A Peoples History of the United States by Howard Zinn has often been required reading in college history programs. Whether you have to read the book for school or just want to learn about other perspectives on history, Zinn applies a unique lens to what you may think are well-known historical trends.
Read on to learn the perspective that Howard Zinn, a known political scientist, historian, and Socialist, applies to American history. Therefore, A People’s History represents more than relearning the same facts that schools have always taught you. Instead, the book offers a new perspective that may (or may not) change your own. The important thing is to read it and give its reasoning the chance it deserves.
What is A People’s History?
History tells us what happened in our nation’s past. However, one important question rarely asked is: where does this information come from? Who decides the moral perspective that history will take?
The short answer is “no one.” History forms and changes based on prevailing attitudes. These attitudes, however, do not always reflect the majority of people living in a country. Sometimes, the moral attitudes that define and describe history reflect a smaller portion of the population. This is where Howard Zinn comes in with his book.
According to Zinn, history can be manipulated and exploited by a rigged system that favors a nation’s elite. The main political parties fight for power over history while the majority of the people’s voices go unheard.
One example of Zinn’s theory in practice would be the history of Native Americans in this country. For many decades, their history favored the nationalistic attitude that moving and displacing them was a simple or inevitable act. However, as time has gone by, we have reassessed the narrative of history makers to include the perspective and plight of the Native Americans themselves in the context of what actually happened to them.
This, according to Zinn, would be an example of giving history back to the people. This is what his book intends to do on an educational level.
Counterarguments for A Peoples History
While a more accurate or inclusive perspective of history seems perfectly right to have, Zinn takes the argument to an extreme that not all readers will agree with. He suggests that every system of politics and business in the non-Socialist society serves to undermine and underrepresent minorities and other underprivileged classes.
He does not, however, account for what Michael Kazin calls the “allure” of American society to the very people Zinn argues become disenfranchised by it. In other words, A People’s History may not provide a complete picture of the relationship between the elite and the working class in America, if minorities, workers, and immigrants continue to desire to live in that system and continue to benefit from it.
The Takeaway for Students of History
A Peoples History may not be an easy read, but it doesn’t pretend to be. It argues for a renewed perspective of common history that favors workers and minorities over elite politicians and industrialists. How far you are willing to take this reassessment involves how much you connect with Zinn’s evidence when compared to your own beliefs. Reading the book and deciding for yourself is the best thing you can do to decide.