Jill Lepore ’95 Ph.D.
Public scholar of the highest caliber: in your writings, teaching, and research, you illuminate the hidden corners of our shared history. Your gifts as a storyteller are matched by your deft navigation of archival records. You have shown us that these truths are our truths, paving the way for dialogue and deeper understanding. Voice of veritas and of lux, in recognition of your insights and intellect, we are privileged to present your second Yale degree, Doctor of Humanities.
Jill Lepore—lauded scholar and writer of U.S. history in its many complexities—is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University, a staff writer at The New Yorker, and host of the podcast The Last Archive. Known for her meticulous explorations of otherwise overlooked aspects of the historical record, she brings national history, law, and politics vividly to life for readers and listeners across the country and around the globe. An alumna of Yale’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, from which she received her Ph.D. in American studies in 1995, Lepore delivered the Lewis Walpole Library Lecture in 2013.
Lepore was born and raised in the suburbs of Worcester, Massachusetts, the daughter of a junior high school principal and an art teacher. From early childhood she nurtured a passion for writing and storytelling and was a fixture at her small town’s library, where she sought inspiration in the works of favorite authors including George Orwell. She went on to major in English literature at Tufts University and earn a master’s degree in American culture from the University of Michigan before pursuing her doctorate at Yale under the mentorship of social historian John Demos, now the Samuel Knight Professor Emeritus of History. She taught at the University of California, San Diego, and at Boston University before joining Harvard’s faculty in 2003.
“My mother always used to tell me: Speak up when you have something to say. Listen up when you don’t. It’s kitchen-table advice, which, I’ve always found, is the very best kind.”
Lepore’s gifts as an educator—she is recognized as a Harvard College Professor for her distinction in undergraduate teaching—are reflected in the engaging narratives of her many books, articles, and essays. “Every argument worth making,” she tells her students, “begins with a question.” Whether illuminating the untold story of Benjamin Franklin’s youngest sister (Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, 2013) or calling for a redefinition of patriotism (This America: The Case for the Nation, 2019), Lepore demonstrates her commitment to asking questions—and looking beneath the surface to find their answers—to pave the way toward greater understanding of the past. Her sweeping single-volume history, These Truths: A History of the United States (2018), was named one of TIME magazine’s top ten non-fiction books of the decade and is an international bestseller, with a textbook edition to be published in August 2022. In addition to The New Yorker, her essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the Times Literary Supplement, the Journal of American History, Foreign Affairs, the Yale Law Journal, American Scholar, and the American Quarterly, and have been translated into German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Latvian, Swedish, French, Chinese, and Japanese.
Among numerous honors, Lepore is the 2021 winner of the Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought and a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2006 she received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, for the best non-fiction book on race, for New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan. She is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Philosophical Society, past president of the Society of American Historians, and a former commissioner of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery.
Lepore, her husband, and their three sons live in Cambridge, Massachusetts.