Friday, January 29, 2010

Howard Zinn's Other Perspective.

The death of J.D. Salinger, writer of "The Catcher in the Rye" made the headlines this week. Justifiably so - his work has greatly contributed to American literature and it has now become a classic - especially for teachers of English throughout the world. It is taught in France and has been on the syllabus of many English exams (such as the Baccalauréat or the Agrégation).

However, the death of another great man - Howard Zinn a few days ago has been largely ignored by the mass media. This should be no surprise, I suppose - Zinn may have been too radical for mainstream America. For years, I thought he was too radical for me too and frankly, there were other priorities on my reading list. But then, last summer I was given his huge "A People's History of the United-States" as a present and so I finally read it.... and loved it.

His goal of course was to present the history of the United-States from the perspective of the oppressed - the Indians, the blacks, women, or working people. Zinn does not claim objectivity. In fact, he embraces subjectivity and a political view of history based on class-conflict.
Whether one shares his view (I don't always ) his work must be read and studied by anyone who wants a well rounded American history education. His work not only offers a different perspective but it gives you an alternative view to the general consensus taught in school. It challenges one's certainties and intellect and that's always good But it should not be read alone but only as a supplement to regular history.

Interestingly, Zinn is probably the last historian who lived through the depression, and WWII - both events seemed to have a great impact on his academic choices. (incidently, he participated on the bombing of Royan, which killed more than 1000 French civilians and leveled the city.)
His (many) critics miss the point when they accuse him of partiality. He claims nothing else. They are also wrong when they accuse him of cynicism and pessimism. As you can read here, Zinn was actually an optimist.
His recent interview on Bill Moyers last month may have very well be his last one.

I wonder if France will ever have her own "A People's History"..... or does it? (Of course, a radical leftist perspective would be much less iconoclastic in France....)

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