Category Archives: Slavery in the Americas 1500 – 1800 (HL)

Reflection on Anderson and Schwartz

From both Schwartz and Anderson’s essays, I realized how complicated slavery was in Brazil. Enslaved people were not captured passively; rather, they “molded their destiny as Brazilians.” It impressed me how “the slaves knew how to disrupt the operations of their master’s plantation, and they had carefully taken with them all the hardware of the engenho so that the mill remained inactive for two years.” But surely such things happened in the U.S as well. It is easy to forget the abilities of enslaves people. An account from the slaves is indeed very precious.

In Anderson’s essay, I am impressed by how Palmares is able to establish ground for so many years. The success of Palmares shows us the requirements for a “well-ordered” multi-racial society: small population, militarization, a charming leader, and a common enemy. Palmares feels like a myth to me because I can’t imagine a society like this in today’s world.

I also learned about how Brazilian culture was able to “syncretize” Christian and African belief and practice. The survival of a culture depends on its ability to continue despite changing circumstances. I underestimated the role of religion in shaping the institution of slavery. I think the question “To what extent did different religious beliefs impact the outlook on slavery, along with the activism against it” needs more exploration for me.

Brazil had many more slaves imported than America, but from what I comprehend, there isn’t a “mainstream account” of slavery’s history in Brazil. There are of course “antiracist” and “anticolonial” voices, but there isn’t as much accusation and victimization. How should we view enslaved people if they contributed to the institution of slavery? To me, slavery in Brazil is more confusing than slavery in America. There are many voices, which dilutes the story-telling. It is difficult to decide on which aspect of slavery in Brazil to pay the most attention to.

WDolan Reflection on Schwartz and Anderson’s Essays

I learned how the Brazilian Slave Trade brought more slaves than any other country. Reading about maroon states was interesting, as I got to learn about how segregated the Slave trade made Brazil. The document by Anderson explained the role of the Zambi, and it’s meaning, how marriage and religious practices worked, and so much more. The document by Stuart B. Schwartz explained the history behind the resistance that took place in Bahia, and provides excellent insight into the strategies used by the fugitives. 

 

I question why there is no access to the untranslated Portuguese documents that refer to the Brazilian Slave Trade as mentioned in Anderson’s document. Isn’t it essential to look back on history and be transparent about the events that took place and the documents that behold information? On page 548 of Robert Nelson Anderson’s paper, it says that most of what we know about Palmares “comes from accounts of the Dutch and Portuguese campaigns against the quilombo…” Wouldn’t this information automatically be biased? And due to the mistranslations, does that also affect the credibility?

 

In general, seeing how the community in Palmares became diverse was creating a form of unity within the segregated country of Brazil. Learning about the bravery of the resistance fighters in Bahia was fascinating as it showed a spark in motivation that  encouraged the slaves to fight for their rights. Seeing how the “existence of a group of fugitives on the perimeters of the plantations challenged the continued captivity of other slaves” was satisfying, as it allowed the slaves to disrupt regular protocols and see an effect coming from it. The effect was obviously the treaty of peace between the escaped slaves and the “colonial regime”.

 

Overall, the Brazilian Slave Trade was an awful historical event that took place. Learning of the slaves bravery and the certain level of success from the resistance was rewarding, as it showed the slaves hard work had not amounted to absolutely nothing. However, this was not enough, as all individuals deserve equal rights and no one belongs to any other individual. We should reflect on these events and not only learn from them, but learn about how they shaped our world to be what it is today.  

 

Reflection on Schwartz and Anderson’s Essays

Reading Schwartz’s “Resistance and Accommodation in Eighteenth-Century Brazil” has provoked several questions on the nature of human experience, as well as the nature of history. Schwartz’s essay exposes us to the significant and rare primary source in which certain slaves commented on Brazilian slavery. This is incredibly valuable, as we typically learn about slavery through the eyes of outsiders. The treaty of peace exemplifies how the slaves wanted better working and living conditions, in order to “play, relax, and sing . . . without hindrance” (p. 79). In response to this, Schwartz comments, “This reference to the larger dimension of man, to his spirit and not only to the body, represents that which was perhaps the greatest contribution of the slaves to Brazilian culture, that is the desire to maintain these human dimensions intact under the most difficult conditions of life” (p. 75). In reading this paper, we are obtaining a deeper understanding of Brazilian slavery. Despite their enslavement, we see the fundamental aspects of human experience shining through. This allows us to question human nature versus nurture, and how they contribute to these seemingly universal aspects of the human experience. We are able to detect major similarities between ourselves and the slaves who wrote this letter, despite the contrast between our privilege and their oppression. It is fascinating to read this source and find these ressemblances, as they lead us to wonder how much humans share despite their completely different lives. However, it is also important to question how well this primary source reflects Brazilian slavery. Was this unique behaviour to these particular slaves? Was this document modified by slave owners or historians? Who decided to create this treaty, and was its creation corrupted?  Though these primary sources are incredibly interesting, they provoke many questions on the reliability of historical documents.

In Anderson’s “The Quilombo of Palmares,” we are shown the culturally rich Palmares, which was a state of escaped slaves in Brazil. This paper helps to concretize our understanding of the differences between American and Brazilian slavery, due to the development of culture in Brazil. During our study of American slavery, we learned about the notable and heartbreaking assimilation that was forced upon African slaves. In Brazilian slavery, however, much of the culture was able to be preserved. Anderson’s essay explains that the people of Palmares were ethically, racially, and culturally diverse (pp. 547-548). Therefore, Brazilian culture as a whole was able to adopt a range of cultural diversity, leading to the fusion of certain elements (i.e. Afro-Brazilian music). Understanding the difference between the culture in Brazilian and American slavery is imperative, because it allows us to question the effects that it continues to have on their current societies. Anderson’s essay leads me to wonder how differently culture was maintained in escaped slave states, such as Palmares, versus within plantations. Beyond that, it provokes my curiosity on the fusion of African and Brazilian cultures, and how much this has affected the present day.

Overall, these two essays provide insight into Brazilian slavery, in comparison to American slavery. They are both incredibly valuable resources to use when examining the preservation of African culture in Brazil, which is one of the fundamental themes in this topic. 

Reflection on Schwartz and Anderson

Through my reading of Schwartz’s “Resistance ad Accommodation in Eighteenth-Century Brazil” and Anderson’s “The Quilombo of Palamares,” I learned about an Ilheus slave revolt in which escaped slaves attempted to bargain for better work and living conditions, and about the remarkable Palamarinos. Although these two works were very interesting–the first giving insight into the specifics of a plantation slave’s life and the second outlining the history and legacy of a fascinating maroon community–neither significantly augmented or altered my knowledge of slave rebellion in Brazil. These two specific events give me little insight into the generality of slave rebellion at the time, especially considering one, if not both of them, seems to be an anomaly. In short, I still have a lot of questions about slave rebellion in Brazil: how common was it? What was the success rate? How many maroon communities existed? How did rebellion fluctuate over the years? What caused the greatest spikes in it? What caused the greatest drops? I’m also especially interested in how slave rebellion in Brazil differed from that in the United States, and would love to explore literature on that subject. I have the general perception that slaves did not escape nearly as frequently in the United States, but I don’t really know and I could be completely wrong.

This has made me consider some of the issues faced by a historian, or even a casual reader of history. It is simply impossible to learn about every single event that occurred in relation to a subject of study. Besides that documentation doesn’t exist for everything, even if it did it would take too long to read it all to be feasibly learnable. But then, how can we possibly understand the whole without understanding the many pieces? It seems like the best option we have is to each study a single piece thoroughly, and then bring it all together as a society to create a patchwork ‘big picture’. However, then we run into the issue of individual historical works being remarkably incomplete or inaccurate in some way, for how can we possibly understand the piece without first understanding the context of the whole? In conclusion, history gives me a headache.

Sweet Reflection

While reading “ The Subject of the Slave Trade” by John Wood Sweet it gave me a sense of realization about our current economy and the slave trade. Sweet was very informative in his writing and gave a ton of different perspectives. As well as giving a lot of evidence supporting all of his conclusions and ideas. This helped me understand how slavery worked on a global context and all of the contributing factors playing into this important topic. I liked learning more about Britain’s involvement, and how they tried to spread their empire through beliefs. It is important to question how we have developed as a nation and as active participants in our economy. 

Throughout Britain there was a strong sense of nationalism regarding the belief that they (as a nation) were better than others because of their moral development. They liked to think that their “national character was defined by a unique devotion to liberty, that theirs was an empire of trade, not of dominion” (p.20). I thought this statement was rather interesting. They fully believe that because they banned slavery they were a more developed people. However they still greatly profited off of slavery and all of its economic benefits. By spreading this idea, it also helped spread British nationalism to other countries, giving Britain more power socially. In all of Britain’s efforts, in the end they wanted more power and still wanted to support the slave trade to help them economically. I think it is fascinating to see how a belief or idea can greatly contribute to human rights and justice, and how it will be harnessed to keep from giving more power to that country, such as our reference in class about China and America. 

In “The Subject of the Slave Trade” a particular line stuck with me regarding how even the abolitionist were still inadvertently supporting the slave trade through their consumption. They would still buy sugar, tobacco, and cotton clothes which in effect give power and money to the exact people that they were fighting against. But because it was “out of sight out of mind,” they didn’t know how much they were actually contributing to the slave trade. When we compare this to today’s societal norm of buying things such as clothing. We never really consider how this impacts others. Like the slave trade, when slavery was outlawed, the big slave traders would move somewhere they could still make a profit legally, and still bring all the products back to America to sell. In today’s society, big companies move their factories to less developed countries or ones that don’t have strong labour laws. This is where children, women and men are severely underpaid. They cannot afford a living and the children experience extreme hardships at a very young age. These two situations are very similar. We don’t see this impact when we buy those pants, and how much these huge billion dollar companies are profiting off of us and the underpaid workers. 

I greatly appreciated Sweets’ work. I think it really helped me develop my ideas about the slave trade from multiple different perspectives. I believe that this is how history should be taught. We should learn how to make connections from the past to the present. I think this can teach us a lot about our current society and how a lot of our problems stem from the slave trade.

WDolan_Sweet_Reflection

This essay was persuading as it gave multiple insights into the perspectives of the slaves and the European government. The sourcing was consistent and the author used a variety of sources to confirm the facts he was stating.

Sweet’s essay taught me that during the British Empire’s reign, black people were mainly the key to a thriving and powerful economy. The conditions of the economy were considered to be most important, and the examination of the ethics behind the slave trade were nowhere to be found. This struck me the most, as I would find it impossible as a slave owner or government official, to not think about how people’s rights were stripped away and how they were forced into excruciating labor.

The idea of ending slavery was appeared to only be a part of a bigger scheme to ‘colonize the regions’ (pg. 40). This was frustrating, as the government was so intent on finding way to make money, they were willing to make other races (particularly africans) suffer. 

One question from the essay which remains inside my mind is; Why? Why were the Europeans using other people rather than their own to help with the thriving economy? What made the Europeans so important that they were allowed to invade other countries and use people of different races to their benefit? 

Slaves lost the ability to discover and understand their culture. They were forced to ‘blend in’ to white America. The people who call themselves Christians were oblivious to the harm they inflicted and did not follow the Golden Rule (treat others the way you want to be treated). It appeared the Rule was believed to only be applied to caucasian individuals. 

Reputation appeared to be an important factor for the British as they wanted to keep their prominence within the economy and continue to stand apart from their competitors. There were increases in warfare and more hierarchical social structures. I was not surprised about the hierarchical social structures as black people where frowned upon from the time the slave trade began.

The author did a good job of explaining the fear of capitalism, an idea that naturally came with the abolition of slavery, and how it was a factor in the reluctance to do something about slavery.  However, was this a political excuse not to remove the Slave Trade? 

The author did a nice job with presenting his ideas in a well ordered manner. The paragraphs ended in a well rounded conclusion. There appears to be minimal bias and reasonable judgement included within the authors personal inserts that are scattered throughout the essay. 

The essay discusses ethics, ignorance, and how the slave trade shaped the Americas, and the economic power force Africans helped create. Explanations about how the Slave Trade precisly began were effective to gain a better understanding of why it is so significant in history and why it should be remembered. The essay showed us the moral qualities practiced and taught by the individuals of that time period. As tragic as the Slave Trade was, it should be studied, so we can avoid similar events in the future.

Reflection on Sweet

In his “The Subject of the Slave Trade,” John Wood Sweet provided an extremely insightful and informative overview of recent and notable works regarding the slave trade. Personally, I found his exploration of the differing focal points most interesting, and greatly respected his ability to present and examine so many points of view instead of getting entrenched in a single narrative. Before reading, I knew very little about the slave trade, and I found continual satisfaction in uncovering all the ways in which my vague notions were one-sided and recklessly incomplete.

One thing that stood out to me was his discussion of the slave trade as a moral versus economic issue. He mentions the tendency of many historians to focus “largely on issues of politics and morality and only to a lesser extent on the economic consequences of the slave trade and colonial slavery” (p. 1). This is interesting in two ways: first, it raises the question ‘Was slavery economically or morally motivated?’, and second, it makes me consider the implications of moralizing history. Racism is often, and rightly, seen as a great moral evil. However, just like many other sins, it was more often economically motivated than not. In fact, Sweet mentions, the British anti-slavery movement only really became popular when abolition was made “not merely principled but practical” (p. 21)–that is, when economic motivation aligned with moral motivation. To understand the slave trade, it seems crucial to study the economic situation of the involved parties.

The fact that this has been focused on “only to a lesser extent” makes me wonder to what extent recent politics are affecting how history is being told. Of course, each historical account is inevitably subject to the writer’s biases and societal upbringing–this is easy to see when reading accounts from previous eras. It seems much more difficult, though, to recognize the influences upon a writer of our own era, especially if a majority of writers have the same bias. A topic like slavery seems impossible to demoralize–even wrong, perhaps, to demoralize. Yet at the same time, it seems like this topic, if any, speaks well enough for itself to not require moralization. I’m rather split on the issue thus far and look forward to developing more of an opinion as I learn more.

Just as many seem to focus on moral instead of economic issues relating to slavery, so too do many focus on African Americans rather than Africans. I was embarrassed to realize that I had never even considered the impact of slavery on the numerous Africans who evaded capture. Through Sweet, I have discovered that this impact was truly enormous. According to him, many believe the slave trade “had a negative effect large enough to stunt the growth of Western Africa’s population for several centuries”(p. 33). That’s centuries, as in hundreds of years. It is remarkable to think about. Along with the effects on population size, the slave trade also caused, if not single-handedly then at least in large part, “increases in warfare, more centralized states…, more hierarchical social structures…, social polarization, militarization, and conflict between previously symbiotic groups” (p. 32). Those who evaded capture–excluding the few African elites who profited from the slave trade–really didn’t have it much better than those who were captured. The effects of slavery on Africa were, to say the very least, devastating.

I greatly appreciated the numerous perspectives Sweet offered on the slave trade, and found his account by far the most informative and insightful that I’ve read. The fact that his paper was over forty pages long despite including very little repetition or unnecessary exposition speaks to this topic’s enormity.

Reflection on “The Subject of the Slave Trade”

Reading John Sweet’s essay, “The Subject of the Slave Trade”, has provoked several questions regarding the values that were assigned to enslaved people. Throughout our study of slavery in the Americas, we have frequently circled back to the question, “Was slavery in the Americas primarily an economic phenomenon, or a racial phenomenon?”. Sweet’s essay highlights the connection between these two phenomena, by discussing how enslaved people were treated as number values. In the essay, Sweet explains how, 

. . . the Zong massacre was a sign of how far the modern financial revolution had come. . . . As Lord Mansfield rules. . . the people thrown off the Zong could not be seen as the murder victims: in the eyes of the law [it was] ‘the same as if horses had been thrown overboard’ (p. 25).

From the moment people were captured, they were no longer treated as people. The “African captives were exported so that their labor power could fuel the plantation economies of the Americas” (p. 31), meaning they were seen as capital rather than people. We see this conveyed through the very layout of the Brookes slave ship. The “schematic plan of the slave ship Brookes [shows] the vessel’s hold crammed with tiny black figures, each representing a captive” (p. 31). The slave trade was entirely detached from any humanitarian sentiment. Perhaps, this inhumane treatment was a method used to save the slave traders from guilt. Or, perhaps, this was due to the slave trade’s revolvement around economics. Sweet’s essay provides extensive justification for slavery being an economic phenomenon. However, it could not have been purely economical, because it was only black people who were being valued as inferior capital, and it was primarily white oppressors reducing them to those positions. The combination of economic and racial motivations led to the values that were assigned to enslaved people, and this created the extreme maltreatment that is widely recognized.

One of the fundamental takeaways I had from this essay is the involvement of sympathy and humanitarianism in the abolition of slavery. When discussing the motivations behind abolition, it is fairly clear that morality influenced this movement. The effect that morality had on the abolition of slavery was evidently important, but to what extent? Sweet explains that the Anglo-American conversations surrounding abolition have shifted from “self-flagellation [to] self-gratulation” (p. 16). Thus, many historians have begun “emphasizing the role of humanitarian sentiment” (p. 16) in this movement. This shift leads to dangerous territory. Once we begin congratulating people for supporting abolition, we begin to accept the bare-minimum. For instance, Baucom demonstrates the,

. . . many pitfalls and paradoxes of a politics of empathy, such as its emphasis on cruelty and suffering rather than justice and equality. . . . First, there is the inherent tendency of sentimental spectatorship to slide from empathy to self-gratulation, inaction, and even to self-pity”(p. 25).

As humans, we have the tendency to applaud ourselves for sympathizing with others. But in doing so, we are distancing ourselves from the real problems. We are excusing ourselves from taking action, because we begin to feel that our sympathy is enough to consider ourselves “allies”. It is imperative that we do not become “historical spectator[s] impressed by the idea of [our] own sympathy for the suffering” (p. 26), because people want real change, not sympathy. We see heavy remnants of this theme in our current society, as explained by the term “performative activism”. Performative activism occurs when people “advocate” to increase their social status, rather than to support a cause. Having “humanitarian” motivations can prevent change from occurring, or can slow down the process. It would be interesting to know whether sympathy and humanitarianism accelerated or obstructed the abolition movement. And beyond that, how it still affects equality for black people today.

To summarize, Sweet’s essay prompted me to question the significance of economics in slavery, along with the motivations behind the abolition movement. This essay discusses several fundamental questions that arise in the study of trans-atlantic slavery, and it is heavily supported by evidence. Though it is quite lengthy and dense, it serves as an excellent document that raises numerous questions on the slave trade.

The Subject of the Slave Trade: reflection

John Wood Sweet’s The Subject of the Slave Trade revealed to me more complex, and broader perspectives of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. I appreciate how Sweet discussed different perspectives of the Slave Trade at different “scales.” Since reading the 1619 Project, I realized how difficult but important it is to pay attention to the scale of history we examine. It is easy to forget about West Africa, and even other European countries when the majority of voices telling the story of slavery is American. But it is understandable; slavery did play a considerable role in shaping America to the country it is today. However, if the scale of historical interest remains confined, it can potentially turn history into moral sentiments. For telling a nation’s story it is useful, but to understand why the world is the way it is today, we need to look beyond that.

On a narrower scale, we focus on the sufferings of slaves. As a result, it is tempting to categorize people into “victims” and “villains.” But as we know, the slaves “were not passive victims…but rather crucial players decisively shaping events and outcomes.” (p. 34) The victims are also the oppressors, and oppressors are also subject to oppression. In desire for political power, tribes of West Africans contributed to the capturing of slaves before they themselves could potentially be captured. As Sweet points out in Markus Rediker’s The Slave Ship, the members of the crew were also susceptible to oppression and death. (p. 12) The sailors oppressed the slaves, but the Captains oppressed the sailors. The Captains who threw the slaves off the ship in the Zong massacre ensured the maximum profits they could get from one voyage, but they also reduced the witnessing of unnecessary sufferings. The slave owners were not an exception; the accounting system in plantations gave market values to the slaves as commodities, not as humans. By dehumanizing enslaved people, they can choose to ignore the trauma they imposed on the slaves and consequently, on themselves too. The colonialists and capitalists are in constant competition for power and dominance over the global market. Therefore, if “logic of finance capital and the logic of empathy” work along, I think fear of suffering also plays an important role.

That’s why I don’t completely relate to Katrina Browne’s Traces of the Trade. There is a sort of moral pressure and responsibility for the De Wolf descendants to find out about their family’s history in the Slave Trade. But sympathy is weak and cheap in a sense that they are still doing what reduces the most suffering for themselves.

There will always be people that suffers from exploitation. Who suffers in place of the slaves in today’s world? It is easy to blame slavery to ignore the challenges imposed by a global economy. Slavery created impacts that continued (and will continue) “for several centuries.” It isn’t just a period of human moral decay that has been left in the past to be examined for. It is crucial to investigate the Slave Trade’s history, and therefore, the history of the modern global economy. In this case I agree with Sweet that it is “hard not to wonder whether the universal agreement to condemn slavery is not still a part of an attempt to reassure the world that, having abolished this one form of exploitation, the modern economic order has been redeemed.” (Pp. 30-31)

The thing I appreciate the most from Sweet’s essay is that it reviews multiple perspectives from lots of sources. I think this is how history should be told; which is, multiple versions of the same story being told at the same time. One can easily focus and sympathize on the sufferings of the slaves. However, placing it in a larger scale, from another perspective; the Slave Trade can be more than the treatment of a single slave, of a ship of slaves, of slavery in America, or of commerce between several countries. It is essential to understand each perspective of the Slave Trade at the same time.

 

 

 

WDolan_History_Facts?

I believe that the 1619 project is mainly journalism, because it is recording a case made for the public to decide whether or not history education within schools should be reformed. The idea of educational reform to provide insight on all perspectives of a country’s development, should be supported. However, the perspective of how we view and have viewed history should not be disregarded. Non-colored people may have been the foundation of the United States, but that is not a bad thing. It is history. We have developed a better understanding of why it was unethical to enslave and beat the slaves, etc. 

What is history? If we continue to change our ideas about what has happened in the past, which is the right perspective? Do our old ideas remain strong, or does change such as educational reform disregard those previous conceptions? I think the ‘1619 Project’ could have been more subtly introduced, and more revision of their stated claims would have been beneficiary, and more successful in persuading the public.

The ‘1619 Project’ appears to be a clever way of trying to avoid talking about the white people involved in the formation of the United States. However, I do agree with the idea there being more focus on the African’s role in America. Nevertheless, we should simultaneously remember the non-colored people’s input in the United States. We need to consider the conclusion that without the enslavers, America may be very different today. There may be less diversity, and the economy might not be in its current state (despite the pandemic), etc. Its purpose is clear, but it is not clear how they can modify the project to ensure it becomes and stays successful. I think it could be used for political purposes in terms of being used for a campaign by an African-American. But that may be seen as propaganda, which would defeat the purpose. 

Furthermore on the subject of politics, I do not think there are many ways you can be apolitical about a subject of this magnitude. However, I think you can be interested in learning more about another perspective of history without getting involved in the idea of politics. 

I believe people who study history from the perspective of Caucasian people being the only foundation for the United States, are afraid for change. They might be afraid they are going to be frowned upon for honoring the Founding Fathers. At the same time, they have good reason to be. America is changing. 

I get stumped when I consider the question: Who is right? There may be no right answer in this situation, since you cannot please everyone. I would not call the ‘1619 Project’ propaganda because they are not expressing a particularly political topic. It is more of a historical project. The project appears to want African American people viewed as one of the main foundations for America, and to some individuals that may seem selfish. However, I see it as a project in its early stages, ready to develop and reform educations.

1619 Project

The New York Times’ 1619 Project seeks to reframe the United States’ history from the African American point of view. The project, as noted by Sean Wilentz in his “A Matter of Facts,” can be most apparently compared to W. E. B. Du Bois’ “Black Reconstruction in America” which mounted a  “commanding counter-interpretation” (Wilentz, 2020) against the Dunning School’s racist mischaracterizations of the Reconstruction era. The 1916 Project has no such specific enemy, but rather seeks to remedy a general absence of ‘black perspective’ in American historical teaching. It claims, among other things, that the often lauded ‘abolitionist’ Abraham Lincoln believed that “black people are the obstacle to national unity”; that the Declaration of Independence was “primarily” motivated by a wish to “protect the institution of slavery”; that “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA” of the United States; and that “for the most part, black Americans fought back alone” against racism (Hannah-Jones, 2019).

The 1916 Project is one sided. Likely the writers of it themselves would not contend this claim. The overarching narrative portrayed is one of an African American peoples fighting tirelessly against their white oppressors to shape America into the democracy it originally promised to be. At every available opportunity, the project points out the tyranny of white Americans, citing “unthinkable violence against the formerly enslaved, wide-scale voter suppression, electoral fraud,” “slavocracy,” and “hypocrisy,” among other things, in its “America Wasn’t a Democracy, Until Black Americans Made It One” (Hannah-Jones, 2019). This accomplishes the admirable and much-needed goal of pointing out the thoroughly evidenced immorality with which so many acted during America’s inception and well into its activity as a nation. However, there arises an issue when such a lengthy project so completely antagonizes an entire race and so utterly neglects any mention of a single positively impactful white actor or a single negatively impactful black one.

One could feasibly remark, ‘Is this absolute viewpoint not an exact parallel to those taken on by so many white historians and journalists of the past, and even present?’ The answer is yes, that is precisely what this is. One could extend, ‘Should we not then welcome it, as a balance to the scales?’ This is where I must firmly disagree. The solution to a white-led narrative is not, and has never been, a black-led narrative. The problem is that two extremes rarely converge to form moderation; rather, they goad one another further and further into extremity. As Wilentz (2020) writes, such narrative-driven, exclusory retellings of history only serve to “make it easier for critics hostile to the [project’s] overarching mission to malign it for their own ideological and partisan purposes.” Then, if not ‘balance the scales,’ what do we do? Adam Serwer (2019) commented, quite correctly, that “given the state of American education on slavery, some kind of adjustment is sorely needed.” Slavery and segregation are vitally important parts of American history, and should never be neglected out of embarrassment on the part of white people. We should aggressively endorse the astonishing perseverance of African Americans– celebrate their victories, regret their losses, and honour their greatest. We should shun our ancestors for their abhorrent, immoral behavior. Simultaneously, we should learn about those few African Americans who fought against civil rights and for slavery– learn why they held those viewpoints, and how they contributed to the American story. We should learn about those white Americans who fought alongside the African Americans, and about those who remained neutral. We should seek to understand the societal circumstances which perpetuated racism among even the non-malicious. Limiting ourselves to a generalization like ‘black good, white bad’ (or conversely, ‘white good, black bad’), whether in history or in modern day, is never a benefit.

Serwer (2019) summed up the argument between Hannah-Jones and Wilentz as such:

Where Wilentz and his colleagues see the rising anti-slavery movement in the colonies and its influence on the Revolution as a  radical break from millennia in which human slavery was accepted around the world, Hannah-Jones’ essay outlines how the ideology of white supremacy that sustained slavery still endures today.

I question, why not both? These two things are not contradictory. The anti-slavery and civil rights eras were enormous steps towards equality AND there is still lots of work to be done. African Americans fought long and hard, bravely and remarkably, against their white oppressors AND a not-insignificant number of white people fought with them. Abraham Lincoln acted at times in the interest of black people AND at times against their interests. White slave-holders are responsible for their blatantly immoral racism AND many of them were not actively malicious people. In an era of ideological echo chambers, aggressive partisan division, and rampant political extremism, we need ‘and’ more than ever. Unfortunately, the New York Times squandered the opportunity to fill in the other side of ‘and’, opting instead to circulate yet another exclusory one-sided story in the form of the 1916 Project.

Reflection on the 1619 Project

I perceive the 1619 Project as journalists’ attempt at telling history. It is not “academic” history, but it is certainly one way of telling a story. There are several things that did concern me as I read the arguments and counterarguments between the staff writers and the historians.

It is undeniable that there are “factual errors” or selected evidences that supported the Project’s claims. But these claims were not what concerned the critics the most; it was the “pessimism about white America” that had put them off. The articles by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Matthew Desmond gave eye-widening claims that I was never aware of. But the way these claims were written made it subject to negative reactions and criticisms. For example, “Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.” This isn’t language normally used for writing history because it is very confrontational. Another example would be where Hannah-Jones described plantation slavery as “a system so grotesque that Nazi Germany would later take inspiration from it for its own racist policies.” She also connected the plantations to “forced-labor camps.” The choice of metaphors and “subjective” use of language made these claims look like opinion pieces in disguise of writing history. But interestingly, when Niles Niemuth was criticizing Hannah-Jones about her reference to racism and DNA, he also mentioned “German geneticists” providing “a pseudo-scientific justification for Nazi-anti-Semitism and racism.” One can make references to the same things to make different arguments.

I agree with Adam Serwer’s point that the claims given by the 1619 Project suggests “anti-black racism is more intractable problem than most Americans are willing to admit.” The fact that the 1619 Project was not “academically” written, and didn’t have solid evidence to defend its claims made it susceptible towards these criticisms. The project deserved most of the criticisms, but the five historians and other critics are really just denying the Project’s “pessimism on white America.” I find it discouraging that they are criticizing the Project in such a roundabout way.

The need to “conceive of and understand our (American) history as ‘progress’” made an impression on me. The point doesn’t only apply to Americans writing American history. I believe this is our natural tendency as a species. We would like to believe that we have evolved and are a generally better species than the homo sapiens. It is a similar thing for Americans (and those concerned about American history) to believe that racial justice has been fought for, and slowly achieved, and achievable in the future. But it isn’t the case that we, as a species, have always shown progress in history. Have things really improved, or did the problem disguise itself in another form?

Not only is it hard to agree with these claims that overturned America’s foundation, not everyone can agree with the political consequences of these claims. One can definitely view the 1619 Project as a “politically motivated falsification of history” by the Democratic party.” But you can also see the Project as a challenging but enlightening perspective of American history.

Therefore, I think there is no “apolitical” history. If you think about the causations of “historical events,”  there could only be so many explanations, such as economic and political factors.  It brings us back to the question of whether Slavery was racial or economic. The 1619 Project and its critics can agree that racism is a consequence of the economic benefits from slavery. The people profited from slavery received political power. History cannot be separated from these reoccurring themes, and thus it is nearly impossible to exclude history from the present’s political environment. The dispute over interpretations or intentions of history is unpreventable, especially in an environment where different voices are encouraged. If you think about if there is only one authoritative voice telling only one version of history, then that “history” is likely propaganda. That’s why I think the 1619 Project is definitely history. It is just one way of telling the story of America.

The 1619 Project

Despite being written as a journalism project, I believe The 1619 Project surpasses that, serving as a combination of history and journalism. It features a great deal of historical information, along with the current, sociological effects that the past has had on society. Often, history is used as a tool for understanding the present; it is a way to make sense of our current society. As Serwer says, The 1619 Project is “a historical analysis of how slavery shaped American political, social, and economic institutions” (Serwer, p. 1). The formation of American society—the society which is enveloped in anti-black racism and white supremacy—can be traced back to slavery. This project incorporates history into modern issues, showing how we still see prominent traces of past events in our everyday lives. Silverstein, the Editor in Chief of The New York Times explains, “The project was intended to address the marginalization of African-American history in telling our national story and examine the legacy of slavery in contemporary American life” (Silverstein, p. 4). As IB History students, we all know: scope is essential when writing history. Many criticisms against The 1619 Project argue the fact that it does not discuss “the widespread practice of slavery outside the Americas” (Niemuth, p. 4). However, the writers of the project limited their scope to the United States, rather than slavery as a whole. Their objective was to discuss the “marginalization of African-American history” through education about slavery, and they fulfilled that. Although their claims were often worded strongly, there was evidence supporting their arguments. There are definitely elements of their history that are framed, due to this focus on America. Regardless, it is still history. Connections to present society or to select ideologies should not diminish this project, because we see this across the board. By nature, history will be framed, because historians and writers are people above all else. We see flaws throughout history, whether that be through documentation, subjectivity, or bias. Nevertheless, we still consider that to be history, so this project should be, as well.

Reading these arguments and counter arguments has raised several questions regarding both historical objectivity, and how history is remembered according to a nation’s “identity”. We often portray history as something that is solely factual, based on evidence, and fixed. In actuality, this is not the case. As Hannah-Jones states, “people who write history are not simply objective arbiters of facts” (Serwer, p. 14). There are a plethora of factors that can alter the accuracy of history, ranging from poor documentation to the manipulation of evidence. We make mistakes, we have opinions, and we can be blind to our errors. Though it is important to be as factually accurate as possible, perfection seems unattainable. This makes me wonder, is it impossible to achieve full objectivity in history, considering relativity, framing, and context? And if so, whose truth should we prioritize? Between The 1619 Project and the critiques, there seem to be two routes, “The letter is rooted in a vision of American history as a slow, uncertain march toward a more perfect union. The 1619 Project, and Hannah-Jones’ introductory essay in particular, offer a darker vision of the nation, in which Americans have made less progress than they think, and in which black people continue to struggle indefinitely for the rights they may never fully realise” (Serwer, p. 4). Along with questions about prioritization, this raises questions about the impact that “American identity” has had on history. Certain historians tend to favour the idea that America is in a state of constant progression, and will continue along this upward trajectory. Others, who have felt the seemingly ever-present oppression within America, tend to be more pessimistic regarding this progression. These viewpoints are impacted by nationalism, experiences, and maltreatment. As a result, they impact the frame of history.  The 1619 Project is “Viewed from the perspective of those historically denied the rights enumerated in America’s founding documents, [making] the story of the country’s great men necessarily look very different” (Serwer, pp. 1-2). In history, I believe it is important to see these different perspectives. We hear from those who have had white privilege since the formation of the nation, then those who have been oppressed by this. Returning to my question about prioritization, I personally believe that we should be listening to and elevating the voices of the people who have been most affected by systemic racism and slavery. However, it is equally important to examine slavery using other resources, to ensure that we have well-rounded knowledge.

Overall, The 1619 Project is an excellent “supplementary” resource, in terms of its purpose to “enhance traditional curricula, not replace [it]” (Serwer, p. 5). It is a unique way for people to examine slavery and racism, as it provokes many questions about those topics, and about history itself. By evaluating it rather than solely reading it, we’re able to raise these questions on the nature of history, which is an essential component in historical education.

The 1619 Project

With The New York Times’ 1619 Project, there are questions raised regarding the significance of History in relation to America and enslavement. In addition to this with the claims made by the article can they be related to journalism or propaganda? With the project, there were claims which made Historians disagree with how factually correct the project was. This disagreement resulted in a letter being sent to the Times with four signatories: James McPherson, Gordon Wood, Victoria Bynum, and James Oakes. A professor by the name of Sean Wilentz wrote his own opinions on how the 1619 project was just a matter of facts. 

“Yet the subject, which connects the past to our current troubled times, remains too little understood by the general public. The 1619 Project proposed to fill that gap with its own interpretation. To sustain its particular take on an immense subject while also informing a wide readership is a remarkably ambitious goal, imposing, among other responsibilities, a scrupulous regard for factual accuracy.” 

After reading the project Sean Wilentz sought to put an end to it. With his use of words calling the project “a scrupulous regard for factual accuracy.” He is basically attacking the project entirely without having a genuine conversation with the writer of the article: Hannah-Jones. The New York times 1619 project is a work of journalism that aims to be supplement material for teaching students about slavery in America. Adam Serwer wrote within his writing: The Fight Over the 1619 Project Is Not About the Facts in response to Sean Wilentz’s actions towards the 1619 project that “The New York Times Magazine issue on slavery represents a fundamental disagreement over the trajectory of American society.” This “disagreement” seems to be connected to slavery, specifically with how much slavery contributed to America’s development. The issue with slavery is that it is not acknowledged enough, to the point where it becomes lost within America’s history. 

The problem with people like Sean Wilentz is that they may say that they acknowledge slavery and its contributions, they do this very subtly to give slavery little relevance with America. For example, the historians who sent the letter to the Times said: “We applaud all efforts to address the foundational centrality of slavery and racism to our history.”  It may seem like they are happy with the impact the 1619 project has had on the school curriculum within America but this is not at all the case. Following this within the letter it said that the project was reflecting “a displacement of historical understanding by ideology.” The historians behind the letter are criticizing the project. They say that the project is all ideas, ideas that go against the ideals behind politics within America. This dispute between The New York Times and other Historians has led to the 1619 project demonstrating how the American national identity is revered by liberals and conservatives. Adam Serwer touched on this idea in response to the scholars. He included Hannah-Jones words to defend her: “I think had any of the scholars who signed the letter contacted me or contacted the Times with concerns [before sending the letter], we would’ve taken those concerns very seriously. And instead, there was kind of a campaign to kind of get people to sign on to a letter that was attempting really to discredit the entire project without having had a conversation.” Adam Serwer does not attack Hannah-Jones for her work, he defends her because she was not wrong to talk non-factually about America and slavery. 

It is not a work of propaganda even though Sean Wilentz claimed it to be something that displays “No effort to educate the public in order to advance social justice can afford to dispense with a respect for basic facts.” Sean Wilentz views History as “a matter of facts.” He may be educated but I think he believes the project is a piece of propaganda. “In the long and continuing battle against oppression of every kind, an insistence on plain and accurate facts has been a powerful tool against propaganda.” Is using facts to check whether or not a piece of writing is propaganda a reliable tool? If writing goes against the known facts, does that make it wrong? If the 1619 project is trying to reframe Americain History with non-factual claims then it is wrong, but this is not the case. Sean Wilentz acted with the letter as if the project was framing American history wrongly but he did this (earlier said) without any communication between himself and Hannah-Jones. 

The 1619 project showed a darker side of America, one that many individuals were unaware of. The fact that Americans have not made as much progress as they think, and that black people will indefinitely struggle to understand what their rights are compared to the rights of a white American. This discussion now becoming a political one shows how the truth can be altered to sustain political ideals. When it comes to the discussion of slavery in American schools, it is all a deception of the truth to hide slavery’s significance. Slavery and its impact on America have been neglected for as long as colonists have existed. I think it is important to notice how when the significance of slavery in America is brought up within an article it can be viewed as propaganda or factually incorrect even when it is trying to bring out an issue that has been subtly neglected. The issue being that without black Americans and slavery, America would not have developed into the nation it is today

 

The 1619 Project

While reading and analyzing the documents given in class, I found myself in a peculiar position. I didn’t know who convinced me more. The 1619 project, published by The New York Times,  is aimed to educate American citizens about the history of America, center around slavery and how it continues to impact our everyday lives. I think this is a wonderful idea considering that very few Americans probably know much about their own history. The 1619 Project was directed by Nikole Hannah-Jones, who seems passionate about her idea and what it entails. However, the project gain criticism regarding its factual evidence and how much slavery contributed in the development of America. The people who criticized the project were historians, concerned that the project was spreading false information, and simultaneously pushing for a Democratic agenda. Stated by Niles Niemuth, “…the 1619 project is a politically motivated falsification of history. Its aim is to create a historical narrative that legitimizes the effort of the Democratic Party to construct an electoral coalition based on the prioritizing of personal ‘identities’” (Niemuth, p.1). Reading both sides of the argument made me question how history should be written to educate citizens, and who should be writing this information. Is there even a thing such as ‘good history’?

For the majority of my academic life with history, I never considered the question if there is good history. History in itselfs is mostly regarded as factual, and when we start to question the author’s motive and position in the social class that’s when our perception of history gets twisted. We can no longer state that this one event happened without numerous witnesses and evidence supporting it, and even so who are the people reporting that event? But we can’t disregard history, because it is important when forming our beliefs, values, and noticing our mistakes. One of the main criticism with The 1619 Project is that it had a very narrow lens concerning slavery, and didn’t mention many outside factors that could have contributed (Wilentz). I think that this criticism is valid, because history is intertwined, and should be taught as such. Personally I think there is no such thing as good history, because to one extent it is all bias and nothing is officially true, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. 

The idea and concept of The 1619 Project is fantastic. Every citizen should know their history, so they’ll have more respect for their country and the people around them. I don’t think The 1619 Project is just journalism, however I don’t think it’s history. It’s a little of both, from someone’s bias. It carries strong evidence, but not all the evidence. I think it should be taught in schools to a certain extent, because I don’t think it should be making strong statements about what happened in the past. Simply because we won’t ever know. I do believe that schools should be educating their students about bias, and how one idea of what happened in the past can easily change if there is new evidence found. Either way, I thought this was fantasting and really made me question what we read and consume.