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Units November 8, 2021

Public History and The 1619 Project

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Lesson Summary: Through the study of primary source documents as well as the experiential learning in the community garden, students will be asked to reimagine how stories about slavery are told. Downloads: Full public history and the 1619 project unit
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This mini-unit was created by Professors from the Community Education Project program, part of the 2021 cohort of The 1619 Project Education Network. The unit was developed for a longer food science course that includes a community garden, contains three lessons for class sessions that are two hours in length. Community Education Project is a multidisciplinary college in prison program committed to offering quality liberal arts education and learning opportunities in Florida prisons.

Program Outcomes

  • Understand the political nature of historical narratives, and more specifically, local public history 
  • Develop innovative ways to connect classroom learning in the community garden to the broader community 
  • Interrogate agricultural production and consumption under slavery and its historical relationship to the contemporary prison system

Course Objectives

  • To develop an understanding of key themes and patterns in histories of slavery
  • Consider how local histories of slavery have been represented in public history  
  • Develop techniques, practices, and skills to think and write historically
  • Utilize creative writing and food as tools for self-representation and empowerment
  • Analyze systems of oppression in the food systems through community engaged work

Unit Overview

The central themes explored in these lessons concern public history and slavery. In her introductory essay to The 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones explores the mythologized past of the United States – arguing that freedom and democracy were never built into the fabric of the nation for Black people, but were only gained unevenly over time through resistance and struggle. In these lessons, students will interrogate how local histories of slavery in East Florida are commemorated at former plantations. Students are asked to consider whose stories are told, which histories are missing, and why this is the case. We encourage students to be actively engaged in addressing silences in the public record as well as the archive. 

A key component to these lesson plans will be a community garden or what we refer to as a “learning landscape,” which will allow students to make direct connections to the past by growing two key crops in our region: indigo and sugar cane. Through the study of primary source documents as well as the experiential learning in the community garden, students will be asked to reimagine how stories about slavery are told. As this project takes place in a state prison, we will also be making explicit reference to the long historical legacies of chattel slavery and the modern carceral system.

Performance Task

There will be three main lessons connected to The 1619 Project. Each lesson will culminate in a short essay responses, creative writing, or public history pieces designed by participants to share with members of our community. We will draw from various essays and creative pieces made available through The 1619 Project, including, Reginald Dwayne Betts’ “The Slavery Act 1793,” Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s “Sugar,” Nikole Hannah-Jones’ "The Idea of America," and Bryan Stevenson’s “Mass Incarceration.” 


After comparing public histories of former sugar plantations in East Florida to the Whitney Sugar Plantation Museum in Louisiana, students will begin to write brief accounts of sugar and indigo production to be shared with our community. Students will be asked to focus on the following two questions: How do we write public histories that center the lives of enslaved and formerly enslaved persons? How do we make this writing and narrative storytelling compelling? Over the course of several weeks, students will grow indigo harvested from a local plantation as well as sugar cane. The unit will conclude with students sharing their writings, indigo seed, and sugar cane stalks with the community.

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