Howard Zinn is Dead

Howard Zinn died on Wednesday.

But first, he got very old and before that he inspired two or three generations of skeptics and questioners of history and society.


Of all the books I’ve ever given to people, A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present is the one I’ve given the most copies of to the most people. I’ve given it to history teachers and to people who seemed to have an interest in history but needed to know some things. I gave it to my daughter when she took her first serious history class and told her to carry it on top of her textbook so the teacher would see it and be afraid. If you have not read it you should. It is not the only Howard Zinn book you should read, but it is a good start.

I may have to get a new copy, I think I gave my only one away. Again.

Good bye Howard, and thanks for picking up the rug and scattering about all the crap that had been swept there.

Comments

  1. #1 jake
    January 29, 2010

    Does anybody know of any good debates over that book? I’ve never known much about Howard or his writings, but I have seen online that they have their share of critics. It’s a topic that has suddenly interested me since my baby-boomer parents came out as flaming tea-baggers and I like to know the arguments for and against before I get into the inevitable shout-fests.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    January 29, 2010

    First, I would ask where are the debates over the validity of similarly researched and documented histories such as those written by Daniel Bornstein. Let’s first hold the neoconservative and other historians up to some sort of standard … that being whatever they say that we dis not expect must be double or treble proven … then move on to holding Zinn to that standard. They did speak first, after all.

    In any event, I strongly urge that any opinion you form of the book should be based on … the book.

  3. #3 Trina
    January 29, 2010

    That book, by the way, is ranked numero 6 at Amazon.

  4. #4 Question Authority
    January 29, 2010

    Jake, I call bullshit. His share of critics on the internet? Your parents are teabaggers?

    I confidently predict you’ll be yowling the right wing line any moment now. You are a concern troll in concern troll’s clothing.

  5. #5 Pauline
    January 29, 2010

    I had a history teacher in high school who used Zinn’s “1492” as the textbook, and it was no less subject to critique than any other book he used in class. However, Zinn does tend to stand up to criticism better than most of the corporate histories usually concocted to nurture our students.

  6. #6 EMJ
    January 29, 2010

    Howard Zinn’s work has been a huge inspiration to me. Now that I’m entering the field as a professional historian I can see how much his work has changed the discipline. People now largely reject the “Big Man” approach that celebrates certain key figures rather than focusing on the social networks that shape historical events. Howard Zinn was one of the earliest proponents of this approach.

    The only major critique I ever encounter is that his work is too politicized (since he would make anti-war speeches or write a column for a liberal magazine). But I think this is largely a response by weak-kneed academics who bow to conservative flack. They don’t hedge over the work of Henry Kissinger who is about as politicized as they come. The only other major critiques that I’m aware of come from right-wing critics who object to the way he presents history. They don’t like hearing that the founding fathers were some of the richest men in America at the time and that they brought their class assumptions to how they wrote the Constitution. To the right-wing the Constitution is a holy document that can not be criticized (merely undermined).

    However, I think the main reason that some academics are challenged by Zinn’s work is because he so frequently takes liberals to task for hypocrisy. By showing that there has never really been two parties in this country it presents history of the United States the way we would see imperial Britain. The Whigs may have been critical of the Tories, but they still championed the colonialist policies in India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and China. Presenting the United States that way doesn’t make you popular, but few have been able to challenge Zinn’s scholarship.

  7. #7 Chris
    January 29, 2010

    Good bye H.Z., we’ll miss you.

  8. #8 bob
    January 29, 2010

    I have no idea how anyone can say anything bad about HZ’s books. They truly inspired at least one generation to question how history treated everyone.

    Too bad Zinn won’t be able to document these times. I often tell my people, in the not so distant future we will look back at this time in history and wonder how America became such an agressor nation and tortured so many other people. But now I also have an understanding of how we, Americans interred the Japanese, by seeing how we have behaved after 9/11.

  9. #9 Chris
    January 29, 2010

    The passing of a true icon. Too bad.

    Is there an obvious replacement on the horizon? Other than Jon Steward?

  10. #10 Cameron
    January 29, 2010

    How was Zinn’s book held by other historians?

  11. #11 jake
    January 29, 2010

    I agree with all of that Greg. I was just asking because I have the internet in front of me right now, and not the book and debates are a guilty pleasure of mine.

    Question Authority, simmer down now. You can do a search within scienceblogs for “posted by: jake” if you’re so inclined.

  12. #12 Vince
    January 29, 2010

    … and so the final edition of a great work has been written.

  13. #13 RyanR
    January 29, 2010

    I was sad to hear the news. I had an excellent teacher for US History back when I was in high school.We read out of the school board approved text, but supplemented that with reading assignments out of HZ’s A People’s History.

    I don’t know that any of the specific knowledge from that class is too predictable to my daily life now, but having been exposed to two sides of the same issue certainly has helped develop my skepticism.

    It is a shame that he will write no more.

  14. #14 ALex
    January 29, 2010

    Is there an obvious replacement on the horizon? Other than Jon Steward?

    I’m sure that’s a typo, but it’d make a beautiful eggcorn.

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    January 29, 2010

    Not a typo, just plain old ignorance. I hear about this guy but I don’t have that sort of TV service so it is all a mystery to me. I hear it is where people get their news today.

  16. #16 MPL
    January 30, 2010

    My first intro to Zinn was People’s History, as a high school text as well. It would be silly to claim that any author was perfect, but even better than perfect, Zinn was a valuable voice in the discussion of history.

    It’s still amazing that John Silber ever let him get hired at BU.

  17. #17 toto
    January 30, 2010

    There’s a great discussion about the book (and the man) over at Matt Yglesias’ blog:

    http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2010/01/a-peoples-history-of-the-united-states.php

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