Zinn, in case you’re not familiar, was the author of A People’s History of the United States, a book he described to the New YorkTimesas a “history from the perspective of the slaughtered and mutilated.” It was, and still is, a controversial book, both as a work of history and as a work embodying a particular kind of radical approach to confronting injustice. But it’s a bestseller, hugely influential, and still used often in the classroom. Zinn died in 2010, while Daniels was in office. According to the Associated Press, here’s how Daniels marked his passing in an email:
“This terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away…The obits and commentaries mentioned his book, ‘A People’s History of the United States,’ is the ‘textbook of choice in high schools and colleges around the country.’ It is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page. Can someone assure me that it is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?”
Howard Zinn would have turned 90 this Friday if his seemingly boundless energy and youthfulness had not been cut short in January 2010.
It’s worth remembering that A People’s History of the United States first came out in 1980 as a tide of reaction was seeking to bury the social movements that inspired Howard’s book and which he saw as the hope for the future.
Howard challenged these ideas in a terrific speech he gave in 1970: “If you don’t think, if you just listen to TV and read scholarly things, you actually begin to think that things are not so bad, or that just little things are wrong. But you have to get a little detached, and then come back and look at the world, and you are horrified. So we have to start from that supposition—that things are really topsy-turvy.”
Howard had that rare ability to step back and help us understand our topsy-turvy world primarily because he approached politics and history from the standpoint of someone who thought it was possible to turn our world right side up — to put people before profit, the environment before the interests of mining companies.
Actor Wallace Shawn reads the speech of historian Howard Zinn given at Johns Hopkins University on Civil Disobedience, November 1970. Part of a reading from Voices of a People’s History of the United States (Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove) May 2, 2007 in New York, NY.