There's a lot of talk these days about the ideals of the American Revolution, but historian Jill Lepore says the Tea Party isn't the first to yearn for the past. In the Civil War, both sides claimed the revolution. Civil rights leaders and segregationists said they were the sons of liberty. The problem, Lepore says, is that people are talking about an America that never was. Thursday, she joins us to talk about the struggle for independence, and the part it continues to play in our imagination.
As members of the Tea Party movement campaign enthusiastically ahead of this year's midterm elections, the political analyst Michelle Bernard and the national political columnist John Heilemann parse what members, supporters and scholars have to say about the Tea Party. Keli Carender is credited with organising one of the first Tea Party rallies - she reflects on how the movement has blossomed. The Tea Party candidate Joe Miller from Alaska explains his hopes for change in America. A Harvard University Professor, Jill Lepore, explains how she thinks the Tea Party has crafted a fable from American history in order to propel its message.
The rhetoric of the Tea Party is peppered with references to the American Revolution. And the eponymous event — the one that took place in 1773, when the Sons of Liberty emptied hundreds of crates of British Tea into the Boston Harbor — is just one such example. But the modern-day Tea Party is hardly the first political movement to use the past as political fodder. That issue is at the heart of a forthcoming book by Jill Lepore, the New Yorker writer and Harvard historian. In the “The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History,” historian and writer Jill Lepore says the 1773 Tea Party has been a political device for many groups over the years.
Tea party activists and their leaders like Glen Beck claim they follow what the founding fathers intended. Harvard history professor and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore says 18th century history is a bit messier than they might realize. She talks about the battle over the meaning of history in her book "The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History."
Members of the modern tea party movement take their cues from history. The only problem is the history books they read are often wrong. But that's no reason to look down on them argues Harvard historian Jill Lepore. In fact, she says, most of us don't have our facts straight when it comes to the founding of this country. Most kids learn about the American Revolution in elementary school, and they rarely visit the subject again in college. The Boston Tea Party, the Continental Congress, the entire fight for independence and the creation of a new government — our versions of these stories are often legends filled with exaggeration and oversimplification. Lepore visited Seattle in October, 2010, to talk about her book "The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History." But her talk was not a condemnation of the far right wing. Instead, Lepore showed how both ends of the political spectrum have misrepresented history to further their causes, and she puts most of the blame on her own profession. If historians did a better job teaching this stuff, she points out, we'd all be better off.
A panel discussion on the Tea Party. The participants present their thoughts the Party's supporters, what they stand for and their potential impact to the upcoming 2010 mid-term elections. The panelists include Dick Armey, former House majority leader, chairman of FreedomWorks and author of Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto, Kate Zernike, national correspondent with the New York Times and author of Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America, Jill Lepore, history professor at Harvard University and author of The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History, and Tucker Carlson, editor in chief of The Daily Caller. The event is hosted by the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
Common-place asks its founding editors about their collaboratively written novel, set in Revolutionary-era Boston—Blindspot, a Novel, by a Gentleman in Exile and a Lady in Disguise (2008)—and about relationships between history and fiction in general.
What happens when historians write fiction? We decided to find out. Blindspot, our novel, is set in 1764, in Boston, a city reeling from the economic downturn following the French and Indian War, and beginning to simmer with the fires of liberty. The book tells the story of Stewart Jameson, a Scottish portrait painter fleeing debtor’s prison, and Fanny Easton, the fallen daughter of one of Boston’s richest merchants, who poses as a boy to gain a situation as Jameson’s apprentice. Their lives take a turn when Samuel Bradstreet, Speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly, is murdered the day Jameson and Easton are to paint him.
Jill Lepore, a professor of history at Harvard, and Jane Kamensky, a professor of history at Brandeis, met as graduate students in the 1980s. In 2007, the two began to write a historical novel. The product of that collaboration, the occasionally racy Blindspot (Spiegel & Grau, $24.95), tells the story of the portrait painter Stewart Jameson and his apprentice, "Francis Weston," née Fanny Easton, the disguised daughter of a prominent Bostonian. Lepore and Kamensky compiled glossaries, consulted collections of urban slang and lifted freely from eighteenth-century sources. With each in charge of one narrator--Lepore wrote Jameson's chapters, Kamensky Easton's letters--the two volleyed passages back and forth, like "a tennis game."--Christine Smallwood
The historical mystery "Blindspot" (Spiegel & Grau) is a collaboration between the New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore, who is also a professor of American history and the chair of the History and Literature Program at Harvard, and Jane Kamensky, the chair of the Department of History at Brandeis. Set in Boston during the summer of 1764, against the backdrop of the colonies' increasing discontent, the novel imagines the lives of Stewart Jameson, a swashbuckling Scottish portrait painter, and Fanny Easton, a young woman whose circumstances have forced her into disguise in order to serve as his painting apprentice. Lepore and Kamensky graciously took a moment to answer our questions. Below is our discussion with Lepore; later today, we'll post our talk with Kamensky.
It was a classic medical scare story: Parrots died. A few people got sick. Newspapers went wild. Then, well after the outbreak of "parrot fever" was declared dormant, researchers who dealt with the birds began to mysteriously die themselves. Historian Jill Lepore talks to host Jacki Lyden about the great parrot fever outbreak of 1929. Lepore chronicles the episode in the June 1 issue of The New Yorker magazine.
Soon after earning her bachelor’s degree in English from Tufts, Jill Lepore started working at Harvard, but not as a member of the faculty. The future David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History was clocking hours as a secretary on temporary assignment. But she was also writing up a storm, auditing courses, and thinking about attending grad school. In a conversation that opens with high-school recollections before venturing into seventeenth- and eighteenth-century America, Lepore describes how she became the person she is today: a well-known scholar of early American history, a winner of the Bancroft Prize, a former NEH research fellow, and the author of numerous essays and several distinguished books. She is also a staff writer at the New Yorker and, with fellow historian Jane Kamensky, the coauthor of Blindspot, a work of historical fiction set in Revolution-era Boston.
In a recent issue of The New Yorker magazine, Harvard historian Jill Lepore wrote about murder in America. Her article looks at recent and historical events in Connecticut to illustrate her points. All Things Considered host Mark Herz spoke with her about how the Cheshire home invasion crime and subsequent changes in punishment guidelines fits in historically.
Jill Lepore and Jane Kamensky, friends since graduate school, didn’t plan to write a book. Their project, set in 1760s Boston, was supposed to be a sketch, a playful spoof of two genres: the picaresque, with its rogue hero exposing the hypocrisy around him, and the sentimental epistolary narrative—in this instance, a series of letters from a young “fallen” woman to a friend. Lepore would write a chapter as Stewart Jameson, a portrait painter in exile; then Kamensky would pick up the story in a letter from Miss Fanny Easton. They planned to present the finished product as a gift to their mentor, John Demos, the historian under whom both studied at Yale.
Historians, Ralph Ellison once said, are "responsible liars," but at least they're responsible. Historical novelists, on the other hand, don't let facts get in the way of a good story. But in "Blindspot," to be published next week, two academic historians and long-time friends, Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore, have painted a portrait of pre-Revolutionary Boston that is true to the spirit of the time while inventing a couple of romantic, witty, down-on-their-luck, larger-than-life characters struggling to stay afloat in a tumultuous time. Ms. Kamensky is the chairwoman of Brandeis University's history department; Ms. Lepore is chairwoman of the History and Literature Program at Harvard University and a contributor to the New Yorker magazine. Both have written several works of nonfiction; this is their first novel.