Elementor #529

The 1619 (Digital Discourse) Project


Dismantling racial inequalities and constructing educational possibilities requires standing up for the language of historical truth. In the summer of 2023, the state of Florida made headlines for its revised history curriculum including the ahistorical claim that enslavement taught ancestral Black Americans useful skills. In this paper, we investigate the discourses of teaching and representing the history of slavery in the United States, especially in relation to the discourse surrounding the 1619 Project. Using systemic functional linguistics and data modeling, we examine the digital discourse — e.g., online journalism, blog posts, and social media posts including Tik Toks and Instagram posts — composed in response to the three central texts of the 1619 Project: 

  1. The New York Times Magazine’s “1619 Project” issue
  2. The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story: a book of essays that expands on the magazine’s special issue, “weaving together eighteen essays that explore the legacy of slavery in present-day America with thirty-six poems and works of fiction that illuminate key moments of oppression, struggle, and resistance” (1619books.com)
  3. The 1619 Project: Born on the Water: a picture book by Nikole Hannah-Jones, Renée Watson, Nikkolas Smith


Often, public discourse that discusses (and denies) the impact of enslavement involves strong emotion. Appraisal analyses are concerned with evaluating the kinds of feelings that are negotiated by speakers, the strength of the feelings that are being negotiated, the intertexts from which feelings are derived, and how listeners and readers are aligned through language (Martin & Rose, 2003: 26). Appraisal analyses highlight the amount of speaker or writer engagement towards a topic, the interactants’ feelings about the topic, and the participants involved. Appraisal analyses also evaluate the degree or gradation of the attitudes and engagement present in spoken or written text. Speakers and writers “use the resources of appraisal for negotiating our social relationships, by telling our listeners or readers how we feel about things and people” (Martin & Rose, 2003: 22).


SFL Results

In the first phase of the project (2022), we focused on digital responses to these three texts in particular based on our interest in researching the role of the 1619 Project in K-16 education. As we delved into the discourse, we sought to trace leitmotifs of imagined slavery — recurring themes in the discourse surrounding the 1619 Project’s central texts. We aim to discover: 

  1. What words, phrases, and imagery do the authors of online book reviews, blog posts, social media posts, etc. employ in their responses to the texts of the 1619 Project? 

  2. What feelings, judgments, and values do the authors/content creators express in response to the texts?

Our team searched online for sources written in response to the 1619 Project texts and identify representative quotations from the sources that express Affect, Judgment, and Evaluation-Worth/Values. The corpus of selected sources and quotations is meant to be representative of our findings as opposed to comprehensive.

Corpus Analysis Results

To conduct large-scale analysis of the public discourse surrounding the 1619 project, we needed to construct a corpus of the public discourse surrounding the project. To do so, we scraped the top 10 articles that mentioned “1619 Project” every week between the article’s first publication and April 4th, 2023.

Each scraped article contains associated metadata, title, author, description provided by publisher, link, hero image, authors, associated movies, and publisher provided keywords.

Left-leaning publications publish about the 1619 project more

The chart below shows text length by publication bias, but, more importantly, it shows how much more left-leaning publications discuss the 1619 project. This is interesting from a public discourse perspective for several reasons.

The imbalanced dataset also has consequences for continued work. All subsequent analyses will be based on normed percentages.

Left-leaning publications are slightly more positive

The chart below shows article polarity by publication bias after imbalances in the underlying data have been accounted for. A 1 on the x-axis would be a completely positive article; a -1 completely negative. While, on average, all articles are relatively neutral to slightly positive, right-leaning publications more frequently give the project slightly negative coverage. 

This analysis included all articles, even though the majority of publications are relatively centrist (although they were bifurcated left or right). Subsequent analyses without centrist articles may be more revealing.

Right-leaning articles are generally shorter

The chart below shows article length by publication bias after imbalances in the underlying data have been accounted for. In general, right-leaning articles are generally shorter. This could be indicative of a disparity for right-leaning publishers to engage deeply with the material on average. Publications on both sides of the aisle both exhibit a long tail; demonstrating that long form articles that do deeply engage are present on both sides.

Right-leaning articles focus on the NYT. Left, on NHJ.

The chart below shows the frequency of named-entity types by publication bias after imbalances in the underlying data have been accounted for. While this chart reveals many interesting differences based on publication bias, the most prominent difference is that right-leaning articles most frequently mention “ORG” or organizations, which in practice means referencing the project as a NYT publication. Meanwhile, left-leaning publications are more likely to reference the author of the work than the organization that first published it.

Left-leaning articles most commonly focus on contemporary issues. Right, on historical topics.

The analysis below is the result of Latent Dirichlet Allocation on the vectorized corpus. It shows the most common topics in the underlying corpus. From the most common set of topics, it is clear that left-leaning publications are likely to frame their discourse on the 1619 project in terms of contemporary impact, referencing president Trump. Meanwhile, right-leaning publications are likely to focus on the historical aspects of the project such as the mayflower, the pilgrims, and the year 1619. 

Topics for ‘D’ Bias:

Topic #1:
trump advertisement president article american comment new gift story state

Topic #2:
said advertisement people like just story says time police going

Topic #3:
project jones hannah 1619 black times said new university slavery

Topic #4:
people black slavery white history new american african america enslaved

Topic #5:
history said school american schools education race project students state
Topics for ‘R’ Bias:


Topic #1:
mayflower times new project american pilgrims 1619 america hannah jones
Topic #2:
project 1619 jones hannah history slavery american times new america
Topic #3:
school people america choice lincoln said 1619 new government trump
Topic #4:
history education school race critical slavery theory said schools students
Topic #5:
times new ochs biden york years family government paper left

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