The 1619 Project: “created” by Nicole Hannah-Jones x2

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story 
edited by Nicole Hannah-Jones

2021 / 539 pages
read by the authors: 16h 57m
Rating – 9 / US history 
(I read and listened and I would love to do it again but I only reread parts.
*******

I was not “happy” with this book. I got angry a few times – about different things.  I thought it was going to be a history book, but it isn’t quite that. Hannah-Jones is not an historian and neither are most of the writers who contributed to this volume. There are some entries by actual historians though. (See Sugar by Khalil Gibran Muhammad or Citizenship by Martha S. Jones and there are works by Carol Anderson and Kevin M. Kruse and Ibram X. Kendi – all real historians.)

This is not to say the contributors aren’t all fully qualified to be included in their own capacity because as far as I can tell, they certainly are. And it’s a marvelous display of talent. 

Hannah-Jones, herself, the “creator” of the tome, is an investigative reporter and she did an excellent job of organizing and editing and generally putting this volume together and getting it out there (thanks in large part to the New York Times).

There’s a lot of information in the book, and a lot of emotion, but the quality of each essay, fiction or poem depends on the author of it. Some works are a wonder, others are okay. I recognized a number of names (Nikky Finny, Ibram X. Kendi) but not many.  I know that most of the contributors are black, but certainly not all.   

What I didn’t like was the idea of a “new” history.  This is not a “new” history it’s a broadened history, more inclusive and honoring people and elements we neglected and mistreated in many ways before.  But if this is the “new history” of the United States or America (whichever you prefer) and it started in 1619, are the Natives no longer to be included as part of US history?  Both the first permanent women and the first evidence of democratic institutions occurred in Virginia that same years and I learned that before high school. (Disclaimer – my dad was a history teacher). Yes, I’m amazed at what’s in this book, but I don’t think we need to push anyone out to make room for those who are also here. 

Fwiw, I was a history major (1975) and continue to be a history buff almost 50 years later. This doesn’t make me an expert – just a very interested reader. Thank you.

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2 Responses to The 1619 Project: “created” by Nicole Hannah-Jones x2

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    You’ve nailed it, my friend. Whether we’re talking about a history or a literary canon or what’s on TV, whenever we make something more inclusive rather than having intrinsic quality as the first criterion, something has to make space for it, and then the demands widen more so that eventually others feel excluded and there isn’t much room for intrinsic quality.
    I don’t say it’s wrong to try, I welcome it. But I do say it’s very difficult, and it becomes exclusionary at some point. And quality does suffer, at least in the beginning. It’s too soon to say, long term.
    We’ve just had an election here in Australia, and our public broadcaster has gone out of its way to report on it with a stable of journalists that is inclusive. We now have journos of all colours and overt faiths, journos with physical disabilities obvious and not, and journos male, female and trans. It’s been good to see. But not good for the quality of reporting or analysis. With the exception of the trans man, who was a music journo as a woman for decades, these young journos are naïve, inexperienced and capable only of repetitions of gotcha journalism. The older, whiter, male journos who’ve been doing national politics for years have gone, and with them went an ocean of experience and expertise at decoding what politicians want us to hear versus what they are actually saying or not saying and whether it meets the nation’s needs. A problem easily solved by the older and wiser mentoring the younger, but their capability is dismissed because they are ‘old white men’.
    The other problem I’ve identified is that the breadth of diversity means there are a lot of new journalists, more than the public broadcaster can afford to pay for with long term secure employment. I suspect it’s gig journalism, which means those young people will be working in whatever fields they are contracted to work, and won’t be able to build up their expertise in any of them. So they will go on being naïve and inexperienced and the only expertise they’ll have is in the things they personally are really interested in.

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    • Yep! But on the other side, here in the US anyway, we Boomers who haven’t been terribly willing to let go. We’ve got old Boomers in public office while fresh faces have now waited decades to get in. And Boomers are probably jamming all the avenues of real promotion in the private sector, too, as well as in the arts. (I don’t know about the science labs, but we see it at the uni level.). I think when they do get in they just want to take over and they go for it.

      I think we’ll see change in the next few years to a decade or so, with even more new faces coming in BUT! they’ll come in with experience and hopefully loads of ideas because they’ve’ been waiting so long knocking at the door. Sad to say they’ll be impatient, too. After 2032 or so the transitions will hopefully be easier for awhile because the sheer numbers in each generation seems to go down. I kind of feel badly for the kids though (age 50 and under) with all of the boomers blocking their way for now ..

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