OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Robert Brent Toplin

Portrait of Robert Brent Toplin

Robert Brent Toplin is the author of several books on history, politics, and film including Radical Conservatism: The Right's Political Religion (2006), Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11": How One Film Divided a Nation (2006), Reel History: In Defense of Hollywood (2002), Oliver Stone's USA: Film, History, and Controversy (2000), and History by Hollywood: The Use and Abuse of the American Past (1996, 2010). He has served as the editor of film reviews for the Journal of American History as well as the "Masters of the Movies" series in the American Historical Association's Perspectives on History. He has made numerous appearances as a commentator on history and film for cbs, pbs, the History Channel, cspan, the Turner Classic Movies Channel, and National Public Radio, and he has served as a principal creator of historical dramas that appeared nationally on pbs, the Disney Channel, and Starz. He is an emeritus professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and has been an adjunct professor of history at the University of Virginia.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

In 1807 Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.” Invented facts have long been evident in presidential elections and in wartime propaganda. This analysis traces the phenomenon’s long history in American life, and it draws special attention to the Internet’s striking impact. Online communication since the 1990s facilitated the partisan manipulation of facts, evidenced by political events associated with the Iraq War and the 2016 presidential election.
Political strategist James Carville famously argued “It’s the economy, stupid” during the presidential race of 1992, and his point now seems relevant to opinions presented by candidates in most presidential elections. The candidate’s arguments represent more than just campaign rhetoric. When judgments about the economy are put into practice by leaders in Washington, those ideas can make a significant impact on the lives of working Americans. An analysis of this history demonstrates some of the ways that policies articulated by the presidential candidates affected the personal progress or economic insecurity of America’s working people. This history suggests some lessons for making sense of clashes during the 2016 presidential election.