2016—Jill Lepore

Photo of Jill Lepre
David Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History, Harvard University

Jill Lepore is one of the most distinguished historians of her generation and a powerful shaper of public opinion. She is the David Wood Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker. The author of nine widely noticed books, a (co-authored) novel, and many articles in The New Yorker, Professor Lepore has established herself as one of a handful of contemporary American scholars who have earned the title of “public intellectual.” Fueled by insatiable curiosity and iconoclastic resistance to the tried and true, Lepore is as comfortable working with census charts and tax lists as she is with Hollywood movies, Margaret Sanger’s birth control pamphlets, feminist comics, and the technologies of evidence and of privacy.

A relentlessly accessible writer, Lepore has throughout her career combined scrupulous archival work with an uncanny sense for hitherto untold stories and an almost iconoclastic drive to challenge the official version of historical events. Her novelist’s eye portrays characters as different as the severe Noah Webster, Benjamin Franklin’s forgotten sister, and William Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman. Lepore’s first book, The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity (Knopf, 1998), restores the presence of Metacom to the beginnings of American identity, a violent, unsettling force that challenges versions of early Americas as a “multicultural picnic.” A similarly neglected story is the subject of her New York Burning, which evoked the fates of the New York slaves who were burned at the stake after the deadly fire that swept through Manhattan in 1741.

Lepore’s other books include Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin (Knopf, 2013), a Times magazine’s Best Nonfiction Book of the Year and a winner of the Mark Lynton Prize; The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death (Knopf, 2012), a finalist for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction; The Story of America: Essays on Origins (Princeton, 2012), shortlisted for the PEN Literary Award for the Art of the Essay; and The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle for American History (Princeton, 2010), a Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Lepore's most recent book is The Secret History of Wonder Woman (Knopf, 2014), a New York Times bestseller and winner of the 2015 American History Book Prize. Her next book, Joe Gould's Teeth, will be published by Knopf in 2016. Apart from The New Yorker, she also regularly writes for The New York Times, the Times Literary Supplement, American Scholar, the Yale Law Journal, Foreign Affairs, and American Quarterly, as well as Common-place, an online journal she co-founded.

The recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Pew Foundation, the Gilder Lehrman Institute, the Charles Warren Center, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, Jill Lepore is a member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.