More by Jill Lepore
I thought it might be worth looking up Jill Lepore, the Harvard professor who wrote the NYT op-ed piece I linked to here yesterday; and lo, I now have several more items on my reading list.
Lepore is not specifically a historian of the family, nor of women, but I don’t think that puts her work outside the focus of this blog – it’s clear that she is a historian whose thinking is inclusive of everyone. This interview in Humanities from 2009 is excellent as a quick way of learning more about her work, particularly once you get past the opening questions about her background – it’s conversational and inspiring, with a lot of interesting nuggets of information and insights into the uses of history. I like what she says about how it’s not really seen as acceptable for academic historians to take an interest in character, and how she has handled that.
Two of her books mentioned there, The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origin of American Identity and New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan, appeal to me greatly based on her remarks in the interview. The former is probably more relevant to my purposes just now; I know some of my ancestors were caught up in King Philip’s War, but (of course) I’ve got next to no information on the women involved and no obvious way of finding out more, so it would be good to at least read up on the context. [Update: I've now read this and blogged about it here.] Lepore’s take on the related issue of American identity seems nuanced and plausible, and makes me want to read more.
Also mentioned in passing is John Demos’s book The Unredeemed Captive, which I think I’ve heard of before, but wouldn’t have recalled without this jogging my memory. It sounds hugely relevant to anyone curious about the history of women and families in colonial America, among other things. Lepore sums up: “[Demos wrote] a book called The Unredeemed Captive about a little girl, Eunice Williams, who is taken captive by Indians in 1704, when she’s around six years old, and she marries an Indian and her father could never get her to come back even though he finds her, decades later. She’s forgotten how to speak English. John was desperate to know what she was thinking, but he could never find out. The evidence just doesn’t exist.” Ha. If even Ivy League academics struggle with the lack of evidence on record relating to notable women … well, I’m not sure whether that makes me feel better or worse about my own research.
Finally, there is mention of Lepore’s writing for The New Yorker, and of Common-place, an online journal that she co-founded. I’ve only just clicked on it briefly, but it gave me big, wide, child-in-candy-store eyes. Here, for example, is an article by Sheila O’Hare on genealogy and history, but that’s just the first thing I found; there’s masses of other good stuff there on everything from how Betsy Ross became famous (a piece by Laurel Ulrich, who I’ve mentioned here before) to nineteenth-century American graphics (an entire issue on this!) to “what barbecue can tell us about race”. Free and worth bookmarking.
(I do slightly wonder how useful my links on American topics will be to people, because I’m blogging from the perspective of someone who hasn’t lived in America for sixteen years. Quite possibly, most things I suggest will be well-known to anyone who cares enough about these topics to be reading this in the States, but irrelevant to most UK readers. I don’t think it would be productive for me to worry too much about that, but I do apologise to anyone who finds it to be true. It’s the whole blogging dilemma, I guess, of who you’re writing for – I’m still finding my feet. I would love to think people are finding stuff here they will enjoy, but ultimately I can’t know who’s reading, so may as well plough on with my own enthusiasms.)
I’ll post something more directly connected to family history next time, but I’d love to hear from anyone who’s reading Lepore. She has a newer book out (this one), so perhaps that will bring some people here. Post a comment if you pass by.