America’s Founding Fathers have a special significance for the American public. People want to know what Thomas Jefferson would think of affirmative action, or how George Washington would regard the invasion of Iraq. No other major nation honors its historical characters in quite the way we do. The British don’t have to check in periodically with, say, either of the two William Pitts to find out what a historical figure of two centuries ago might think of David Cameron’s government in the way we seem to have to check in with Jefferson or Washington about our current policies and predicaments. Americans seem to have a special need for these authentic historical figures in the here and now.Read the whole thing.
It is very easy for academic historians to mock this special need, and Harvard historian Jill Lepore, as a staff writer for The New Yorker, is an expert at mocking. Her new book, which mingles discussions of the present-day Tea Party movement with scattershot accounts of the Revolution, makes fun of the Tea Party people who are trying to use the history of the Revolution to promote their political cause. From her point of view, “What would the founders do?” is an “ill-considered” and “pointless” question. It has nothing to do with the scholarly science of history. “No NASA scientist decides what to do about the Hubble by asking what Isaac Newton would make of it.” The fact that many ordinary Americans continue to want to ask about the Founders evokes no sympathy or understanding whatever from Lepore.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Tea Parties, Past and Present
Gordon Wood reviews Jill Lepore's new book on the tea parties. He begins:
Posted by Tom at 12:12 PM