The 1619 Project finds its place in history program

US History* student looks over “The Idea of America”- Connor Pinsk ’23

The study of history is constantly changing. Our perception of American history has evolved alongside America itself. How we understand the past is crucial towards understanding America today—and with that, the progress yet to be made. Historians are constantly providing new resources and new perspectives that aid us in making our own informed judgments.

The 1619 Project, published in The New York Times Magazine in August 2019, is one of these novel perspectives. Led by civil rights investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, The 1619 Project is named for the year in which the first enslaved persons were brought to American soil.

The Project consists of a series of writings (ranging from essays to stories to firsthand experience) that offer a unique perspective of American history, pushing slavery’s lasting legacy on modern-day America and the contributions of Black Americans and their fight for equality into the spotlight.

Following its initial publication, The 1619 Project came under scrutiny by historians and politicians alike. The former group was more reserved, praising the group’s efforts to foster discussions about America’s unsettling past, but also criticizing what they perceived to be factual inaccuracies in its publications. The latter deemed its contents to be revisionist history, with some prominent Republicans, such as Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and then President Trump, even equating it to propaganda.

More recently, The 1619 Project has indirectly come under discussion once again through related topics like systemic racism and Critical Race Theory. The school boards of some counties and states have even banned the Project’s contents from the classroom altogether.

Yet, like many other schools across the country, The 1619 Project has found itself in Haverford’s history classrooms. History department chair Ms. Hannah Turlish emphasizes the Project’s message and perspective:

“I chose to supplement my teaching with The 1619 Project because it encapsulates the message of my material soundly and succinctly.”

Ms. Hannah Turlish

“When I started teaching, I don’t believe I gave slavery and African-American people the role they deserves,” Ms. Turlish said. “I chose to supplement my teaching with The 1619 Project because it encapsulates the message of my material soundly and succinctly.”  

 In Ms. Turlish’s United States History* course, Fifth Formers begin their journey by reading “The Idea of America,” an essay by Hannah-Jones that discusses slavery’s role in building America and the long (and continuing) fight for equal rights.

Fifth Former Owen Yu appreciates the essay’s insight in their first unit.

“‘The Idea of America’ was an extremely interesting and extensive read, and its contents definitely pertained to the topic of our lessons,” Yu said.

Of course, Ms. Turlish does not solely use The 1619 Project to teach her first unit; rather, it is presented alongside other primary sources and the textbook. The Project’s value lies in its unique perspective, fostering discussion within the classroom.

Fifth Former Nathan Mirin values the discussion and perspective The 1619 Project fosters but wishes to know more about the Project’s criticism.

“I think it would be a good idea to understand and discuss why there has been pushback to the Project,” Mirin said. “At the same time, I believe anything that brings a new perspective in class is worthwhile to talk about.”