[Blackstudies-l] Race/Related: Slavery and the Shaping of Early America

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Sat Mar 14 08:50:40 EDT 2020


A discussion among scholars underscored the role modern culture plays in
how history evolves.
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[image: More Race/Related]
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March 14, 2020
At TheTimesCenter on Friday, the historians (from left) Karin Wulf, Gerald
Horne, Alan Taylor, Annette Gordon-Reed and Eliga H. Gould exchanged views
on the impact of slavery and on the process of examining historical
evidence.Mike Vitelli/BFA
[image: Author Headshot]

By Pierre-Antoine Louis

As the scholar Karin Wulf points out, some people think history is “this
known and knowable thing,” a fixed quantity of information. Instead, she
said, it’s a continual process of discovery, “and it develops over time.”

How big a role slavery played in the founding and early identity of America
is one chapter of history that has evolved in recent decades and remains
the subject of debate. Historians discussed that topic as well as how they
examine evidence in a conversation
<https://nl.nytimes.com/f/a/56GkiViMcIwqpxBlp2LoIQ~~/AAAAAQA~/RgRgTz59P0TNaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cueW91dHViZS5jb20vd2F0Y2g_dj1XbkxtOGRNQXF4RSZ0ZT0xJm5sPXJhY2UvcmVsYXRlZCZlbWM9ZWRpdF9ycl8yMDIwMDMxNCZjYW1wYWlnbl9pZD0zNyZpbnN0YW5jZV9pZD0xNjc0NCZzZWdtZW50X2lkPTIyMjA4JnVzZXJfaWQ9MzkzOGYxN2Q4MTgyYTIyZmRlMTQ2N2ZmOWQwYmI1YzUmcmVnaV9pZD00Mjc0MDg5N19ycl8yMDIwMDMxNFcDbnl0QgoAIH25bF7wS-ExUhBsaW1hQGdlbmVzZW8uZWR1WAQAAAAA>
moderated last Friday by Ms. Wulf, the executive director of the Omohundro
Institute for Early American History & Culture, and organized by The New
York Times Magazine.

The forum, “1619 Project Live,” at TheTimesCenter
<https://nl.nytimes.com/f/a/3Q_7tw-TH3h8GnfGwAmahA~~/AAAAAQA~/RgRgTz59P0S5aHR0cHM6Ly90aGV0aW1lc2NlbnRlci5jb20vP3RlPTEmbmw9cmFjZS9yZWxhdGVkJmVtYz1lZGl0X3JyXzIwMjAwMzE0JmNhbXBhaWduX2lkPTM3Jmluc3RhbmNlX2lkPTE2NzQ0JnNlZ21lbnRfaWQ9MjIyMDgmdXNlcl9pZD0zOTM4ZjE3ZDgxODJhMjJmZGUxNDY3ZmY5ZDBiYjVjNSZyZWdpX2lkPTQyNzQwODk3MjAyMDAzMTRXA255dEIKACB9uWxe8EvhMVIQbGltYUBnZW5lc2VvLmVkdVgEAAAAAA~~>,
featured four scholars and professors who have focused on the American
Revolution and slavery in early America: Annette Gordon-Reed of Harvard
University, Eliga H. Gould of the University of New Hampshire, Gerald Horne
of the University of Houston and Alan Taylor of the University of Virginia.

The program was an extension of the magazine’s 1619 Project
<https://nl.nytimes.com/f/a/9iHHuoj2vuTQLW8Qe1cCNw~~/AAAAAQA~/RgRgTz59P0TvaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubnl0aW1lcy5jb20vaW50ZXJhY3RpdmUvMjAxOS8wOC8xNC9tYWdhemluZS8xNjE5LWFtZXJpY2Etc2xhdmVyeS5odG1sP3RlPTEmbmw9cmFjZS9yZWxhdGVkJmVtYz1lZGl0X3JyXzIwMjAwMzE0JmNhbXBhaWduX2lkPTM3Jmluc3RhbmNlX2lkPTE2NzQ0JnNlZ21lbnRfaWQ9MjIyMDgmdXNlcl9pZD0zOTM4ZjE3ZDgxODJhMjJmZGUxNDY3ZmY5ZDBiYjVjNSZyZWdpX2lkPTQyNzQwODk3MjAyMDAzMTRXA255dEIKACB9uWxe8EvhMVIQbGltYUBnZW5lc2VvLmVkdVgEAAAAAA~~>,
an initiative started last year to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the
arrival of the first enslaved Africans to the British North American
colonies. The project included a series of articles in the magazine, a
special section of the newspaper, a separate section for children, a five-part
podcast
<https://nl.nytimes.com/f/newsletter/cXs6T2EBeI4-qJtyEntbkw~~/AAAAAQA~/RgRgTz59P0TbaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubnl0aW1lcy5jb20vMjAyMC8wMS8yMy9wb2RjYXN0cy8xNjE5LXBvZGNhc3QuaHRtbD90ZT0xJm5sPXJhY2UvcmVsYXRlZCZlbWM9ZWRpdF9ycl8yMDIwMDMxNCZjYW1wYWlnbl9pZD0zNyZpbnN0YW5jZV9pZD0xNjc0NCZzZWdtZW50X2lkPTIyMjA4JnVzZXJfaWQ9MzkzOGYxN2Q4MTgyYTIyZmRlMTQ2N2ZmOWQwYmI1YzUmcmVnaV9pZD00Mjc0MDg5NzIwMjAwMzE0VwNueXRCCgAgfblsXvBL4TFSEGxpbWFAZ2VuZXNlby5lZHVYBAAAAAA~>
and a curriculum
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developed for schools, all to better educate the public about the legacy of
American slavery in our country. More public forums may be scheduled later
this year in other cities.
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The project has ignited important discussions about national identity and
history, but there have also been criticisms. Some historians wrote to The
Times expressing their reservations
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about crucial aspects of the project, particularly its interpretation that
preserving slavery was among the motivations of the American colonies in
seeking independence from England.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, a staff writer for the magazine who conceived of the
1619 Project, said she wanted readers to understand that the magazine
articles were intended to be the beginning of a conversation, and that she
hoped these forums incorporating a variety of voices would stimulate more
dialogue.

“This project is an origin story. It is not pretending to be the origin
story,” she said. “We are talking about a particular moment in time and
making an argument and really asking a question: What would it mean to
imagine 1619 as an origin story and how would that help us understand the
country that we are?”

Jake Silverstein, the editor in chief of the magazine, said it was
important to incorporate the different viewpoints of historians in these
forums. (The panelists on Friday were not involved in the original
article.) “Part of what the project has really revealed and emphasized for
us is how, by working closely together in a supportive way, historians and
journalists can do a lot to illuminate the past,” he said.
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During Friday’s program, Ms. Wulf spoke of the same connections. “What we
understand about our history is the foundation for how we explain the
present, the justification and the rationale for how we plan for the
future,” she said.

In discussing slavery in colonial times and its impact on the nation’s
founding, the historians said it was important to avoid narrowly defining
the American Revolution as simply the war, and to view it instead as a
long, complex movement that began in the 1760s. Mr. Gould added that both
the experience and institution of slavery varied across British America.
Mr. Horne stressed that the enslaved population “helped build this country.”

Like Ms. Wulf, Ms. Gordon-Reed emphasized that the way we study history can
change based on current customs. “Every historian is writing in terms of
particular preoccupations of the time,” she said. “Certainly the civil
rights movement and changes in attitudes about women brought forth new
understandings” in the way people looked at slavery and American identity.
History, she said, is “never standing still.”

But regardless of whether historians debate certain points, fostering these
difficult discussions is valuable because they are not likely to be found
in conventional books, Mr. Taylor said. “What the 1619 Project has done is
offer us an unsettling narrative, but one that forces us to think,” he
said. “Even if we don’t agree with parts of it, you’re forced to think
about the fundamentals of American history. And I think that’s been
immensely useful.”
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  It’s Angélique Kidjo’s Birthday, and Her Country’s Too

She is probably Africa’s most widely respected international vocalist, and
one of its hungriest synthesizers of culture and ideas.

By Giovanni Russonello
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