The World in Time

Eric Foner

Friday, January 05, 2018

"Underground" routes to Canada.

“History does not tell us what to do,” Civil War scholar Eric Foner says, but it does help us understand how the world got this way, as long as you aren’t stuck playing the Great Men greatest hits in your studies. But that’s what most of us learn: a litany of good or important deeds done by familiar names that turns history into a constellation of memorized details instead of a reckoning. This pockmarked understanding of the past, and the efforts to render history into more than a sunny yet useless bit of impressionism, is the theme of Foner’s Battles for Freedom: The Use and Abuse of American History. The essays within were published in The Nation between 1977 and 2017 and often hit home the stickiness of the past. In a book review about public history and Confederate monuments, he asks, “Why, one wonders, has our understanding of history changed so rapidly, but its public presentation remained so static?”


Lewis H. Lapham talks with Eric Foner, author of Battles for Freedom: The Use and Abuse of American History.


Thanks to our generous donors. Lead support for this podcast has been provided by Elizabeth “Lisette” Prince. Additional support was provided by James J. “Jimmy” Coleman Jr.

Discussed in this episode

Battles For Freedom: The Use and Abuse of American History

More Podcasts

Ocean Swells, by Arthur B. Davies. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of A. W. Bahr, 1958.

December 22, 2017

The World in Time:

Maya Jasanoff

Lewis H. Lapham talks with Maya Jasanoff, author of The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World. More

July 01, 2011

The World in Time:

Working on the Railroad

Lewis Lapham talks with historian Richard White about the failures of the companies behind a major alteration of the American West. More

July 14, 2011

The World in Time:

Trade Routes

Lewis Lapham talks with historian James Mather about a time when British foreign relations were more peaceful and diplomatic than they later became. More

June 28, 2011

The World in Time:

Another House Divided

Lewis Lapham talks with historian Amanda Foreman about Britain’s role in the American Civil War. More

The 7th New York Militia Regiment marches down Broadway, an illustration from Harper’s Weekly, 1861.

August 18, 2017

The World in Time:

John Strausbaugh

Lewis H. Lapham talks with John Strausbaugh, author of City of Sedition: The History of New York City During the Civil War. More

June 15, 2018

The World in Time:

Steve Fraser

Lewis H. Lapham talks with Steve Fraser, author of Class Matters: The Strange Career of an American Delusion. More