Marston family’s story is ripe for psychoanalysis. And so is The Secret History, since it raises interesting questions about what motivates writers to choose the subjects of their books. Having devoted her last work to Jane Franklin Mecom, Benjamin Franklin’s sister, Lepore clearly has a passion for intelligent, opinionated women whose legacies have been overshadowed by the men they love. In her own small way, she’s helping women get the justice they deserve, not unlike her tiara’d counterpart….It has nearly everything you might want in a page-turner: tales of S&M, skeletons in the closet, a believe-it-or-not weirdness in its biographical details, and something else that secretly powers even the most “serious” feminist history—fun.” —Entertainment Weekly
“An origin story far deeper, weirder, and kinkier than anything a cartoonist ever invented.” —Vulture
“Lepore restores Wonder Woman to her rightful place as an essential women’s rights icon in this dynamically researched and interpreted, spectacularly illustrated, downright astounding work of discovery that injects new zest into the history of feminism.” —Booklist (*starred review*)
“The fullest and most fascinating portrait ever created about the complicated, unconventional family that inspired one of the most enduring feminist icons in pop culture…. The Secret History of Wonder Woman is its own magic lasso, one that compels history to finally tell the truth about Wonder Woman—and compels the rest of us to behold it.” —Los Angeles Times
“The Secret History of Wonder Woman is as racy, as improbable, as awesomely righteous, and as filled with curious devices as an episode of the comic book itself. In the nexus of feminism and popular culture, Jill Lepore has found a revelatory chapter of American history. I will never look at Wonder Woman’s bracelets the same way again.” —Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home
"Hugely entertaining." --The Atlantic
“Lepore has an astonishing story and tells it extremely well. She acts as a sort of lie detector, but proceeds through elegant narrative rather than binary test. Sentences are poised, adverbs rare. Each chapter is carefully shaped. At a time when few are disposed to see history as a branch of literature, Lepore occupies a prominent place in American letters. Her microhistories weave compelling lives into larger stories.” —The Daily Beast
“In the spirited, thoroughly reported "The Secret History of Wonder Woman," Jill Lepore recounts the fascinating details behind the Amazonian princess' origin story….[Lepore]seamlessly shifts from the micro to the macro….A panel depicting this labor unrest is just one of scores that appear throughout Lepore's book, further amplifying the author's vivid prose.”—Newsday
“A Harvard professor with impeccable scholarly credentials, Lepore treats her subject seriously, as if she is writing the biography of a feminist pioneer like Margaret Sanger, the founder of the birth control movement — which this book is, to an extent….Through extensive research and a careful reading of the Wonder Woman comic books, she argues convincingly that the story of this character is an indelible chapter in the history of women’s rights.” —Miami Herald
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.