29 September 2009

Perhaps A Retraction Will Be Forthcoming

**Update: Kevin Levin's follow up comments reveal his lack of credibility, unable to admit his error. He even contradicts himself below. Anyone surprised?

"Richard Williams chimed in with his usual sweeping generalizations concerning Zinn's supposed popularity among liberal professors even though he could never demonstrate its widespread use on the high school or college level." ~ Kevin Levin 9/29/09

Wrong. Perhaps Kevin missed my demonstrations. From previous posts on this blog:
(Original post date 1/9/09)

**Update: Chris Wehner very ably comes to my defense. Will The Deniers of Zinn admit they just might be wrong about Zinn's book and its use and influence?

The following quote was pulled from a review of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States over on HNN. It's a little dated, but relevant. Hopefully, it will also provide some remedial therapy for those who doubt the popular use of Zinn's book and its influence. Words in red are those of the reviewer:

Courses at the University of Colorado-Boulder, UMass-Amherst, Penn State, and Indiana University are among dozens of classes nationwide that require the book. The book is so popular that it can be found on the class syllabus in such fields as economics, political science, literature, and women’s studies, in addition to its more understandable inclusion in history. Amazon.com reports in the site’s “popular in” section that the book is currently #7 at Emory University, #4 at the University of New Mexico, #9 at Brown University, and #7 at the University of Washington. In fact, 16 of the 40 locations listed in A People’s History’s “popular in” section are academic institutions, with the remainder of the list dominated by college towns like Binghamton (NY), State College (PA), East Lansing (MI), and Athens (GA). Based on this, it is reasonable to wonder if most of the million or so copies sold have been done so via coercion, i.e., college professors and high school teachers requiring the book. The book is deemed to be so crucial to the development of young minds by some academics that a course at Evergreen State decreed: “This is an advanced class and all students should have read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States before the first day of class, to give us a common background to begin the class.”

And then there's this:
The anniversary volume of A People’s History of the United States comes with an encomium from one of the academic profession’s most honored figures, Eric Foner the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia College. A former president of the American Historical Assocation, Foner reviewed Zinn’s book for the New York Times. A quote from Foner’s review is featured on the cover of the anniversary edition: “Historians may well view it,” writes Foner, “as a step toward a coherent new vision of American history.” This makes a kind of sense because Foner himself is an unreconstructed leftist, whose judgments are evidently colored by his “social aims” as well.

You can read the rest of the review here.

And . . .
(Original post date 1/10/09)

**"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.


Ghost said...

"Your anti-intellectualism shines through in your zealous attacks against academics whose books you do not read."

"I am not interested in your narrow and meaningless characterizations of people who spend a great deal of time thinking and writing about intellectual topics"

KL is confusing intellectualism with elitism.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...