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2020 Brendan Gill Lecture: “American History, From Beginning to End” was a Big Hit

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By Lorraine Shanley, Member, Board of Trustees, The Bronxville Historical Conservancy


On Friday, March 6, 2020, The Bronxville Historical Conservancy hosted Jill Lepore, Harvard University professor and author of the bestselling These Truths: A History of the United States, at Sarah Lawrence’s Reisinger Auditorium. President Cristle Collins Judd welcomed the audience to the campus and mentioned that Lepore had generously spent that afternoon with faculty and students. She then introduced Bill Zambelli, co-chair of the BHC and Marilynn Hill, chair of BHC’s Brendan Gill Lecture series.

In a glowing introduction, Hill told the audience about Lepore’s many accolades and accomplishments, mentioning that in a recent article, the Harvard Crimson referred to the “campus cult of Lepore.”

Lepore then took the stage, promising to “cover all of American history in about forty-five minutes,” which she proceeded to do, brilliantly. Beginning in 10,000 and moving rapidly to the discovery and founding of America, Lepore used a series of images to show how perspectives on the world evolved as knowledge expanded.

For instance, a 1507 map includes, for the first time, a fourth quadrant, “America,” which is how our land mass was so named.

Many of the observations Lepore made during her talk confirmed that attitudes, which seem particular to our current political divide, have been around for a long time, from partisanship to immigrant hostility and gender bias. She refused to discuss where the country was heading though, remarking with a laugh, “historians take a blood oath not to predict the future.”

In the lively Q & A that followed, she mentioned her new book, IF THEN: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future, which will be published in September. It is an account of the Cold War origins of the data-mad, algorithmic twenty-first century, and several members of the audience subsequently commented that the speaker’s interest and expertise is even more extensive than her previous books suggest.