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Kevin Kruse: Myth America


Kevin Kruse

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Kelly talks to Princeton historian Kevin Kruse about his new book “Myth America: Historians Take on The Biggest Legends and Lies About Our Past.”

The first line in your new book is “We live in the age of disinformation.” But wasn’t that always true?

“In the past, when we argued about history, it was well, which point of emphasis should we have? What fact matters more here right? And instead, today, we've got people throwing out things that are just complete lies, right? So the starting point is, well, did this even happen? Is it a fact, right? And that's just something wholly new. And so that's why we single this out as something a little more pronounced than in the past.”  

Chicken or egg question: did the themes come first or the historians who would write on those themes? I’m wondering how this collection got put together.

“Yeah, that's a great question. It was mostly themes we wanted to explore, but, in doing that, we sought out people who we knew could explore them well. What we wanted were historians who could speak well to the general public. This book isn't for historians. In fact, this is all kind of conventional wisdom and common knowledge to historians. We're trying to address the gap between what the public thinks they know, and what we actually know from our time in the archives. So everything you get here is kind of a standard account we could have asked pretty much any historian to step up to the bat and deliver what the profession knows. We sought out people who we knew could engage well with the general public, and a lot of them are on Twitter doing this where they're kind of engaged already pushing back against lies.”

Also, the idea of immigrant panic is, again, not new.

“There's been a perennial fear about immigrants. What's changed over time is who those immigrants are. So, my ancestors, the Germans, were the first ones hated, you know, back in the time of the founding. That's what they were worried about. They were worried about the Germans. Then they started worry about the Irish. Then it was the Italians, and then it was the Greeks and then it was Asians, and on and on right? And what I think is remarkable about this country's history  is that the theme of anti immigrant panic is always there.”

Photo credit: Ricardo Barros

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