Farewell to People's Historian Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn, author of the monumental work, A People’s History of the United States, which revolutionized the way textbooks present historical research, died last week, on January 27, 2010, of heart failure. He was 87.

Zinn authored more than 20 books, but it was his bestseller A People’s History of the United States, which he is best known. The book was first published in 1980 with a first run of just 5,000 copies. Told from the perspective of American women, Native Americans and workers, the book provides a view of American history starting with the arrival of Columbus to Clinton’s first term, where the heroes are not the Founding Fathers, but rather farmers and union organizers. Zinn established the principle that true historical narrative must include genuine reporting of indigenous experience and a more multifaceted factual accounting of events.
Zinn’s contribution to critical analysis and historical research is incalculable. He challenged the view that all historical “victories” were just and reminded readers that there are facts that complicate all histories. Zinn saw too much of history obscured by the narrative of powerful men dictating policy and identity, a picture at odds with the true lived history of the nation.

Zinn grew up in an immigrant, working-class family in Brooklyn. He fought in WWII as a bombardier. This experience shaped his opposition to war, and on his return he received a bachelor’s degree from NYU, followed by a master’s and a doctoral in History from Columbia University. Zinn was an active figure in the civil rights movement, leading antiwar protests, receiving a host of honors, most recently the 2010 Martin Luther King Jr Humanitarian Award from NYU for embodying “a vision of peace, persistence in purpose, and inspirational action”.

The title of his memoir, best describes his personal philosophy: “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.”


Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train

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