Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

Jill+Lepore
Back to Article
Back to Article

Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

Jill Lepore

Jill Lepore

Jill Lepore

Jill Lepore

Sam Bisno, Editor-in-Chief

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






“It might sound inflammatory, but I truly believe that we will one day look back on social media as we now look back on slavery.”

If there’s one thing Jill Lepore isn’t, it’s afraid to make her opinions known.

The author, New Yorker staff writer, and Harvard professor graciously stopped by Obama on Monday for a question and answer session with a group of juniors and seniors. She was in town for a Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures seminar.

Most of the students in attendance had read at least some of her most recent book, These Truths: A History of the United States, which, as its name suggests, offers a political history of America beginning in 1492. In it, Lepore often references the inherent flaws in the historical record that emanate from the simple fact that different areas of the world developed systems of writing at different points, and that for the vast majority of human history nothing was written down. Thus, many student questions centered around Lepore’s contribution to this imperfect archive, from how she determines what to include in books to how she remains unbiased in her work.

Throughout the discussion, Lepore was unabashed in pointing out what she sees as shortcomings in the historical community. When she was writing her 2005 book New York Burning, about slavery in New York, she says she had to look past the traditional narrative of New York as a progressive force and read in between the lines of the testimonies of slaves being accused of arson to piece together truths about the vibrant African-American community that existed in the state long before Emancipation.

She also warned against presentism, saying that it’s necessary to understand how individuals looked at the world in a given time period rather than projecting modern values onto past actions: “I try to let the dead speak for themselves.”

There were too many raised hands and not enough time as questions bounced from topic to topic: Lepore’s personal journey to becoming an author (she initially wanted to be a journalist but became enthralled with how events past have shaped today’s world), the logistics of working with publishers, the dangers of making assumptions when dealing with history, and, of course, social media, which Lepore believes to have “no redeeming qualities whatsoever.”

In response to one question about whether history does indeed “bend towards justice,” Lepore said that although certain aspects of 2019’s reality, such as climate change, are trending downward, “there were times in the past when it was much worse than it is now.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Sam Bisno, Editor-in-Chief

“When I was looking at the electives list before school started in ninth grade and I saw the option for a journalism class, I was ecstatic. Writing has...

Navigate Left
  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Obama YAG Wins Big at Model Convention

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Senior of the week: Jason Thomas

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    A Day After Protests, Students Share Why They Didn’t Go

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Who Will be the Democratic Presidential Candidate in 2020?

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Michael Rosfeld’s Acquittal is Just Another in a Long Line of Abuses of Power

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Michael Rosfeld Acquitted on All Charges for the Killing of Antwon Rose II

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Senior of the Week: Mya Young

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    “Savior Samuel” Celebrates 15th Anniversary of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Dr. Knox and Mr. Mal

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Senior of the Week: Raven Haston

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Northside Chronicle Editor Ashlee Green on Hyper-Local Journalism

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    The Green Book

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Why Going BPA-Free Might Not Be As Great As You Think

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Senior of the Week Talaya Caldwell

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Responses to The Hate U Give

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Black Life

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Senior of the Week: Ava Eckenrode

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Senior of the Week: Ta’Shown Taylor

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Students Frustrated by New Bus Pass Failures

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    LeadYoung Initiative: Sophie Levitt

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Reflecting on the Life of Jonathan Freeman

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    An Interview with Mayor Marita Garrett

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Movie Reviews: Keeping Lessons from History Alive

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Senior of the Week: Atavia Carter

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Speaker Series: Producer, Designer, DJ on Making Money with Media

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    LeadYoung Initiative Week 5: Mahika Halepete

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Post-Gazette Executive Editor to Step Down

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette News Editor Lillian Thomas Visits Obama!

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    LeadYoung Initiative Week 4: Sarah Toumi

  • Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future

    All Posts

    Senior of the Week: The Brain of a Boxer (Laron Rockymore)

Navigate Right
Pittsburgh Barack Obama Academy of International Studies
Author, Harvard Professor Jill Lepore on the Historical Record and the Direction of the Future