Jill Lepore

The Name of War: King Phillip's War and the Origins of American Identity

War is a contest of injuries and interpretation. p. x

...war is perhaps best understood as a violent contest for territory, resources, and political allegiances, and, no less fiercely, a contest for meaning. At first, the pain and violence of war are so extraordinary that language fails us: we cannot name our suffering and without words to describe it, reality itself becomes confused, even unreal. But we do not remain at a loss for words for long. Out of the chaos we soon make new meanings of our world, finding words to make reality real again, usually words like "atrocity" and "betrayal." War twice cultivates language: it requires justification, it demands description.

To say that war cultivates language is not to ignore what else war does: war kills. Indeed, it is the central claim of this book that wounds and words-the injuries and their interpretation-cannot be separated, that acts of war generate acts of narration, and that both types of acts are often joined in a common purpose: defining the geographical, political, cultural, and sometimes racial and national boundaries between people. [...] How wars are remembered can be just as important as how they were fought and first described. If future generations call your attack a "massacre," new ideas about themselves, rather than any new evidence about you or me, may propel them to do it. Waging, writing, and remembering a war all shape its legacy, all draw boundaries. pp. x-xi

All wars have at least two names. p. xv

If war is, at least in part, a contest for meaning, can it ever be a fair fight when only one side has access to those perfect instruments of empire, pens, paper, and printing presses? xxi

Here, then, was the solution to the colonists' dilemma between peacefully degenerating into barbarians or fighting like savages: wage the war, and win it by whatever means necessary, and then write about it, to win it again. The first would be a victory of wounds, the second a victory of words. 11

If literacy is employed as an agent of assimilation, can one of its uses be the devastation of a society's political autonomy and the loss of its native language and culture? Can literacy destroy? And, in the context of a broader cultural conflict, can one of the consequences of literacy be the death of those who acquire it? Can literacy kill? Perhaps most important, if literacy can be wielded as a weapon of conquest and can effectively compromise a native culture, what then of that culture's history and who is left to tell it? If the very people most likely to record their story, those who are so assimilated as to have become literate, are also the most vulnerable, does it then make sense to explain that culture's lack of written history by simply pointing to its attachment to mythical thinking? 27-28

Thomas Paine

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolise power and profit. qtd in Lepore, p. 6

The White of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History

Just as faith has its demands and its solaces, there are, I believe, demands and solaces in the study of history. My point in telling three stories at once is not to ignore the passage of time but rather to dwell on it, to see what's remembered and what's forgotten, what's kept and what's lost. 18

This book is an argument against historical fundamentalism. It makes that argument by measuring the distance between the past and the present. It measures that distance by taking soundings in the ocean of time. Here, now, we float on a surface of yesterdays. Below swirls the blue-green of childhood. Deeper still is the obscurity of long ago. 19

Lincoln was a lawyer, Douglas a judge; they had studied the law; they disagreed about how to interpret the founding documents, but they also shared a set of ideas about standards of evidence and the art of rhetoric, which is why they were able to hold, over seven days, such a substantial and relentless debate. 121

Originalism in the courts is controversial, to say the least. Jurisprudence stands of precedent, on the stability of the laws, but originalism is hardly the only way to abide by the constitution. Setting aside the question of whether it makes good law, it is, generally, lousy history. And it has long since reached well beyond the courts. Set loose in the culture, and tangled together with fanaticism, originalism looks like history, but it's not. It's historical fundamentalism, which is to history what astrology is to astronomy, what alchemy is to chemistry, what creationism is to evolution. 124