#319: Following The Conversation
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One of my favorite things about The Highlighter is how we follow topics for a long period of time. Through reading outstanding longform articles (and for many of you, discussing them in Article Club), it’s like we dip into a conversation, see what’s going on, then consider how the dialogue develops and shifts over time.
That’s what today’s issue is all about. If you’re a longtime subscriber, no doubt you’ve read many pieces in this newsletter about The 1619 Project. This week’s lead article continues the conversation by offering perspective on the current controversy about critical race theory, reminding us that historians have always debated how to construct the past. The other pieces – about Ahmaud Arbery, the Census Bureau, and the coaching industry – are also excellent, building on topics of race and culture that our reading community has found important for a long time.
+ As always, I’d love to hear from you. Please hit reply and send me a note.
The 1619 Project And The Long Battle Over U.S. History
Nearly three years ago, when Nikole Hannah-Jones pitched The 1619 Project to The New York Times Magazine editor-in-chief Jake Silverstein, neither of them knew that the issue would transform the way we look at U.S. History and cause a backlash that would ban its use in public schools.
But now it all makes sense, argues Mr. Silverstein in this outstanding essay. If we want to understand why the narrative of our country’s founding is so controversial today, we need to look at historiography, the study of how historians interpret and form the narrative of our past.
Rather than rehashing the current brouhaha, or defending his magazine’s scholarship, Mr. Silverstein familiarizes us with the main eras of historiography, pointing out the contributions of key historians and emphasizing that history is always a conversation, a tug of war, always political, and never static.
Mr. Silverstein writes: “Devotion to the traditional origin story of the United States, and the hostile reaction that has greeted nearly every attempt to revise it, have prevented generations of Americans from learning how to accept this fundamental contradiction at our core — the painful twinning of slavery and democracy that began as far back as the summer of 1619. But as we have seen, in a democratic nation, history does not stand still. As our country has moved forward from its imperfect beginnings, haltingly expanding its audacious promise to enfranchise more and more of us, our history has transformed behind us, rearranging itself as the advance of our founding principles enables us to see more of our American ancestors as having had a legitimate, recoverable perspective on the events of their own day.” (37 min)
+ Eminent history professor Eric Foner is quoted in this essay. VIP Clare, a fan of historiography, interviewed him for The Highligher Podcast in 2017.
An Interview With Mitchell S. Jackson, Author Of The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Profile Of Ahmaud Arbery
It won’t be a surprise when the Pulitzer Prize-winning article, “Twelve Minutes and a Life,” shows up next month in The Highlighter’s Best of 2021 issue. Mitchell S. Jackson’s profile of Ahmaud Arbery was so exceptional that I invited him to participate in Article Club. Too bad his agent declined. But at least we have this awesome interview from the Longform podcast. Mr. Jackson talks about how he learned to write, how he built trust with Mr. Arbery’s family, how he organized the piece, and how he wants to do great work, rather than popular work. (60 min)
+ Mr. Mitchell’s article originally appeared in #298.
Alice, who belongs to Roberta, VIP Sivan’s mother, is chill and likes people food. Want your pet to appear in The Highlighter? hltr.co/pets
The Enumerator: Dispatches From A Broken Census Count In California
Journalist Jeremy Miller needed extra cash last year during the pandemic, so he signed up with the Census Bureau for $25 an hour. This first-person account chronicles his attempts to count working class residents of color in Richmond, California. He learns how a seemingly technical, bureaucratic endeavor can offer opportunities for human connection in a lonely and untrusting time – that is, as long as you say “sorry to bother you” and don’t remind people that their compliance is required by the government. (25 min)
+ This continues the conversation from #137.
I’m A Life Coach, You’re A Life Coach: The Rise Of An Unregulated Industry
I believe in the power of coaching. After all, I’ve worked with teachers as an instructional coach for 10+ years. But this article reveals the dark underbelly of parts (not all!) of the coaching industry – namely, that it’s a bit of the Wild West right now, with no code of ethics or oversight board, and if you’re a charismatic blowhard, like Brooke Castillo, founder of The Life Coach School, you can gain a cult-like following that makes you millions and hangs on your every word. “I want her,” one student said. “I want the real thing.” (21 min)
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