What should I ask Jill Lepore?

by on March 20, 2017 at 6:22 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

I will be doing a Conversation with Tyler with her, podcast only no public event.  She is one of the best known historians, teaching at Harvard, the author of numerous books, and also writing a column for The New Yorker.  Much of her work is on 18th century America, though since then she has become an Americanist more broadly.  Perhaps her most popular book is on the history and origins of the Wonder Woman character.  Here is Wikipedia on Jill Lepore.

So what should I ask her?

1 So Much For Subtlety March 20, 2017 at 6:42 am

Is she depressed that her most famous book is on the origins and history of Wonder Woman obviously.

Does she think that Bi-Coastal elites like her are the cause of Trump’s triumph and does she feel a need to go out and see Jesusland?

She went to college on a mathematics scholarship but transferred to an easier English Lit major. Does she have any sensible advice for closing the gap in the numbers of women studying STEM?

2 Thiago Ribeiro March 20, 2017 at 7:32 am

“Does she think that Bi-Coastal elites like her are the cause of Trump’s triumph and does she feel a need to go out and see Jesusland?”
People who voted on Trump are the cause of Trump’s triumph as much as people who voted on Obama were the cause of Obama’s triumph (same with every president since George Washington). It is both too late (it is known on which ticket he was elected) and too soon (in the rats abandoning the ship sense) to disown Trump and blame coastal elites or social-democrats and Jews or rootless Cosmopolitans.

3 Thiago Ribeiro March 20, 2017 at 7:55 pm

I stand for what I said, I won’t twitter the opposite in four minutes. It Is too soon to abandom the wrecked ship.

4 anonymous March 20, 2017 at 9:03 pm

You have quoted Machado de Assis, at least once. Hence, you are no ‘classic’ troll.

5 anonymous March 20, 2017 at 9:07 pm

in people who waste time pleasure aggravates banality

6 Thiago Ribeiro March 20, 2017 at 9:31 pm

I am a classics’ man rather than a classic troll. As Machado de Assis himself wrote “Nem tudo tinham os antigos, nem tudo têm os modernos; com os haveres de uns e outros é que se enriquece o pecúlio comum.” (“Neither the ancient ones had everything nor have it the modern ones; our common wealth is made of the riches from the former and from the latter”) – Complete Works of Machado de Assis,

Rio de Janeiro: Nova Aguilar, vol. III, 1994.

Originally published in O Novo Mundo, Rio de Janeiro, Empire of Brazil, 03/24/1873.

7 Troll me March 20, 2017 at 4:27 pm

Many people transfer programs for reasons other than maximizing GPA or income.

My guess is that someone who plans to study mathematics at university is not enormously motivated by such things. Someone with maths skills could be studying engineering, finance, etc. But they study math.

My guess is that she changed from Math to English lit because she was more interested in that.

8 rayward March 20, 2017 at 6:57 am

Ask her about “disruptive innovation” and her criticism of it and Clayton Christensen who coined it. If she is critical of disruption, does it follow that she prefers complacency?

9 Ted Craig March 20, 2017 at 7:39 am

What does she make of the connection between Wonder Woman and Margaret Sanger.

10 josh March 20, 2017 at 1:42 pm

What do you make of the connection between wonder woman and Margaret Sanger?

11 Ted Craig March 20, 2017 at 6:48 pm

Sanger’s niece, Olive Byrne, was Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston’s…lover, mistress, common law wife? Whatever you want to call her.

12 efim polenov March 20, 2017 at 8:42 pm

Ted Craig: I thought you were talking about the Lovecraftian aspects of each (Wonder Woman and Sanger) : I am glad to learn that you were not being as unfair to Wonder Woman as I thought.

13 George March 20, 2017 at 8:11 am

Ask her what she thinks about Peter Turchins “dynamic history” modeling approach and where she thinks it will go etc. One good aspect of his approach is that his theories are predictive and so testable/falsifiable.

14 Odoacer March 20, 2017 at 10:41 am

I second this question. I don’t know enough about the field of history to decide if Turchin is a great mind or if other historians consider him a crank.

15 Joshua March 20, 2017 at 8:17 am

1. What is the relationship between narrative and argument?
2. Having written both historical fiction and historical non-fiction, how are the tasks different? Are both accountable to evidence? Isn’t narrative deceptive?
3. Is the Eleanor Roosevelt we encounter in popular accounts just as fictional as Wonder Woman? More so? What about the hagiography of the American Revolution?

16 Name March 20, 2017 at 10:27 am


Ask about her writing habits and where good arguments and ideas come from, ie how he obtains them.

17 Adrian Ratnapala March 20, 2017 at 11:23 am

Do you know of any reason to imagine those things are exclusive?

18 Troll me March 20, 2017 at 4:30 pm

Narrative allows to communicate socially-relevant stuff by means other than “fact”.

19 dearieme March 20, 2017 at 9:22 am

What does she think of people faking minority ethnic backgrounds to help them wangle academic jobs at Harvard?

20 Stubbs March 20, 2017 at 9:37 am

Has the number of subscribers to the New Yorker increased or decreased in recent years? Why?

21 AR March 20, 2017 at 9:53 am

In her articles, she has made strong counter arguments that “disruption theory” does not hold up in the long run as a good predictor of a company’s fortunes/end state and used the examples from the book to illustrate her point. What are her views on “disruption theory” as a tool to understand shorter horizon trends at a product level in a long term game (At least for simple products with no ecosystem features or network effects)?

22 P Burgos March 20, 2017 at 10:08 am

Ask her how much she rates the loyalist critiques of the revolutionaries?

23 Roger Sweeny March 20, 2017 at 10:27 am

In the January 30 New Yorker, she had what I thought was a confused article, “The Atomic Origins of Climate Science.” I read it because it mentioned Schelling, and was disappointed. You might read it and see if there’s anything you want to ask.

24 Kevin March 20, 2017 at 10:40 am

What is her current position on the controversy and/or subsequent reconciliation (if any) with Clay Christensen and his theory of disruptive innovation, following her New Yorker article?

25 Alain March 20, 2017 at 11:09 am

As a historian does she think that the following analogy really illustrates the deterrence effect of nuclear weapons, considering that subsequent to the development of nuclear that no two powers with nuclear weapons have had open warfare?

“The power of deterrence, however, is a claim that cannot be proved. If, while a police car is parked in front of your house, your house is not robbed, you might suspect that a robbery would have taken place had the police not been there, but you can’t know that for sure. “

26 Li Zhi March 20, 2017 at 11:24 am

1. What is your most (peer) cited academic publication?
2. Which of your peer reviewed works do you feel is most important?
3. Which of your peer reviewed works, if any, will be cited 25, 50 and 100 years from now?
4. How much of human nature is culturally determined?
5. Wonder Woman is a stereotypical objectification of women, reductio ad absurdum, true or false?

27 Garry March 20, 2017 at 11:59 am

What does she teach her children, nieces, nephews etc about History?

28 tjamesjones March 20, 2017 at 12:13 pm


29 Henry Makansi March 20, 2017 at 2:54 pm

Ask her if she believes in American exceptionalism and what historical events/trends resulted in American Exceptionalism (asked by a humble Dutchman)

Thank you!

30 Some Guy March 20, 2017 at 5:03 pm

She’s described how difficult it is to preserve the internet for historical reference. What does a good information preservation system for historical purposes look like nowadays in the world of ‘walled gardens’ like facebook and proprietary phones?

31 Kevin March 20, 2017 at 8:32 pm

What does she think of the “Fake News” phenomenon? Has it spread to the academy? Relatedly, what about history which is slanted to flatter to the biases of its readers? Is this phenomenon more prevalent today, in the academy and outside? What should be done, if anything?

I think Jill LePore is wonderful writer on many different levels, but I’ve also come to regard her as the Stephen Ambrose-like figure. She pitches a heroic narrative, one steeped in the politics of elite liberal academia, and someone who is broadly sympathetic to this point of view needn’t fear that he or she will have any values challenged.

And this, to me, is at the core of the Fake News phenomenon, we just have more people, and with worse educations, doing it. But I’d love to hear her take on this.

32 efim polenov March 20, 2017 at 9:00 pm

Would she rather have Batman as a grandfather or Wonder Woman as a grandmother; assuming that Batman or Wonder Woman shared = or did not share, in a more traditional direction – her religious beliefs? (In general she would probably be interesting on the overrated under-rated questions for lots of often generally discussed bicoastal Americans like Hans Solo, Princess Leia (California), Catwoman, Batman (Gotham), Flash, Aquagirl (NYC and a few hundred miles to the watery southeast, Atlantis), etcetera). (Her articles on Poe and the Trump election in the New Yorker – both free on the internet – were very good and relatively good; in context – so I am sincerely interested in her responses to relevant questions).

33 carlospln March 20, 2017 at 10:52 pm

Ask her what factors account for the transformation in the computer disc drive industry in the 1990’s.

34 Capt. J Parker March 21, 2017 at 5:02 pm

Did the rise of classical liberalism, democracy and capitalism in the anglo-saxon world come about because of the presence of a well armed population of commoners Here’s an argument in favor: http://www.independent.org/pdf/working_papers/81_of_arms_freedom.pdf In this Breiterman’s focus is on England in the 17th century and earlier. But, North America in the 18th century has some parallels and the war that created a classically liberal and capitalist American republic began over the question of just how well armed would the ruling elites allow the colonists to be.

35 David Lontano March 21, 2017 at 11:40 pm

She wrote a demonstrably poorly argued, poorly researched, almost bizarrely antagonistic New Yorker article about Clayton Christensen and what she claimed to be his theory “disruptive innovation” (in fact it is clear from the article she does not understand his theory or the term, but she purported to be criticizing it). The actual point of the article is inscrutable – it seems to be a kind of lament of the fact that times change and industry upheaval can be painful to many, but this purely emotional theme is as close as I can get to discerning an actual point. At the same time the article seems like a very personal attack against Professor Christensen. So the question is: why did she write this article? What WAS in fact her point? And why so antagonistic towards Professor Christensen, particularly delivered in a format that reflects so poorly on her scholarly and reasoning abilities?

36 Julie March 23, 2017 at 5:17 am

She’s done some interesting work on the history of the secret ballot and the way it originated as an attempt to disenfranchise former slaves. I would love to hear about how she compares the owning-your-vote in public discourse long ago versus owning it today on social media.

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