The 500-year project

In the past few months I have, I confess, fallen very seriously off the writing wagon atop which, back in 2019, I had vowed to ride into the future.  My only defense is that I keep getting carried away by other kinds of broadly educational projects that seem at the time to be both urgent and relatively easy to implement. Thus, the four different series of webinars that I organized at Just World Ed, as described here. And thus, too, the decision I took back in July/August to have my company Just World Books bring out a N. American edition of this book that profiles four South African women who were unsung hero/leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle.

I took that latter decision in contravention of a vow I’d taken back in 2017 to swear off having JWB put out any new titles “for the foreseeable future,” since book-publishing had eaten up ways too much of my attention, intellectual energy, and our family finances since I’d gotten into it in 2010. My thinking this summer was along the lines of: “Well, it’s not really a completely new title, since it’s just a slightly revamped edition of a book previously edited and published by its initial South African publisher… ” H’mmm. Well, yes. But it did still require a huge amount of attention and intellectual energy and a non-trivial amount of finances to get it to the point where it is now set to release to the public on February 1. That experience served the useful purpose of reminding me very starkly why I had taken that earlier swear-off-publishing (of new titles) decision in the first place and has caused me to recommit to it. The only other significant publishing project I’m committed to in 2021 will be to bring out a Third Edition of the (now-classic) Gaza Kitchen cookbook, in June.

So what, you may ask, is the 500-year project referred to in the title of this blog-post? It could refer to one of two things. The first was a big part of the intention I had when I first launched Just World Books, back in late spring of 2010. Namely, to commit to paper, and to bound volumes of printed paper, some of the considerable wisdom I’d seen sliding all over the ether in the form of great blog posts. I was genuinely concerned then– and remain concerned today– that in the event of a major electro-magnetic event, all that wisdom would be lost. Poof! Whereas books, I have long felt, can last for a very long time indeed. I’m a big lover of musty old library stacks and the serendipitous discoveries one can make therein.

So yes, let’s hope that some of those books that I spent so much of my time, energy, and finances publishing might last for 500 years or more! (Will people still be reading English then? Will the libraries that I know and love in the English-speaking world still exist?)

But no. The 500-year project I am currently contemplating will be a look back, not forward, and is the general organizing theme of my next big writing project– namely, to take a 500-year-plus look back at this whole period of human history in which the “White”, European-heritaged peoples came to dominate the whole world order.

In this short JWN post back in early October, I limned out some of the intellectual inquiries I had been following up to that point: mainly, an attempt to (re-)center the history of European capitalism on the story how it had emerged from (and been funded and organized by) the massive, totally slavery-dependent operations of British, French, Spanish, and other European-run sugar plantations in the West Indies. I still want to write about that. But I’ve also been looking at the specific “USA” subset of the story of “White” domination of the world… I have a lot to write about.

The experience of time

One thing I’ve been thinking quite a lot about when pondering this project is how slippery our concept of time can sometimes be. (An appropriate preoccupation as one calendar year comes to an end.) This past year, I traversed the stage of racking up 2/3 of a century of life. Of course, when I was a child– and perhaps even up to the age of about 40?– I would have classified a person of 67 or 68 as being quite simply “old”. My maternal grandmother Blanche nee Williams was born in 1888; and growing up in England in the 1950s and 1960s and visiting her periodically, of course I knew that she was old. I could barely imagine that the year 1888 would have had anything to do with me: that was “the olden days.” So in 2008 my oldest grandchild Matilda was born. Four generations spanning 120 years. I have several vivid memories of spending time with my grandmother Blanche, and now of course I have many vivid memories of spending time with Matilda. A 120-year time span doesn’t seem so long now. It seems  comprehensible, contextualizable, graspable.

Well, 500 years is just (more or less) four spans of 120 years. So that is, more or less, a time-span I feel comfortable diving into. Be warned!

Here is my first quick foray into this project…