…we are listening to –
Jill Lepore’s podcast, “The Last Archive”
The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!
— Algernon Moncrieff, The Importance of Being Earnest
Fake news. Alternative facts. Full-on lies. They come at us every day, fast as bullets from all directions. Jill Lepore’s new podcast, “The Last Archive,” with its mission to discover who killed truth, is right on time.
It’s a big job, and early on, Lepore sets her course: “to understand answers to really big questions, you have to start with something small. To answer a question about the history of evidence, you don’t start with philosophy. You start with a single mystery, on a particular day.”
Episode 1: “The Clue of the Blue Bottle” starts out on “a Sunday in springtime a century ago.” It’s Nancy Drew plus a little alliteration, and just that fast, you are combing through the murder of a young woman, Lucina Corser Bradwell, in Barre, Vermont in 1919. It is a particularly brutal murder as our victim has not just been killed, but gagged and left to be found, naked in public. Her true story is sad, surprising, revolting, humiliating and compelling.
For all that it derives from the True Crime, pulp fiction radio broadcasts of the 1930s, “The Last Archive” also offers an incisive take on our own cultural norms and the conventions that lead folks to consider facts in just exactly the wrong ways, where truth is pushed aside or ignored completely with consternating, if not disastrous, results.
Lepore’s ten installments – a decade by decade exploration of events both infamous and invisible going back 100 years – look at the roots of how America got to the place “where people question facts, mull over things that are clearly false, and champion unproved or blatantly erroneous theories.”
Who killed the truth? “The Last Archive” gives you clues to ponder. New episodes drop every Thursday on Apple Podcast, Radio.com, Spotify, Stitcher and most of the places you like to get your podcasts.
Jill Lepore is a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine and an acclaimed historian who teaches in the Harvard School of Law. Her specialty is the History of Evidence: “the history of knowing things and the rules for knowing things.” She was first inspired to explore these rules by what she calls “the Big Bang cultural moment” of Stephen Colbert’s coining the term “truthiness” – the quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts – for The Colbert Report in 2005.
“Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don’t do what I want them to”
— Crosseyed and Painless, Talking Heads