by Shelby Talcott
Multiple historians have slammed The New York Times’ “1619 Project” as others are pushing for it to continue being added into public school curriculum, calling the reframing of history false and disturbing.
The “1619 Project” is made up of multiple stories and poems about racism and slavery. It suggests America’s “true founding” was when the first slaves arrived in 1619 and “aims to reframe the country’s history.” Written by journalists and opinion writers, the project has already received criticism from many conservatives.
Historian and Brown University professor Gordon Wood called the project “wrong in so many ways” in an interview with World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) Nov. 28.
“I had no warning about this. … I was surprised, as many other people were, by the scope of this thing, especially since it’s going to become the basis for high school education and has the authority of the New York Times behind it, and yet it is so wrong in so many ways,” Wood said in the interview.
The “1619 Project” has already been implemented into some public schools around the country, like Chicago, and has lesson plans available for schools to begin teaching its student this reframed history. The Pulitzer Center Education Resources and Programs, who provides lesson plans for the “1619 Project,” did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Wood said that no one approached him about the project and that “none of the leading scholars of the whole period from the Revolution to the Civil War” appeared to have been consulted either. Wood continues on to provide factual evidence that negates multiple points made in the NYT’s project.
American Civil War historian and Pulitzer Prize winner James M. McPherson was also interviewed by WSWS Nov. 14, and he called the project lacking in “context and perspective.” Like Wood, McPherson was never made aware of the project until it came out.
“Because this is a subject I’ve long been interested in I sat down and started to read some of the essays,” McPherson said. “I’d say that, almost from the outset, I was disturbed by what seemed like a very unbalanced, one-sided account, which lacked context and perspective on the complexity of slavery, which was clearly, obviously, not an exclusively American institution, but existed throughout history.”
“And I was a little bit unhappy with the idea that people who did not have a good knowledge of the subject would be influenced by this and would then have a biased or narrow view.”
McPherson also countered some of the NYT’s claims throughout the project. He, like Wood, said during the interview that he was never approached by the publication. He added that lead writer of the “1619 Project” Nikole Hannah-Jones’s claim that “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country” did not “make much sense” to him.
“I suppose she’s using DNA metaphorically,” McPherson said. “She argues that racism is the central theme of American history. It is certainly part of the history. But again, I think it lacks context, lacks perspective on the entire course of slavery and how slavery began and how slavery in the United States was hardly unique.”
“But the idea that racism is a permanent condition, well that’s just not true.”
Today our IB and AP juniors @EasternHS led a school-wide workshop inspired by the NYT #1619Project to memorialize the 400th anniversary of the start of slavery in the 13 colonies and recognize the ongoing fight for racial equality pic.twitter.com/pkFgdMdpCt
— Eastern IB (@EasternIB) November 25, 2019
Historian James Oakes was also interviewed by WSWS on Nov. 18. He said that “their work has prompted some very strong criticism from scholars in the field.”
“These are really dangerous tropes,” Oakes said about some of the claims the project makes. “They’re not only ahistorical, they’re actually anti-historical. The function of those tropes is to deny change over time. It goes back to those analogies.”
Oakes added that some of the project’s claims are just “ridiculous” and he, too, provides contextual evidence to disprove some of the NYT’s “reframing.”
NYT reporter Ida Bae Wells, who is working on the project, thoroughly dismissed the historian’s viewpoints of the “1619 Project.” She tweeted that McPherson did not read the entire project and therefore should not be taken seriously.
I find it, let’s say relevatory, that people keep posting the same interview with a single historian to refute the 1619 Project when said historian acknowledges he mostly skimmed it and did not bother to fully engage its text. Tell me, where else would such a lack of rigor stand?
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) November 26, 2019
“They are using a scholar who did not feel inclined to study the work he is dismissing in order to attempt to make an argument about the faultiness of the scholarship in the 1619 Project,” Wells tweeted Nov. 26. “What they are actually doing, without knowing, is demonstrating why this project must exist.”
“As a black woman, I literally cannot *imagine* sitting down for a recorded interview on a major work that I haven’t bothered to read thoroughly. I wld have either declined the interview or read the project & gathered detailed thoughts about it. That he did not speaks for itself,” she also tweeted.
Wells also wrote that since McPherson is a Civil War historian, his viewpoint also doesn’t matter because “the 1619 Project scans 400 years and is absolutely not a history of the Civil War.” She did not give an opinion about the other historians who disputed the project. The project, which Wells herself said “scans 400 years,” would include the Civil War as it began in 1861.
The New York Times did not respond to a request for comment from the DCNF.
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Shelby Talcott is a reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “The 1619 Project” by Eastern IB.