CounterCurrent: Week of 3/8
Anyone following the work of The New York Times is likely aware of The 1619 Project. Launched in August 2019, this campaign is named after the year in which the first Africans were brought to the shores of Virginia, commemorating this event’s 400th anniversary. However, the Project does not merely attempt to retell the history of American slavery, but rather to “recast all of American history as being centered on and made possible by the Atlantic slave trade.”
Indeed, the Times states that “No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed...It [The 1619 Project] aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” What follows is a series of essays, poems, podcasts, and speeches arguing in support of this fundamental claim. The Times has also partnered with the Pulitzer Center to create and implement new K-12 history curricula to teach these views to American schoolchildren.
Despite the magnitude of these historical claims, the writers of The 1619 Project, and in particular its founder, Nikole Hannah-Jones, engage with remarkably few historians. This methodological dissonance raises serious questions concerning the validity of The 1619 Project as a piece of historical scholarship, as well as the true motives of The New York Times and those who support the campaign.
In this week’s featured article, NAS President Peter Wood expounds the ways in which the Times and Nikole Hannah-Jones actively evade historical conversation related to The 1619 Project. It includes an overview of the various 1619 critics, as well as a telling analysis of the many speaking engagements Hannah-Jones has scheduled since the Project’s launch. This reveals some rather alarming statistics:
Of the 40 events scheduled, 18 feature Hannah-Jones speaking on her own. The remaining 22 events include a total of 49 co-speakers, a measly three of whom are trained historians. The rest have academic backgrounds in journalism, the arts, public policy, economics, education, and more. Wood writes
“This is not to imply that non-historians cannot contribute to historical discourse, but rather that an unambiguously-historical project ought to prominently feature historians. Hannah-Jones, trained as a journalist, founded a project designed to reframe all of American history. She then goes on to engage with fewer historians than I can count on one hand. This is a mockery of authentic historical scholarship and exposes Hannah-Jones’ ulterior motives.”
The eminently-flawed 1619 Project cannot be taken seriously as historical scholarship until Nikole Hannah-Jones and her collaborators seriously engage with their scholarly detractors. Unfortunately, it can still make its way into public school curricula. But perhaps this can be slowed or stopped if more educators learn the extent to which the Project’s claims are historically fallacious and all-around dangerous, engendering a hatred of America as a nation that is oppressive at its core rather than liberating.
CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Administrative Associate John David. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.
Image: Public Domain