Luther hosts “The 1619 Project: Essays and Controversies”


Lifelong Learner Seminars class discussion on The 1619 Project. Photo by Lydia Marti (‘26).

On Wednesday, September 28, members of the Luther community gathered to hear Professor Emerita Ruth L. Caldwell and Professor Emeritus Paul J. Gardner speak in the Loyalty Hall Board Room. Both Caldwell and Gardner were excited to engage with their students and the texts themselves, as well as to continue the tradition of the Lifelong Learner Seminars.

“My goal for these seminars is that people will renew or continue their interest in education,” Caldwell said. “And if they have the chance, support teachers working to build this [discussion of slavery as a central element of history] into their curriculum.”

 Lifelong Learner Seminars have been a part of Luther College for years. Former teachers, professors, graduates, and current community members alike come to spend a few hours discussing a piece of literature or a contemporary topic. The seminars give attendees a way to engage in discussions regarding current issues and to reconnect with other Luther alumni. “The 1619 Project”, the subject of this particular seminar, has been a topic of discussion all across the country, especially in academic settings. This text attempts to redefine U.S. history through a perspective of Black Americans. The initiative adjusts the beginning date of U.S. history to 1619, when the first ship of enslaved people arrived on the current American land. 

Luther College alumni Ellen Wilke (‘84) has attended these Lifelong Learner Seminars before, and really enjoyed this particular lecture because she was interested in the topic.

“While I have only lived in Decorah for three years, I worked in Des Moines where I did a lot of work in attempts to [reduce] urban poverty and analyze [economic inequality],” Wilke said. “This was right in line with my [interests].” 

The Lifelong Learner Seminars come in four sessions, often centering around books. The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones is the current piece. Gardner acknowledges that the book presents a direct interpretation the history of the country and recognizes that Jones doesn’t shy away from viewing American history through the consequences of slavery.

 “This book comes at the perspective of putting slavery at the center [of history],”  Gardner said. “I think this viewpoint is very important in analyzing all we have experienced throughout our own lives.”

While the seminars have consistently been well attended, Caldwell and Gardner welcome new faces and perspectives. The series is designed to engage the community with issues outside Luther and Decorah. Simpson College Professor of English Nancy St. Clair will be teaching The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck for the next part of the Lifelong Learner Seminars. Anyone interested in joining in the next sessions can purchase the text in the Luther College Book shop.