In August the New York Times released The 1619 Project, an ambitious publication of the paper’s weekly magazine that seeks to address our nation’s troubled history with slavery at its 400th anniversary. Written and produced by black authors and historians The 1619 Project, according to the Times, “is first and foremost an invitation to reframe how the country discusses the role and history of its black citizens.” (“How the 1619 Project Came Together”) The result is a resource rich with thought-provoking work on nearly every aspect of slavery from capitalism to segregation to myths about black bodies, among many others.
Everyone who teaches the history of the United States should set aside some time to grapple with the works presented by The 1619 Project. These are twenty-first century- scholars and writers seeking to place the history of slavery at the forefront of our modern-day discussions of race. They recognize that the history of this “peculiar institution” remains inextricably linked to our daily lives 400 years after its origin. College students of all races and political perspectives can benefit from consideration of this critical historical topic in a contemporary setting. As I write this blog I’m working my way through the articles and thinking about how best to add the work to what I already teach about slavery.
I’m hoping to integrate the project -- as well as published responses to it -- into my Black History course this fall. My plan is to have students read an article of their choice from The 1619 Project and then react to the published criticism in an informal journal entry. A quick Google search provides numerous examples of criticisms of the project by politicians and social commentators who view it is as a form of propaganda, as well as those who have supported the Times’ decision to tackle this important topic. Discussion of The 1619 Project offers an opportunity to broaden the classroom study of slavery while also enabling students to consider how contemporary scholars and politicians continue to respond to our national history. The start of a new school year is the perfect time to help students grapple with these complex issues. Are you using The 1619 Project in your classroom this fall? If so, please share your thoughts and ideas with the Macmillan History Community.