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NYT’s ‘1619 Project’ author Nikole Hannah-Jones to teach journalism at University of North Carolina

The author of the New York Times ‘1619 Project’ that ‘reframed’ American history to focus on when the first Africans arrived to Virginia as slaves will teach journalism students as a new professor at the University of North Carolina

Nikole Hannah-Jones, who won the Pulitzer Prize for the 2019 series, will have her courses ‘examine the big questions about journalism’ while adding the her own practical experience and advice.

Her 1619 series proved a cultural lightening rod, drawing criticism from some historians who said it was a cynical view of American history – and also contained inaccuracies and generalizations. 

Former President Donald Trump slammed the series as ‘totally discredited’ and part of the ‘twisted web of lies’ that has caught fire in American universities that teach American is a ‘wicked and racist nation.’ 

He formed a ‘1776 Commission’ in response to teach ‘patriotism.’ It released a report this year before being ended by President Joe Biden.

Hannah-Jones in a statement said her UNC courses would teach how to write stories that are ‘truly reflective of our multiracial nation.’

New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones will teach journalism students as a new professor at the University of North Carolina

The 1619 Project won the Pulitzer Prize in 2019. It was praised by some as shining a light on untold history, but lambasted by others, including former President Donald Trump, for what he said was a jaundiced view of the US

The 1619 Project won the Pulitzer Prize in 2019. It was praised by some as shining a light on untold history, but lambasted by others, including former President Donald Trump, for what he said was a jaundiced view of the US

It’s sort of a homecoming for Hannah-Jones, who is a MacArthur Fellowship Genius Grant recipient. She got a master’s degree from UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media 2003.   

‘This is a full-circle moment for me as I return to the place that launched my career to help launch the careers of other aspiring journalists,’ she Tweeted on Monday. ‘I’m so excited to continue mentoring students from the classroom and for all I will learn from them.’

She said she’d still be at the New York Times where she wrote the ‘1619 Project,’ which was published in 2019 as a collection of essays, photo essays, poems and short fiction stories. 

She joined the New York Times in 2015 after working at ProPublica, the Oregonian, the Raleigh News & Observer and the Chapel Hill News, according to a release from the school.

Her 1619 Project ‘reframed’ American history to have it start in 1619, when the first slaves from Africa arrived to Virginia, instead of 1776, when the founding fathers declared independence from Britain. 

In her essay, Hannah-Jones wrote that slaves laid the foundations of the US Capitol and built founding fathers’ plantations. She said the ‘relentless buying, selling, insuring and financing of their bodies’ made Wall Street and New York City the financial capital of the world.

‘Before the abolishment of the international slave trade, 400,000 enslaved Africans would be sold into America. Those individuals and their descendants transformed the lands to which they’d been brought into some of the most successful colonies in the British Empire,’ Hannah-Jones wrote. 

‘But it would be historically inaccurate to reduce the contributions of black people to the vast material wealth created by our bondage,’ she said. ‘Black Americans have also been, and continue to be, foundational to the idea of American freedom. More than any other group in this country’s history, we have served, generation after generation, in an overlooked but vital role: It is we who have been the perfecters of this democracy.’

The project heralded by some and criticized by others, including a number of historians and Trump, who adamantly opposed the idea that it should be taught in classrooms. 

The New York Times '1619 Project' is still a polarizing piece that some want to ban from school curriculums

The New York Times ‘1619 Project’ is still a polarizing piece that some want to ban from school curriculums

The New York Times building

University of North Carolina

Nikole Hannah-Jones said on Twitter that she will continue to work at the New York Times

Princeton historian Sean Wilentz criticized the ‘1619 Project’, and some of Hannah-Jones’s other work, in a letter sent to top Times editors and the publisher, The Atlantic reported in December 2019. 

The letter, which was signed by other scholars James McPherson, Gordon Wood, Victoria Bynum, and James Oakes refers to ‘matters of verifiable fact’ that ‘cannot be described as interpretation or “framing”’ and says the project reflected ‘a displacement of historical understanding by ideology,’ The Atlantic reported. 

Wilentz and the other signatories demanded corrections.

Trump called it ‘revisionist history’ and threatened to withhold federal funding from public schools that used it.  

Republican lawmakers in a handful of states, including Iowa and Missouri, are continuing his fight to ban it from schools. 

Bills were introduced in those state legislatures that would punish school districts that use the ‘1619 Project’ by cutting federal funding.  

A major critic of the project has been The Heritage Foundation, which says it ‘has been tireless in its efforts to debunk the radical and anti-American positions taken by The New York Times and the ‘1619 Project.’ 

One of The Heritage Foundation’s articles pointed out post-publication edits that the Times made, including changing a in Hannah-Jones’ leading article in the series to say that ‘some of’ the colonists fought the American Revolution to defend slavery.

'They had not seen this type of demand for a print product of The New York Times, they said, since 2008, when people wanted copies of Obama's historic presidency edition,' Hannah-Jones told The Atlantic in a December 2019 story. 'I know when I talk to people, they have said that they feel like they are understanding the architecture of their country in a way that they had not'

‘They had not seen this type of demand for a print product of The New York Times, they said, since 2008, when people wanted copies of Obama’s historic presidency edition,’ Hannah-Jones told The Atlantic in a December 2019 story. ‘I know when I talk to people, they have said that they feel like they are understanding the architecture of their country in a way that they had not’

‘The editors called this a ‘small’ clarification, and it was indeed very small, although considering that the 1619 Project’s full-throated commitment to demonstrating that American history can only be explained through the lens of slavery, this correction appears nothing short of essential,’ Heritage policy expert Jonathan Butcher, a senior policy analyst for Heritage’s Center for Education Policy, wrote. 

One of the project’s supporters, Seth Rockman, an associate professor of history at Brown University, wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post that the project ‘is a testament to patriotism, not a repudiation.’

Rockman wrote that history is ‘an ongoing conversation in which trained professionals and multiple publics wrestle with the meaning of the past’ and disagreement is desirable ‘as it shows us that something important is at stake.’ 

He said there are warranted criticisms that ‘we should spend our time debating,’ for example the project was ‘insufficiently attentive’ about how the Native Americans lost their land.   

Trump suggested, however, that the project’s teachings were dangerous.

‘Critical race theory, the 1619 project, and the crusade against American history is toxic propaganda, ideological poison that if not removed will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together,’ he said, according to the Atlantic. ‘It will destroy our country.’ 

Hannah-Jones, meanwhile, said on Twitter that ‘history, in general, is contested.’

‘The project unsettled many. I think that is good.’  

Hannah-Jones will join UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media in July as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. The school has around 1,000 undergraduates and 125 graduate students.


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