History Professor Argues ‘1836 Project’ Promotes A ‘Two-Dimensional Cartoon’ Telling Of Texas History

HB 2497 would create a public history program using Texas’ founding in 1836 as the focal point for its story of a state of rugged individualists.

By Michael Marks & Caroline CovingtonMay 20, 2021 11:31 am, ,

A bill in the Texas Legislature, dubbed the “1836 Project,” would promote a more patriotic telling of the state’s history and promote so-called Texas values.

University of Houston history professor Raúl Ramos says HB 2497 forms a committee to promote a more narrow look at Texas’ past – particularly the events around Texas’ founding in 1836 – when, in reality, Texas’ history is one full of successes and failures.

“The way this is being presented is a kind of two-dimensional cartoon of the Old West,” Ramos told Texas Standard.

Ramos wrote an opinion article for the Houston Chronicle explaining his misgivings about the idea.

One of his concerns is that the content of the 1836 Project would be decided by a committee of people appointed by three elected officials, not historians.

He also says 1836 is just one snapshot of Texas’ complex history. 1821 is arguably just as significant, he says.

“A time when Anglo Americans are first coming to Texas; where Mexicans are becoming independent from Spain; where Indigenous people are signing treaties with the Mexican government,” Ramos said. “Certainly picking 1836 is noteworthy, but I think what it ends up doing is obscuring more of the broad connections of the state and focusing on just one particular aspect of that history.”

If HB 2497 passes, it would change how Texas history is told to the general public, but would not alter public school history curricula.

The 1836 Project harks back to similar efforts by the Texas Centennial Commission in 1935 to promote a Texas mythos of rugged individualism – an idea that has undoubtedly taken root in the state. But Ramos says an incomplete telling of Texas history can have negative consequences.

“It’s basically another version of of this idea that Manifest Destiny saved the continent, when, in fact, it came at a great price,” he said.

This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the bill for the 1836 Project doesn’t explicitly involve the Texas Historical Commission. Rather, it would be its own committee of nine people who are appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House.

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