014: Jill Lepore, 39


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

14: Jill Lepore, 2-27-06

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Chair, History and Literature Program and Professor of History, Harvard University
Area of Research: Early America
Education: Ph.D. Yale University, American Studies, 1995
Major Publications: New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery and Conspiracy in Eighteenth Century Manhattan (2005); A is for American: Letters and Other Characters in the Newly United States (2002); The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity (1999),Jill Lepore JPG and editor of Encounters in the New World: A History in Documents (1998).
Lepore is currently working on The Boston Massacre and the Trial of Liberty.
Awards: Bancroft Prize, the Phi Beta Kappa Society’s Ralph Waldo Emerson Award, the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians’ Book Prize, and the New England Historical Association’s Book Award all for The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity (1999).
Winner of the Kahn Award for A is for American: Letters and Other Characters in the Newly United States (2002).
Lepore was a Distinguished Lecturer, for the Organization of American Historians (2002-2005); she received the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship (2003-2004); the 2002 Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Fellowship; Affiliate, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (1999-2000); and the Ralph Henry Gabriel Dissertation Prize, American Studies Association.
Additional Info: Formerly Associate Professor of History at Boston University (1996-2003).
Lepore is co-founder and co-editor of the Web magazine Common-place (www.common-place.org). The website, which is sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society and the Florida State University Department of History, describes itself as a “common place for exploring and exchanging ideas about early American history and culture.”
Lepore has advise on television projects including: “History of America” for PBS’ American Experience, “The Murder of Dr. Parkman for Spy Pond Productions (1999), and “TimeLab 2000” for the History Channel (1998-1999). She has alo appeared on C-SPAN, and has been interviewed by NPR.

Personal Anecdote

Like nearly everyone else, I spent most of graduate school drinking coffee. But, unlike everyone else, I had a rule about it: drink alone. When I set about writing my dissertation, I put myself on strict social quarantine from eight to four every day, since I knew that, otherwise, I’d spend much of my time in coffeehouses near campus, complaining about how slow the writing was going. It’s not that I didn’t want to complain. Boy did I ever. But I was running out of money and had piles of student loans to pay, and I needed to finish that dissertation.

Also, I had something I wanted to say, pretty urgently, and nothing concentrates the mind as much as sitting at your desk, with no one to talk to. When I’m writing, I don’t answer email and, though I answer the phone, I’m told I’m impossibly rude to anyone who calls (and I never can remember if anyone did). Hell, I was probably rude to the dog. It’s harder to be so isolated now; students need to reach me and someone at my house always needs tylenol or a diaper change. But if my writing days are shorter, and come less often, I still drink my coffee alone.


By Jill Lepore

  • “Most historians consider themselves historians first and writers only incidentally. I think that’s a mistake. If readers don’t read the history historians write, it can’t be only the readers’ fault. The last decade has witnessed a tremendous surge in popular interest in American history, largely spurred by developments outside the academy: the rise of heritage tourism, the History Channel, and renewed interest in antiques and genealogy. Historians have got to ride this wave and try to take advantage of Americans’ powerful curiosity about the past by writing compelling essays and books. One way I’ve tried to do this is by founding Common-place (www.common-place.org), a web magazine that seeks to bridge the gap between scholarly and popular history. A bit friendlier than a scholarly journal, a bit more scholarly than a popular magazine, Common-place speaks–and listens–to scholars, museum curators, teachers, hobbyists, and just about anyone interested in American history before 1900. Common-place is a common place for all sorts of people to read about all sorts of things relating to early American life–from architecture to literature, from politics to parlor manners. And it’s a place to find insightful analysis of early American history as it is discussed not only in scholarly literature but also on the evening news; in museums, big and small; in documentary and dramatic films; and in popular culture.” — Jill Lepore, interview with “The Borzoi Reader”
  • “Most of the beads found with Burial 340 were made of glass, chiefly blue and green and turquoise, the color of the ocean over which she had traveled and of the river she must cross. Glass beads like these were manufactured in Venice and Amsterdam and traded, for slaves, on the African coast. Two of the beads were cowrie shells, from Africa. One was amber. Another, a large black bead, was manufactured by the Iroquois, sometime between 1682 and 1750… Because beads, like ideas, are heirloomed, passed along from one generation to another, they aggravate archaeologists; they evade analysis. And because beads, like ideas, are strung together, a strand is more than the sum of its beads, just as a plot is more than the sum of its elements. Even if bead scholars could trace every single bead on the strand to its place of manufacture, they wouldn’t know what those beads meant to the woman who wore them even after death. In this those beads are much like the details of the 1741 slave confessions. Oh, but those beads, some of them are centuries old, and they come from all over the world. Who knows how they came into this woman’s hands, or how she carried them, across the Atlantic, on that miserable Middle Passage? But still I strain to hear, over the calls for reparations, over the rumble of barrels being pushed over cobblestones, the rattle of that long string of blue beads, wound around the waist of a woman of middle age, hidden, jangling under her clothes, as she walks down Maiden Lane.” Jill Lepore in “New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan”

About Jill Lepore

  • “A product [of] imaginative, and wide-ranging scholarship… a fascinating book.” — Gordon Wood, Brown University in the “New York Review of Books” about “The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity”
  • “Her achievement in this book puts her in the company of our best contemporary prose stylists. It takes only a few sentences to be caught up.” — Barry O’Connell in the “Boston Globe” about “The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity”
  • “With riveting prose and a richly imagined re-creation of a horrible but little-studied event… Lepore deftly recounts the circumstances surrounding a conspiracy in pre-Revolutionary Manhattan…. [She] draws a splendid portrait of the struggles, prejudices and triumphs of a very young New York City in which fully ‘one in five inhabitants was enslaved.'” — “Publishers Weekly” (starred review) of “New York Burning”
  • “Meticulous but accessible work of historical scholarship” and “Previously a recipient of the Bancroft Prize… Lepore may once again win that prestigious honor in American history for this searing work.” – “Booklist” (starred review) of “New York Burning”
  • “Probably the most intelligent, fascinating professor at BU.”… “Really interesting class, I like the way it was taught and what we learned.”… “the class is amazing.” — Anonymous former students

Posted on Sunday, February 26, 2006 at 12:51 PM

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