Howard Zinn, revisionist historian and professor, passed away today at the age of 87. Zinn was a hugely influential figure in the civil rights, communist, civil liberties and anti-war activist community.
I’m sure every media outlet in the Western world will be producing their own obituaries. I won’t attempt to replicate their work. I’ll include a link to the New York Times obit below. Instead, I’d like to reflect on Zinn’s seminal work. One which influenced my life, my education and my widened my political perspective.
As much of a cliché as it is (and as much as I loathe repeating it) history is written by the victors. For Zinn, the accepted view of American history simply wasn’t enough. It wasn’t so much that he disbelieved the official version as much as he recognized that it was incomplete. He believed that school textbooks presented a true, albeit limited chronicle of historical events. In 1980 he set out to remedy this situation. The result was A People’s History of the United States, one of the most influential historical texts of the latter 20th Century.
Zinn gave voice to many peoples who had been ignored or forgotten. A large part of the book deals with the Native American struggle against European colonizers, but Zinn also included the perspectives of slaves, union organizers, draft dodgers, civil rights leaders and suffragette activists. Few other historians had the compassion to illuminate the lives of those who fought back against oppression – and often lost.
Zinn’s passing leaves multitudes of oppressed peoples without a champion. I sincerely hope this loss will encourage others to not only read A People’s History but to remember the lives of those history would have otherwise forgotten.
Zinn’s New York Times obituary:
Zinn’s own site:
*The above photo credited to Associated Press.