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President of American Historical Association Issues Groveling Apology After Backlash Over Criticism of 1619 Project

President of American Historical Association Issues Groveling Apology After Backlash Over Criticism of 1619 Project

“I sincerely regret the way I have alienated some of my Black colleagues and friends. I am deeply sorry.”

The 1619 Project, led by Nikole Hannah-Jones as part of a NY Times project now being spread in K-12 schools, has come under withering criticism by genuine historians who care about, you know, history. Jones and the Times were forced to walk back the central claims in the project.

We had an event devoted to exposing the malfeasance and malpractice of The 1619 Project, VIDEO: Rescuing History and Education From The 1619 Project

In a moment of remarkable candor, Hannah-Jones admitted that the 1619 Project wasn’t even intended to be a history.  As she admitted in a now deleted Twitter thread, the 1619 Project was an effort in narrative creation.

James H. Sweet is a history professor at U. Wisconsin-Madison, and President of the American Historical Association (AHA). Sweet’s scholarly specialty is slavery and the African experience:

Sweet is the author of two prize-winning books, Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship, and Religion in the African-Portuguese World, 1441-1770 (2003) and Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World (2011). His books have won various prizes including the Wesley Logan Prize for Best Book in African Diaspora History, American Historical Association (2004), James A. Rawley Prize for Best Book in Atlantic History, American Historical Association (2012), and the Frederick Douglass Prize for Best Non-Fiction Book on Slavery, Resistance, and/or Abolition, Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, Yale University (2012). His scholarly articles have appeared in William and Mary Quarterly, Journal of African History, The American Historical Review, The Americas, Slavery and Abolition, and Journal of Caribbean Studies.

He has lectured and spoken extensively on the topic:

James H. Sweet has been interviewed and featured in documentaries and news programming including the New Books Network, the PBS series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and a PBS interview on Africans in the Americas. He also appeared in an American Historical Association video, “Teaching with Integrity: Historians Speak.” The World History Project created a graphic biography based on the research for his second book, Domingos Álvares: African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World.

Sweet was as well-positioned as anyone to critique the 1619 Project.

Sweet posted an article on the AHA website “From The President,” in what appears to be the type of monthly statement presidents of associations typically give. The topic of his article was IS HISTORY HISTORY? Identity Politics and Teleologies of the Present (archive), that makes the point that is obvious to anyone paying attention, that so much of what passes as historical analysis is skewed to support present political views. This is familiar to anyone who has studied and studied in the former Soviet Union (like me) or who is on a campus in the United States circa this century, where almost everything is skewed to support the current thing.

Here’s an exerpt from Sweet’s very reasonable article, in which he uses the 1619 Project as an example of the concern over “presentism”:

Twenty years ago, in these pages, Lynn Hunt argued “against presentism.” She lamented historians’ declining interest in topics prior to the 20th century, as well as our increasing tendency to interpret the past through the lens of the present. Hunt warned that this rising presentism threatened to “put us out of business as historians.” If history was little more than “short-term . . . identity politics defined by present concerns,” wouldn’t students be better served by taking degrees in sociology, political science, or ethnic studies instead?

* * *

In many places, history suffuses everyday life as presentism; America is no exception. We suffer from an overabundance of history, not as method or analysis, but as anachronistic data points for the articulation of competing politics. The consequences of this new history are everywhere. I traveled to Ghana for two months this summer to research and write, and my first assignment was a critical response to The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story for a forthcoming forum in the American Historical Review. Whether or not historians believe that there is anything new in the New York Times project created by Nikole Hannah-Jones, The 1619 Project is a best-selling book that sits at the center of current controversies over how to teach American history. As journalism, the project is powerful and effective, but is it history?

When I first read the newspaper series that preceded the book, I thought of it as a synthesis of a tradition of Black nationalist historiography dating to the 19th century with Ta-Nehisi Coates’s recent call for reparations. The project spoke to the political moment, but I never thought of it primarily as a work of history…. At each of these junctures, history was a zero-sum game of heroes and villains viewed through the prism of contemporary racial identity. It was not an analysis of people’s ideas in their own time, nor a process of change over time….

Yet as a historian of Africa and the African diaspora, I am troubled by the historical erasures and narrow politics that these narratives convey. Less than one percent of the Africans passing through Elmina arrived in North America. The vast majority went to Brazil and the Caribbean. Should the guide’s story differ for a tour with no African Americans? Likewise, would The 1619 Project tell a different history if it took into consideration that the shipboard kin of Jamestown’s “20. and odd” Africans also went to Mexico, Jamaica, and Bermuda? These are questions of historical interpretation, but present-day political ones follow: Do efforts to claim a usable African American past reify elements of American hegemony and exceptionalism such narratives aim to dismantle? …

When we foreshorten or shape history to justify rather than inform contemporary political positions, we not only undermine the discipline but threaten its very integrity.

Incredibly on point, echoing criticisms others have made, and reflecting what Hannah-Jones admitted in her now-deleted tweets.

Speaking some truth that is not in sync with the prevailing campus and academic dogma on race and racism is dangerous. As so many people, some of whom we know, have found out. Sweet found out.

There was an aggressive backlash. Not all of it is public, though there are some tweets reflecting the claim that a white man like Sweet is just jealous of a black woman like Hannah-Jones gaining fame (archive)

It must have been intense in Sweet’s inbox and in AHA forums, because Sweet issued a groveling apology appended above his original article. Here is the confession of sin in full (emphasis added):

AUTHOR’S NOTE (AUG 19, 2022)

My September Perspectives on History column has generated anger and dismay among many of our colleagues and members. I take full responsibility that it did not convey what I intended and for the harm that it has caused. I had hoped to open a conversation on how we “do” history in our current politically charged environment. Instead, I foreclosed this conversation for many members, causing harm to colleagues, the discipline, and the Association.

A president’s monthly column, one of the privileges of the elected office, provides a megaphone to the membership and the discipline. The views and opinions expressed in that column are not those of the Association. If my ham-fisted attempt at provocation has proven anything, it is that the AHA membership is as vocal and robust as ever. If anyone has criticisms that they have been reluctant or unable to post publicly, please feel free to contact me directly.

I sincerely regret the way I have alienated some of my Black colleagues and friends. I am deeply sorry. In my clumsy efforts to draw attention to methodological flaws in teleological presentism, I left the impression that questions posed from absence, grief, memory, and resilience somehow matter less than those posed from positions of power. This absolutely is not true. It wasn’t my intention to leave that impression, but my provocation completely missed the mark.

Once again, I apologize for the damage I have caused to my fellow historians, the discipline, and the AHA. I hope to redeem myself in future conversations with you all. I’m listening and learning.

The AHA, which now has locked its Twitter account, tweeted out the apology:

There apparently was substantial criticism of AHA for the apology, so AHA locked its account:

This is just another example of how far academia has fallen. False confessions extracted from people who dared speak truth to the power that runs campuses, a power not very interested in the truth, but as Hannah-Jones admitted, seeks to frame narratives.

Academia is gone. It can’t be reformed from within. But you knew that.

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Comments

retiredcantbefired | August 20, 2022 at 10:14 pm

No, it can’t be reformed from within.

This is merely the latest in a string of stories that are utterly sick, and utterly predictable.

    I saw and experienced this crap while getting my MA and PhD in history. It can’t be fixed from within. He was in as powerful a position to critique the 1619 garbage as anyone–but he agrees with the politics (most whackademics are left/far left) and they are never going to fix this themselves.

Colonel Travis | August 20, 2022 at 10:41 pm

Why do people let themselves get steamrolled by idiots?
I will never understand this.

Stand your GD ground. If you have the facts behind you, there is nothing to apologize for.

    He understands the political benefit his apology gives to the left and gave it gladly. He doesn’t like that the facts backed him up.

    The Gentle Grizzly in reply to Colonel Travis. | August 21, 2022 at 8:56 am

    Whites… actually, non-blacks, should have stood their ground decades ago. But, they let the “Reverends”, and the H. Rap Browns and Eldridge Cleavers of the world take command.

    Within the academy it seems far too late to start standing ground based on truth when lies and memes dominate. It will require demolition and starting from scratch to restore non-STEM departments t0 real usefulness. And I’m not so sure about STEM either.

    But I could be mistaken.

They are not interested in facts
They are interested in power and the destruction of white peoples , hopefully the END of white people by any means necessary and they rewrite history to defend the destruction, lies , and murder of same

There is a need and an interest in philosophy (the love of ideas) that is constructively focused on doing good things efficiently. There is also an abundance of great minds who would jump at the opportunity to get out of the current academic environment, to once again be free to engage in productive discussions where good ideas get better through debate while bad ideas fail on their own.

That is the essence of why the traditional seven liberal arts became the foundation for civilized education. Everyone is free so say what they want but be prepared to defend your ideas and opinions. An academia that descends into well-funded personal destruction wars should be abolished. These academicians are well-funded and they succeed by organizing to destroy dissenters. Are all wealthy donors evil? Where are the enlightened people with money? Is that just a relic from the past?

Are all of our billionaires and other wealthy people just sociopaths and psychopaths focused only on their obsession of becoming wealthier and more powerful? People are just in the way of their boundless ambitions? Were these people to take a guided tour of world history, they might discover that all great empires and civilizations were formed by leaders who were surrounded by great philosophers.

The Mongols might have been the greatest plunderers of all time but that is all they are remembered for. They left nothing but wreckage and death behind them. The great civilizations that followed found nothing useful to build on. Yet we still find value in great philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, and so many others who form the foundation for our thinking.
The new academia rejects ALL of that and believes they can reset human history to year one on the basic assumption that if they aren’t the ones coming up with the ideas, then those ideas are irrelevant (and usually evil). This has to stop and that means cutting off the dirty money funding it.

There is plenty of money and smart people with great ideas built on the rich foundation of millenia of human experience to get us out of this. Trump isn’t the only billionaire who rejects these evil Masters of the Universe and he may not be a great philosopher but he is a model for how it gets done. He can’t do it by himself.

Billionaires and actually all of us need to rethink what our legacies will be if this continues. We need to return to the idea of building something beautiful, lasting and good. As we are witnessing today, people who hate don’t create beautiful loving worlds. It would help if people like James H Sweet would just stop apologizing for their good work. Stop apologizing!

    IMO one thing that could be done is to get red state legislatures to take a proactive role in controlling the funding of state supported universities, colleges, and community colleges. The largest portion of their funding is from taxpayers and not super rich donors. Taxpayer watchdog groups in each state could keep legislators informed about what is happening in their state’s higher ed institutions and pressure them to stop funding any courses or programs that distort history, etc. But, in my experience (35 years in higher ed, retired ’99) a huge part of the problem is hiring. I held four teaching positions in the ’60s in state colleges and in each case was was interviewed and recommended to be hired by a department head and dean of instruction. That was generally the way it was done. My qualifications were considered, not my politics. By the late ’80s, early ’90s faculty committees ran the process and they tended to recommend hiring people whose political views were similar to their own. Now over 90% faculty are woke. But, so are the administrators. I have no idea how to change this, I try to stay positive about things; at my age it’s necessary. But, I think Professor Jacobson is right. Academia is doomed.

      retiredcantbefired in reply to CDan. | August 21, 2022 at 12:27 pm

      Increasingly, the funding for state universities (community colleges are following a different path) comes from tuition, grants and contracts, and private donations. Taxpayers, via the legislature, are on the hook for lower percentages than they used to be. So the billionaires are relevant to state universities, too.

Black man will be enslaved forever as long as he continues to sell himself.
That is what was happening in 1619.

The ‘man’ is an utter coward.

Yet the black man is still selling the black man in Africa today

They never seem to talk about that. It is in the country of Mauritania.

    henrybowman in reply to Whitewall. | August 21, 2022 at 10:51 pm

    Worse yet, it is also in the country of Liberia, which was founded by US abolitionists to “repatriate” ex-slaves, and has had a codicil in its constitution since day one, forbidding slavery forever.

E Howard Hunt | August 21, 2022 at 9:21 am

Whites will continue to rule forever because only they are capable. The position of whites (the ruling ones) has never been stronger. They rule from their lofty aeries and solidify their position by destroying the white middle class and having it mix with the minority races and thereby heighten their power and control.

They never send their children to public schools. They do not live with minorities. They do not castrate their children. They do not marry outside their set. They are not subject to the law.

Allowing yourself to be shamed with false claims is an indicator of emotional immaturity. The d/prog have perfected the art of using our better nature against us. They wield it as a club to beat us into submission.

The key point though is it only works if allow it. Rejecting their claims or better yet ridiculing their claims is the better response. That disarms their preferred weapon and often leaves the d/prog speechless. They can’t argue facts anymore because they are invested in emotional responses and have lost the ability to deploy logic.

When someone adopts the ‘sticks and stones’ attitude of the elementary school playground the typical d/prog is unable to marshal a logical argument. I had many of these moments with my academic acquaintances. They didn’t want to agree on which facts existed or were relevant. Without that step we can’t debate our interpretation of the facts in a search for the truth.

Keri Leigh Merritt, Ph.D.
“@KeriLeighMerrit, Historian/Writer. “Fiery little leftist” Books #AfterLife #MasterlessMen NEW: #LillianSmith. Film
@thecivilwardoc1
. Punk rawk grrrl. HBIC. IG
@kerileighmerritt
Atlanta, GAkerileighmerritt.comJoined January 2016”

From Merritt’s twatter profile.

She (yes, I presume) is a white as a ghost leftist that would never give up her job to a minority, yet she will attack a professor with at least 20 years more experience than her.

She is the new breed of leftist professor, more writer than historian, with websites like “Merrrittocracy; History to the people.” It is full of leftist views and selfies of herself. A total academic lightweight.

The funny thing is, she thinks her opinion has value while the research of Sweet can just be arbitrarily condemned by her.

That said, Sweet emasculated himself and his research. I guess it will all be suspect after this.

Why doesn’t she have a debate with him and see where the chips fall?

The slavers and [rabid] diversitists will never forget or forgive.

Nobody should be surprised that an academic from Madison, WI conducts himself this way. Madison, WI is Sorosland.

I am personally offended by Sweet’s apology. Will he apologize to me and try to redeem himself?

“Ida Bae” is a particularly egregious example of a crybully who likes to tattle to the Political Twitter Police at any chance she gets knowing full well she has privilege with such groups to attack and not be challenged.

And if this is not a history, why did the progressives push for it to be injected into the history curriculum instead of journalism?

Another weak-kneed academic who would be among the first to be stood up against a wall and shot in the revolution they are drying for..

Whites deserve the steam rolling that blacks are giving us

Our son is studying at the University of Sydney in Australia this semester.

One of the courses he’s taking right now is about the Holocaust.

I wonder how many American universities offer such an important course?

The way things are going, it will soon be none.

Kid Rock: I’ll own what I said.

I recall an earlier time the AHA locked their comments and limited it to members only. It was when they were circling the wagons around Michael Bellesiles. That didn’t go well for them.

Steven Brizel | August 24, 2022 at 9:21 am

This groveling comment is illustrative of what is wrong with the AHA