Faculty Author Q&A: Kevin M. Kruse and Julian Zelizer on “Myth America”

May 15, 2023

Kevin M. Kruse is Professor of History and Julian Zelizer is Professor of History and Professor of Public Affairs in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. Their edited collection “Myth America: Historians Take On the Biggest Legends and Lies About Our Past” was published in January 2023 by Basic Books.

How did you get the idea for this project?

Zelizer: Watching the disconnect between claims about American history being made in the media and what we read from the academy gave us the idea of putting together this book. We wanted to showcase some of the nation’s best historians tackling issues such as immigration and race relations who could offer a more accurate interpretation of the nation’s past based on archival research and the historical literature.

Kruse: Over the past decade, partisan actors have increasingly made claims about American history that simply don’t fit with what actual historians know to be true. While it spread beyond the Trump White House, the former president fueled a great deal of this assault on American history. This happened in small ways, with myths and misstatements filling his speeches and those of aides, but also in large ways, such as the “1776 Commission” he established in the final months of his presidency to push for “patriotic education.” And it’s continued after his term, seen in the efforts of Republican governors in several states. In response to this all-out assault on history, large numbers of prominent historians have sought to correct the record, working in traditional media outlets as well as newer social media formats like Facebook, Twitter, and Substack. We sought to harness that energy in an edited collection that would represent what we do best—writing work grounded in the archives and the historical consensus for a general audience.