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Emmy Griffin / September 3, 2021

History Should Unite Us

History is the gift of a million timelines because it broadens the human experience.

When Nikole Hannah-Jones published her dubious Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project, it sparked a debate on how we look at and teach history. This biased and historically inaccurate series of articles by Jones puts the legacy of slavery as the main driver of American history. It oversimplifies and overshadows the triumphs that decorate the story of our nation as a whole. The 1619 Project is universally denounced by distinguished historians. Jones has perfectly demonstrated how history can be skewed based on a biased lens.

In fact, as Mark Alexander notes: “The 1619 Project is a political agenda, not a history curriculum. The accurate history of slavery should be taught in our schools, including the fact that in the 19th century, it was countries under White leadership, Britain, France and the United States, which abolished slavery within their nations. What young people really need to know is that today, there are more than 700,000 people enslaved in the sub-Saharan Africa – by Black slavers – more than twice the number of slaves brought to North America in the 1800s.”

Why even bother to learn history if it can be so convoluted? To begin to answer that question, we need to define the purpose of history. In an article by University of Melbourne professor Mark Edele, he proposes that people are driven to learn history because it is closely tied to our human identity. It answers that age-old question: Where do we come from? History began when humans started writing down their stories.

Some of these stories teach larger moral questions. They remind us that there is nothing new under the sun. They remind us that there are no perfect humans, and that heroes had their bad moments too. We can still honor the achievements of amazing humans and strive to live up to the best examples they provide. If we are limited to condemning the character flaws of these men and women, no one would deserve a statue or to be remembered. History should not be used as a prognosticator. It is far too complex to ever be a reliable guide to making specific future decisions. Overall, though, the human patterns of behavior are archetypes from which we can teach and learn.

History teaches us about change happening over time. If left to their own ignorance, humans are limited to the timeline in which they are born. The amount of change that can happen in those years of life are significant, but only to the humans they directly affect. History is the gift of a million timelines. It broadens the human experience by giving a glimpse into the life of other people, places, and cultures.

Perhaps because history is so complex, it also helps us learn to view the past through many lenses. We can look at it through the eyes of a specific historian, or through the lenses of religion, politics, diplomacy, and people. The fallacy comes in when the teacher or “historian” seeks to only teach through one lens or use only one source because it aligns with his own worldview.

Finally, the teaching of history should instill a love of country in our students. Not overly fervent nationalism — which is just as biased as the 1619 Project — but a balanced, unflinching look at the achievements with the failures. It should be a telling of all the people that have made up the fabric of the American Story and tying it all back to the core values of the American Dream. It should bolster up the triumphs and condemn the evils. Students should leave a lesson feeling united.

So is Nikole Hannah-Jones’s fallacious account fulfilling the purpose of history? Not at all. It pushes a Marxist Black Lives Matter agenda that seeks only to divide students based on past grievances. Those sins of the past should not define the future, but redemption and the highlighting of moral ideals should guide the way forward in teaching history.

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