Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA/Bridgeman Images

William Faulkner wrote one of fiction’s great lines about the unshakable presence of history. “The past is never dead,” an attorney tells a client in Requiem for a Nun. “It’s not even past.” A new project by Edward Ayers seeks to underscore the point.

The project, called Bunk (a tongue-in-cheek reference to Henry Ford’s quip that “history is more or less bunk”), is an ambitious effort to capture what Ayers calls “the past surging around us” as it unfolds. At, editors and students connect and curate “the ways that people of different backgrounds and purposes connect with the nation’s history,” wrote Ayers, who is Richmond’s president emeritus and Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities. The site launches in September.

One of those students is Nat Berry, ’20, whom Ayers approached after teaching him for a semester in a first-year seminar.

“It made no sense at all,” Berry said, smiling, of their initial conversation about Bunk. “I just trusted him.”

He signed on for a summer of reading news articles, blog posts, and other writing, and then creating metadata about them and tagging them for Bunk. Through work like this, the site reveals deep and sometimes surprising connections among current events and their antecedents. Berry mentioned how a flood of articles over Civil War statuary, for example, made him notice an important distinction between monuments and memorials.

Ayers’ intended audience is broad — “everyone,” he replied when asked — but he has especially in mind young people, who, he said, experience history as a textbook full of facts to memorize, not as a dynamic current around them.

Richmond, he said, is the right place to do this work.

“The fact is Richmond is doing the best work there is on this front,” he said. “We’re doing things you just can’t do anywhere else.”