10 January 2009

Common Ground On Howard Zinn

"There are pages and pages of [Google search] results that include professors and AP teachers who include the book [Zinn's book] in their syllabi. The results cover a wide range of subjects from history to political science to anthropology and span a significant number of years." ~ Kevin Levin

Which was my main point all along - that Zinn's book is influential and widely used. Kevin goes on in his lengthy post to explain that he uses it with a critical eye and suggests to his readers that is probably what others are doing.

I seriously doubt that, though I'm sure that is the case with some. And I do appreciate the fact that Kevin, along with others who have weighed in, acknowledge that Zinn's book is poor history. So let me attempt to cut through all the back and forth and some of the misunderstanding, some which I likely, though not intentionally, contributed to:

  • All who have weighed in seem to agree that Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States is politically motivated from a hard left perspective. It would be hard to deny that since Zinn himself proudly proclaims it.
  • The initial (though incomplete) evidence appears to indicate that Zinn's book is popular and widely used, though most academics involved in this discussion never had it assigned.
  • I do not believe, as Ken Noe suggests, that the "majority of academics are commies." I do believe, however, that there is a pervasive leftist culture in much of academia. How anyone can argue different than that is beyond me. That does not mean that all professors are pinko commie-libs. Logic would suggest, nonetheless, that Zinn's perspective would more likely find favor in these institutions than would a more traditional approach to interpretation.
  • I agree with Kevin Levin that Zinn's book could be used to instruct students comparing left/right interpretations of history, though Zinn's book is certainly an extreme example. As a matter of fact, I think that is a good idea, as long as Zinn's self-proclaimed leftist radicalism is made clear to students.
The sticking point seems to have boiled down to how the book is primarily being used and viewed by those teaching in the classroom. I instinctively believe its being used because its perspective is favored. Others, like Kevin, seem to believe it's being used in a comparative way.

Unless conclusive evidence can be presented, we will have to agree to disagree.

As soon as I get a reply from the publisher, I will post on it. I will also post something later which further indicates Zinn's influence.

**Update: I know most of my readers have enough sense to ignore the totally idiotic comments on other blogs about me being close to wanting to "burn books", and wanting to "exclude information." Those making such comments are ignorant and diminish what credibility they hoped to have.


Kevin said...

Thanks for the summary Richard. My only slight disagreement is that I don't believe the Google search tells us much of anything in terms of the book's frequency of use. No doubt I could search for any number of radical texts on both the right and left and end up with similar results.

I eagerly await the publisher's response.

Kevin at Civil War Memory

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"I don't believe the Google search tells us much of anything in terms of the book's frequency of use."

True, but with so many listing the book, I would have to conclude its use is pervasive.

I too am anxious to hear what the publisher has to say, though I don't know if it will settle the matter.

Ken Noe said...

About a year ago, a very popular conservative web author told a gathering at my university that "all your professors are Communists." I was already receiving e-mails of his columns from a relative who was perhaps worried about me! In the remark you quote, I suspect I was responding to that silly guy rather than you. I'll continue to believe that evidence so far does not in fact support your conclusion, but there's probably no point in belaboring it. Perhaps another time we can discuss those things we seem to hold in common: a love of Virginia, interest in the Civil War, Christian faith.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"Perhaps another time we can discuss those things we seem to hold in common: a love of Virginia, interest in the Civil War, Christian faith."


I'm sure I would thoroughly enjoy that discussion and would consider it an honor.