The National Association of Scholars (NAS) held a national webinar “Fringe History, Flawed Scholarship” on February 3. Robert Paquette, President of The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) was one of four speakers invited to comment on the New York Times’ controversial 1619 Project. Ian Rowe, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute, Phil Magness, Senior Research Fellow, American Institute for Economic Research, and Peter Wood, President of NAS joined Paquette in the discussion.
On August 18, 2019, the Times devoted its Sunday magazine to a special 100-page issue that essentially attempts to rewrite American History through the lens of Critical Race Theory. Nikole Hannah-Jones, an activist journalist with the newspaper, designed the 1619 Project, providing it with its intellectual architecture. Well before publication of the Project, the Pulitzer Center, a progressive non-profit, prepared “curriculums [sic], guides, and activities” to insinuate the 1619 Project’s flawed and polemical content into the American educational system.
Paquette’s remarks focused on two points: the 1619 Project’s discussion of the history of slavery and the import of the 1619 Project—and other projects like it— for the study of history. Of the more than thirty contributors recruited to the Project, Paquette pointed out, “Only one . . . could be fairly said to have made her mark in the burgeoning field of slavery studies.” Given the remarkable outpouring of scholarship during the last quarter century, Paquette added, the Project’s implication that “slavery’s dirty laundry” has been hidden from the public ranks “among the most outrageous, egregious, and insidious” among “all the untruths, exaggerations, and embellishments” contained in the publication. “Harsh judgments of events and actors flutter out” of the 1619 Project “with little sensitivity to historical context and appropriate standards of comparison. Key words remain undefined. The absence of a scholarly apparatus in the issue makes tracking down sources for crucial statements in essay after essay onerous if not impossible.” Yet, despite widespread criticism from major scholars of different political stripes, the rollout of the 1619 Project into American schools continues unabated.
Paquette argued that the 1619 Project reflects a wider problem in the academy. Given “the decline in standards, curricular chaos, the politicization of classrooms in the name of diversity,” he observed, “it has become increasingly difficult to mount a defense against the substitution of ideology for scholarship at every level of the educational system. Indeed, we are told that everyone is ideological and since there is no truth, the very act of pursuing it amounts to a waste of time. As evidenced by the millions of dollars pouring into outfits like the Pulitzer Center, America’s corporate and financial leaders have joined forces with the postmodern Luddites. They seem all too willing to subsidize educational racketeering, perhaps in the hope that it will deflect away more concerning criticisms of their own operations. . . . A country that cannot separate ideology from scholarship will not remain a free society. A society whose system of higher education actively disables young men and women in defending the best of its heritage, that takes issues off the table before you enter the classroom, that increasingly coerces people to actively spit on the graves of their ancestors before they are allowed to speak, cannot survive.”
Paquette concluded his remarks with high praise for Peter Wood’s recently published book 1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project (2020). AHI Resident Fellow Mary Grabar will also be publishing a critique of the Project this year.