Jill Lepore Takes a Stand for the Truth

Ethan Bachand ‘22

News Editor

On Thursday, January 31, Professor Jill Lepore gave a lecture titled “The Rise and Fall of the Truth” to the Holy Cross community in the Hogan Ballroom. The talk, which lasted an hour, covered a variety of historical events and our interpretation of information. Officially recognized as the Thomas More Lecture on the Humanities, it is the first event of the year to be put on by the McFarland center.

Professor Lepore holds two occupations: teaching at Harvard University as the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History and writing for The New Yorker. The insight between those two fields crafted a detailed account of how America’s interpretation rapidly developed with the increase in mass media. Her most recent work, “These Truths: A History of the United States,” was published last fall and contains events from the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the election of President Donald Trump.

To begin her lecture, Professor Lepore began by outlining her discussion into three mains areas: fact, numbers, and data. The professor went on to explain how humans have developed a moving interpretation of what is the most important piece of evidence in history, hence the name of the lecture.

Jill Lepore speaks in the Hogan Ballroom. Photo by Hui Li ’21.

One of the crucial points in the lecture was the responsibility assumed by newspapers in delivering information and the truth to society. When asked about the pressure facing journalistic integrity in the modern “fake news” world, Professor Lepore said, “I cannot speak to that for myself. My criteria and my standards come from a lot of different places. They come from the world of scholarship and scholarly excellence, and they come from the world of journalism and journalistic accuracy. Do I think that as a whole the media is more attentive to matters of fact now? No, because the media is unraveling.”

The talk was well received by the numerous faculty and students that attended the event, with a crowd that left people standing in the back. Following the talk there was an opportunity for the audience to ask questions. It was during this time that a majority of the students left, consequently leaving most of the opportunities for questions to Holy Cross professors.

Most questions were centered around modern media rather than the historical piece offered through the majority of the talk. Staff that went to the microphone introduced their questions with long prefaces, leading to a seeming slow question and answer period that lost the attention of many in the audience.

Talking about her opportunity to speak at the College of the Holy Cross, Professor Lepore said, “It’s always fun to get great questions, and the questions were fantastic. The reason people go talk to groups like this is to get challenged so I appreciate that.”

This talk begins a long line of lectures organized by the McFarland Center, including “The Holocaust on the Local Level: Coexistence and Genocide in one Galician Town” by Omer Bartov and “The Christian Invention of Human Dignity” by Samuel Moyn. They are scheduled for February 20 and February 26, respectively.

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