The University of Virginia is hosting a “talk” between UVA president James Ryan and the New York Times‘s Nikole Hannah-Jones, the creator of the “1619 Project,” in the university’s famed rotunda. The two hope to start “an honest dialogue” about the “history of slavery and how it has touched nearly every aspect of contemporary life in our country.”
Given the 1619 Project’s well-documented distortions and missrepresentations of the historical record, an “honest dialogue” about the “history of slavery” would represent a welcome development from the project’s creator.
The event will be hosted by the university’s Religion, Race & Democracy Lab. “Lab,” as used here, is a popular misnomer in the academy; the “lab” hosting this event, however, is making a particular mockery of the word. A real laboratory tests theories and discards those it finds false. The fact that a theory “reframes” an entire academic subfield in a manner consistent with a pet ideological goal of its proctor would be irrelevant, as would the fact that said theory won the fawning plaudits of guilty, upwardly mobile lifestyle bloggers in Manhattan.
In real labs, there is “true” and “false;” not so here. In this “lab,” the university president grants his imprimatur to an erroneous theory of history — spreading like wildfire through the public schools — in the name of eliciting “dialogue in our community.”
The creators of the 1619 Project have long acknowledged that their ambitions lie beyond the oblong pages of New York Times Magazine; their ultimate aim, they admit, is to “reframe American history” itself. Attempts to re-litigate settled matters of historical fact that are riddled with demonstrable error ought to elicit skepticism, not uncritical adulation, from those in the academy entrusted with the retention and transmission of knowledge. Would that the University of Virginia understood that.