10 episodes

The Last Archive​ is a show about the history of truth, and the historical context for our current fake news, post-truth moment. It’s a show about how we know what we know, and why it seems, these days, as if we don’t know anything at all anymore. The show is driven by host Jill Lepore’s work as a historian, uncovering the secrets of the past the way a detective might. 

The Last Archive Pushkin Industries

    • History

The Last Archive​ is a show about the history of truth, and the historical context for our current fake news, post-truth moment. It’s a show about how we know what we know, and why it seems, these days, as if we don’t know anything at all anymore. The show is driven by host Jill Lepore’s work as a historian, uncovering the secrets of the past the way a detective might. 

    For the Birds

    For the Birds

    In the spring of 1958, when the winter snow melted and the warm sun returned, the birds did not. Birdwatchers, ordinary people, everyone wondered where the birds had gone. Rachel Carson, a journalist and early environmentalist, figured it out — they’d been poisoned by DDT, a pesticide that towns all over the country had been spraying. Carson wrote a book about it, Silent Spring. It succeeded in stopping DDT, and it launched the modern environmental movement. But now, more than 60 years later, birds are dying off en masse again. Our question is simple: What are the birds trying to tell us this time, and why can’t we hear their message any more?

    • 52 min
    She Said, She Said

    She Said, She Said

    In 1969, radical feminists known as the Redstockings gathered in a church in Greenwich Village, and spoke about their experiences with abortion. They called this ‘consciousness-raising’ or ‘speaking bitterness,’ and it changed the history of women’s rights, all the way down to the 1977 National Women’s Convention and, really, down to the present day. The idea of ‘speaking bitterness’ came from a Maoist practice, and is a foundation to both the #MeToo movement and the conservative Victim’s Rights movement. But at what cost?

    • 47 min
    The Computermen

    The Computermen

    In 1966, just as the foundations of the Internet were being imagined, the federal government considered building a National Data Center. It would be a centralized federal facility to hold computer records from each federal agency, in the same way that the Library of Congress holds books and the National Archives holds manuscripts. Proponents argued that it would help regulate and compile the vast quantities of data the government was collecting. Quickly, though, fears about privacy, government conspiracies, and government ineptitude buried the idea. But now, that National Data Center looks like a missed opportunity to create rules about data and privacy before the Internet took off. And in the absence of government action, corporations have made those rules themselves.

    • 47 min
    Cell Strain

    Cell Strain

    In the 1950s, polio spread throughout the United States. Heartbreakingly, it affected mainly children. Thousands died. Thousands more were paralyzed. Many ended up surviving only in iron lungs, a machine that breathed for polio victims, sometimes for years. Scientists raced to find a vaccine. After a few hard years of widespread quarantine and isolation, the scientists succeeded. The discovery of the polio vaccine was one of the brightest moments in public health history. But a vaccine required Americans to believe in a truth they couldn’t see with their own eyes. It also raised questions of access, of racial equity, and of the federal government’s role in healthcare, questions whose legacy we’re living with today.

    • 50 min
    Project X

    Project X

    The election of 1952 brought all kinds of new technology into the political sphere. The Eisenhower campaign experimented with the first television ads to feature an American presidential candidate. And on election night, CBS News premiered the first computer to predict an American election — the UNIVAC. Safe to say, that part didn’t go according to plan. But election night 1952 is ground zero for our current, political post-truth moment. If a computer and a targeted advertisement can both use heaps data to predict every citizen’s every decision, can voters really know things for themselves after all?

    • 47 min
    Unheard

    Unheard

    In 1945, Ralph Ellison went to a barn in Vermont and began to write Invisible Man. He wrote it in the voice of a black man from the south, a voice that changed American literature. Invisible Man is a novel made up of black voices that had been excluded from the historical record until, decades earlier, he’d helped record them with the WPA’s Federal Writers Project. What is the evidence of a voice? How can we truly know history without everyone’s voices? This episode traces those questions — from the quest to record oral histories of formerly enslaved people, to Black Lives Matter and the effort to record the evidence of police brutality.

    • 44 min

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