History Killers: The 1619 Zombie Stumbles, Awkwardly, Onward
The newly released book-length version of the 1619 Project is more, not less, embarrassing than its initial article-length versions
“The project requires the historical ignorance of Americans (which is, indeed, in great supply) in order for its scheme to work. It is a bet that has worked well for all involved, from the contributors themselves, to the New York Times who published their articles, to public school teachers who now use 1619 Project-designed curriculum; a case of historically illiterate teachers polluting young minds with broken history.”
Already an absolute embarrassment in terms of its level of scholarship and basic accounting of the facts, the recently-released, book-length version of the 1619 Project doubles-down by erasing or de-emphasizing previous assertions, and changes certain previously-cited sources.
For any reader not familiar with my critiques of the project, they can be found in my recently-released anthology of essays, History Killers and Other Essays by an Intellectual Historian (published by Champion Books and available here).
The essay I wrote addressing the matter, “History Killers: The Academic Fraudulence of the 1619 Project,” noted that the central thesis of the project’s flagship essay was wrong. Not misguided. Not mistaken. Wrong.
I was far from the only historian to say so. Prominent historians from Gordon Wood to Leslie Harris did the same. Harris went so far as to have an article published, stating that the 1619 Project had been made aware of their glaring inaccuracies by her personally prior to publication. Harris’s concerns were ignored.
The project’s flagship article had erroneously asserted that the American Revolution was motivated by the desire for American Colonists to retain their slaves and prolong slavery as an institution, despite the utter lack of historical evidence. This assertion is now nuanced to some degree in the book-length version, where it is now asserted that merely some of the colonists were motivated by this. Let’s make this clear: this is still historically incorrect. The British Empire would not end its own practice of slavery for decades to come. Moreover, though slavery was practiced in every colony at the beginning of the Revolution, several states in the north began ending slavery (either through legislation or court decree) while the revolution was still in progress, or soon after.
None of this really matters, of course, to the authors of the 1619 Project, the book. Facts are not what motivates them. If this was so, they would be embarrassed by their errors in their initial articles, and embarrassed now. Instead, they massage the language and play a game of intellectual sleight of hand to obscure rather than to elucidate. I can think of nothing farther from the mission of a legitimate historian than this.
There are numerous changes and errors throughout the progression of the 1619 Project, from its origins in 2019, its rise in popularity in 2020, to its absurd book now. The project requires the historical ignorance of Americans (which is, indeed, in great supply) in order for its scheme to work. It is a bet that has worked well for all involved, from the contributors themselves, to the New York Times who published their articles, to public school teachers who now use 1619 Project-designed curriculum; a case of historically illiterate teachers polluting young minds with broken history.
The 1619 Project, including its new book-length iteration, is a stumbling zombie. It awkwardly lumbers its way forward, eating the brains of those who don’t understand the dangers of letting it get too close. Those who don’t immediately perish from the project become zombies themselves, spreading the virus of broken history to others.
The monster will be stopped one day. It may well be one day soon. Just as figuring out how to kill the undead can be tricky, however, knowing how and when the 1619 virus will be stopped remains uncertain for the time-being. I do nevertheless have a prediction.
Its demise will likely run its course thusly: as more of its errors are exposed to more people (especially to non-historians), the limbs will drop from the body and the torso will be left writhing on the ground. It will not be entirely immobilized but it will have lost its legs, and its ability to infect others will be generally neutralized. At that point, the 1619 Project will merely be a nuisance to step over and otherwise ignore.
(Please consider supporting the work of this writer by ordering his new book, History Killers and Other Essays by an Intellectual Historian, here)