Monday, October 11, 2010

Documentary Fundamentalism

Well-known historian Jill Lepore has tackled the sticky issue of how the Tea Party adherents are using and distorting American history in her new book, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010). She tackles head on the notion of "historical fundamentalism" where founding documents are to be read with reverence and historical research, analyzing evidence is a conspiracy, and the writings and archival sources of the Founding Fathers are sacred texts (except, of course, for those disagreeing with the Tea Party's notions of history and what the Revolutionary leaders were doing). Based on her own archival research into aspects of the Revolutionary War and interviews with Tea Party leaders and adherents, Lepore seeks to get a sense of what this group thinks it is about (a task that is difficult at best to accomplish). What we get is a first-rate analysis of the view of past when we cut ourselves loose from archival sources and build on legend, myth, rumor, and gossip.

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