The 1620 Project and Its Critics

David Acevedo

Editor's Note: This article was originally published under the name "John David," the former pseudonym of NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To learn more about why David no longer writes under this name, click here.

CounterCurrent: Week of 4/12

Since its release in August 2019, The New York Times1619 Project has come under fire from a plethora of scholars and organizations, who rightly point out its flagrant historical errors and overt ideological agenda. The Project has also prompted several large-scale campaigns in response, including The Woodson Center’s “1776 Project” and NAS’s own “1620 Project”. 

If you are not familiar with the specific claims and critiques of The 1619 Project, check out our website to view the many articles we have written on the subject. NAS President Peter Wood has also written a new book, titled 1620: The True Beginning of the American Republic, which is available for pre-order and set for release this fall. But for today, what concerns us are not the critiques themselves, but a critique of the critiques.

Dr. John Turner is a professor of religious studies at George Mason University, where he specializes in American religion, Mormonism, and the history of colonial New England. He also recently wrote They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty. These accolades should qualify him to speak on 1620-related matters with some degree of scholarly authority. However, what follows in his criticism of our project is rather underwhelming and misses the point.

Writing for National Review, Turner’s piece is titled “No One Year Can Unlock the Meaning of America.” His argument is essentially just that, though what it means to “unlock the meaning of America” is not totally clear. Yet Turner seeks that which thoroughly, definitively, and maybe even perfectly, explains our country’s founding. Of course that does not exist. History is never so cut-and-dry, particularly surrounding the genesis of a nation. 

Turner goes on to substantiate this unremarkable claim with various historical data points, positioning himself as what I like to call the “enlightened centrist.” That is, someone who tries to act as a neutral observer and tends to make claims like “no one is totally right” or “there is no completely true perspective.” By doing so, they usually avoid promoting any mainstream or established perspective because “It’s more nuanced than that.” 

Sure, there may not be a perfectly airtight history of anything. This is part of why the field of history itself continues to thrive—there almost always exists new information that sheds fresh light on a particular event, person, or place. But that doesn’t mean that all existing perspectives are equally true (or untrue). There are interpretations more sound than others, and it’s the job of historians to discern fact from fiction. 

The 1619 Project is a fiction-loaded account with a dash of fact sprinkled throughout. In this week’s featured article, NAS Director of Research David Randall rebuts Turner’s article and explains why the Plymouth-centered 1620 Project is not only a valid point of view, but the most fact-filled account of America’s founding. It’s not perfect, but it’s one of the best we’ve got. As Randall writes:

“Every generation of Americans has built upon the traditions of liberty they inherited from Plymouth, and every generation of Americans has meditated upon what we owe to Plymouth. Plymouth becomes more important with every year, not less, as the ripples of its impact grow and grow. There is a wonderful, complex story to be told of how Plymouth and 1620 roots itself ever deeper in the American present. To pretend that story does not exist is not to be sophisticated, but to be blind.”

Be sure to keep an eye out for our continual 1620 Project content, as well as Peter Wood’s upcoming book, 1620.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

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