An attack on decades of historical scholarship

The Trump administration’s “1776 Report” has historians running out of red ink.

“It’s a hack job. It’s not a work of history,” American Historical Association executive director James Grossman told The Washington Post. “It’s a work of contentious politics designed to stoke culture wars.”

…The 45-page report is largely an attack on decades of historical scholarship, particularly when it comes to the nation’s 400-year-old legacy of slavery, and most of those listed as authors lack any credentials as historians. While claiming to present a nonpartisan history, it compares progressivism to fascism and claims the civil rights movement devolved into “preferential” identity politics “not unlike those advanced by [slavery defender John C.] Calhoun and his followers.”

“I don’t know where to begin,” said public historian Alexis Coe. “This ‘report’ lacks citations or any indication books were consulted, which explains why it’s riddled in errors, distortions, and outright lies.”

Well the people behind the “report” are using the word “report” in a very special way. They don’t mean anything to do with truth, for instance, or evidence or reasoning or argument. They’re using “report” to mean something more like “angry shouting.”

“It’s very hard to find anything in here that stands as a historical claim, or as the work of a historian. Almost everything in it is wrong, just as a matter of fact,” said Eric Rauchway, a history professor at the University of California at Davis. “I may sound a little incoherent when trying to speak of this, because the report itself is not coherent. It’s like historical wackamole.”

Well it’s not supposed to be history. It’s supposed to be angry shouting!

He pointed to sections misinterpreting Puritan John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” speech, and to a section claiming the civil rights movement “came to abandon the nondiscrimination and equal opportunity of colorblind civil rights in favor of ‘group rights.’ ”

Oh yes, the old “I don’t see color” argument. Brilliant.

“Group rights is not anathema to American principles,” he said, recalling the formation of the Senate. “Why do Wyomingers have 80 times the representation that Californians have if not for group rights?”

Because they’re white guys with cattle, which is completely different!

Historian Kevin M. Levin, author of several books about the Civil War, said: “The 1776 report views students as sponges who are expected to absorb a narrative of the American past without question. It views history as set in stone rather than something that needs to be analyzed and interpreted by students.”

Well you see it’s the definitive narrative; the press release said so. “This is our narrative, that is ours; it is definitive.”

Grossman, the AHA executive director, said: “This is written as if no historical scholarship has been produced in nearly 70 years, so it’s bereft of any professional historical sensibility at all. There are no historians on this commission. Would you take your car to a garage where there’s no mechanic?”

But it’s definitive!

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