I don’t imagine this will be a long review, not because the work doesn’t deserve it, and not because there wasn’t plenty to discuss during our book club earlier this fall, but because after spending months with this work, I don’t know how much more brain space I can give it. In a not insignificant way, I need to be done with this work for now.
This book is a discussion. Its various contributors are providing context, new or more in-depth analyses of how so many topics that make up civics and citizenship can be traced back further than people may anticipate. This is a work interested in historiography (the study of historical writing), and in being historiographic. It wants to be a place to begin a shift on how we tell history because it knows it is not the final word, but a jumping off point. It invites discourse. It is my hope that perhaps it will help elucidate the way in which professional historians work. That it is a constant process of discovery and analysis. That there is really no such thing as one accepted history – that way lies the obliteration of the non-white, non-male, disabled, queer and so many other perspectives.
As you may know, I’ve worked in public history for the past dozen years and was a classroom middle school social studies and history teacher covering world history, world geography, U.S. Civics and U.S. History to Reconstruction for grades 6-8 for a few years before that. I think there’s a great disservice done in how we teach history and that the process of how history is made and remade isn’t understood. It’s iterative. My senior thesis was a historiography related to one individual, comparing and contrasting the ways they had been portrayed and their actions interpreted over the course of a hundred years. Historians write perspective grounded in the interpretation of primary and secondary sources created by people of all sorts of experiences, backgrounds, amounts of power. People who did, people who observed, people who may not remember accurately, but their feelings can tell us so much. Those writing for The 1619 Project are unpacking more and more of those voices, of those people and I honestly think everyone should spend time with this book. May it not take you as many months as it took me.