Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Huge Loss

About a week ago, on January 27, to be precise, historian and activist Howard Zinn died. He was 87 years old. His death is a huge loss to the progressive cause in America, to the history profession, and to everybody who cherishes a true rendering of our nation's history. I first heard of Howard Zinn when I was in graduate school. He was lumped in with a group of historians that their fellow academic historians dubbed the "New Left School." Although books have been written about these guys--principally Zinn, Straughton Lynd, Gabriel Kolko, and William Appleman Williams--I will only expend a few words of huge generalization. The New Left School grew out of the turmoil of the 1960s. Generally, very generally, it concerned itself with class conflict in U.S. history, and it was unabashedly sympathetic to the lower orders. Many practitioners of this persuasion wrote history "from the bottom up," focusing on the sins of the capitalists, militarists, and the struggles of the oppressed people in American society. There was no lack of them: slaves, immigrants, Indians, et al.

But I digress. Like many others, I got to know Howard Zinn through his wonderful book, A People's History of the United States. Suffice it to say that this volume turns the conventional rendering of U.S. history on its head. Everybody in this country who cares about it should read Zinn's book. You cannot possibly come away from it unaffected. It's easy to read the book. You can start now. It's online, at the URL above. After APHOUS, I watched Zinn every time he was on TV, and I rented movies about him. Zinn is one of my heroes. He's had a profound influence on my professional development, and he's been an inspiration to me in so many ways. I will miss him. RIP.
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