Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences SW Center

Opinion: What the 1836 Project Leaves Out in Its Version of Texas History

Texas Monthly:

A popular joke in the Soviet Union went like this: “The future is certain. Only the past is unpredictable.” The quip poked fun at both the Communist party’s confidence that socialism would soon rule the world and the way that its leaders, such as Joseph Stalin, demanded frequent rewrites of history. Onetime allies of Stalin would be purged from the party and then airbrushed out of photos; after the execution of the head of the Soviet secret police, Lavrentiy Beria, his entry in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia was pasted over with extra information about the Bering Sea.

That old Soviet joke has a new resonance in Texas, where the Legislature has launched a fresh effort to airbrush the past. Last year, state lawmakers—including every Republican in both chambers—voted to pass a billestablishing a panel called the “1836 Project,” named after the year the Republic of Texas declared its independence from Mexico and intended to “promote patriotic education and increase awareness of the Texas values.” After the bill became law, Governor Greg Abbott appointed a nine-member 1836 Project Advisory Committee to publish a summary of the project’s work and author a Texas history pamphlet to be distributed to all Texans when they receive driver’s licenses. Due to be completed by September 1, 2022, the pamphlet, according to the law, must describe Texas’s “founding and foundational principles” and how they have stimulated “boundless prosperity across the state.”

The Legislature modeled the 1836 initiative on former president Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission, which, in the closing weeks of the Trump administration, published an overview of American history meant to serve as a road map for school curricula across the country. The American Historical Association, the country’s oldest and largest group of professional historians, dismissed the 1776 Commission’s report as relying on “falsehoods, inaccuracies, omissions, and misleading statements.” The backgrounds of the committee members of Texas’s 1836 Project, and a draft version of the pamphlet it plans to produce, indicate it will be similarly flawed. READ MORE