“A Noble Spirit Embiggens the Smallest Man”: Problematic Public History in The Simpsons

There’s so many ways to interact with The Simpsons, and so many intersections with legitimate discourse and concerns. Properly framed, many episodes can be great teaching tools.

Historically Speaking

H.L. Gassmann

No one is safe from The Simpsons. Not even public historians.

In the episode “Lisa the Iconoclast” (originally aired February 18, 1996), consensus history, a new primary source, and an amateur public historian clash. As Springfield prepares for its bicentennial celebration, Lisa Simpson’s second-grade class is assigned an essay on the town’s founder, Jebediah Springfield. When she learns that Jebediah isn’t the hero he’s made out to be, she tries to convince Springfield of the historical truth. The episode puts a comical twist on major problems in the practice of public history.

The Problematic Public Historian

Lisa takes a trip to the Historical Society of Springfield to begin her research. Curator Hollis Hurlbut has collected items from Jebediah’s life. Hurlbut’s character spoofs your typical local historian. He loves Jebediah Springfield a lot…maybe a little too much.

“Some historians consider Jebediah Springfield a minor patriot, but I think…

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