Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States

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A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn sheds a different light on historical events that are often misinterpreted in the classroom when learning of America’s past. Zinn used his writings to inform and educate readers on specific details and hidden truths that are quite often brushed over while including subtle opinions on these harsh topics.

Howard Zinn takes a clear side when it comes to talking about Christopher Columbus’s past and how he is often mistaken as America’s hero when in reality Zinn breaks down a lot of his darker experiences where he is not seen as the heroic man perceived in many’s eyes. Zinn also talks a lot about the many struggles of social class and racism that was experienced by many in previous times. Howard likes to contradict different issues that are big learning points in US history classes today which gives readers and students a chance to hear from a different point of view, along with facts to back it up.

History today is a very dicey subject when it comes to the harsh times such as racism, slavery, & discriminations because unfortunately today some variations of those terrible things still do exist. Depending on people’s race and social class today can majorly influence the way that one can view history and the events that occured.

Nowadays a wealthy white man with a higher status might view slavery different than a black man or woman who is not as privileged and has ties and ancestors to slavery and the trade. Another example being, a Native American’s viewpoint of the whites is very different from what the common white person would view the Indian as due to the common fights and wars over possessions and land. Due to these opinions off of personal race and social class these views continue to be passed down generations and because of bias and opinions this chain continues to cycle through.

“As soon as I arrived in the Indies… I took some of the natives by force… that they might give me information of whatever is in these parts” (Zinn ch 1 pg 3), the words of Columbus make it seem as if he is using the Indians as aid for his exploration in that in capturing the Indians he is going to discover more about the findings he came across in order to better his knowledge of foreign items. However, the Indians had no other choice but to be held captive by Columbus but from the following quote the reader would have no clue as to how the Indians felt by having no agency in their own homeland.

Racism is another huge topic that Howard Zinn often brings up and continues to show a different perspective on and often brings in a mass amount of information that strongly guides his opinion through facts. Zinn goes on to explain how if you were a white colonist you knew that your technology was far superior to the Indians, and you knew that they were savages and you were not. Although the Indians lived better than the whites did with less labor and work than the whites displayed (Zinn ch 2 pg 2). In chapter 2 Howard goes on to tell the issues with mainly Indians and whites and the struggles both groups of people went through all because they were different races and apart of different social classes.

Chapter 3 commonly brings up the struggles of the poor whites and Indians against the rich white colonists. Many times colonist committees would target the lower class whites and Indians and began to turn others against those people just because of their social status compared to the “high and mighty” colonists. “Popular resentment against the rich and frontier hatred of the Indians” (Zinn ch 3 pg 2), here just the unchangeable factor of the Indian race caused hatred from upper class white men, simply because these native people were not white which deemed them inferior.

Zinn has strong feelings towards teachers and influencers sharing their opinion in class about the material being taught because “all history is subjective” in Zinn’s eyes. In a high school AP history course I think that it is appropriate for teachers to share subtle opinions in class on the content being taught and discussed every once in a while. I think it would be good for the students to hear a well respected opinion rather than just textbook facts. Yes, teachers opinions could be very strong and debatable but as high schoolers, kids should be able to think for themselves and develop their own opinions based on personal experience, outside influence, facts, and others opinions too. In general I think that teachers influence and opinions would be overall beneficial in class.

The Pequot War is one that is very controversial amongst a handful of historians that believe to see different sides of this conflict. Specifically Flynn and Zinn have strong opinions against each other concerning the events of the Pequot War. Flynn believes that the Pequot Indians took a great deal in the violence and struggles leading up to the war, whereas Zinn likes to put the blame on the white Puritans and settlers oppressing the Indians. In an article found on Gale titled “Pequot War” by George Dutcher it goes on to explain a summary of the Pequot War.

After reading all 3 sources Flynn and Dutchers “version” of the Pequot War are the most similar to each other, in sense that you could see that both sides (the Indians and whites) were both at fault for the mass violence and deaths whereas Zinn in a sense was trying to cover up for the Indians as if they did not wrong and were oppressed for nothing. Both Flynn and Dutcher brought up points about the Pequots killing a white settler first and also the fact that the Pequots “raided” and created conflict with other native tribes prior to the war. However, Dutcher’s summary is more focused on the war whereas Flynn tells of the war while shutting down Zinn’s opinions, so it seems to be less concentrated on the war and more of a focus on Zinn.

Howard Zinn has a very different approach to history than seen before. Zinn is very opinionated and has much to say through facts and points in history that many do not dive deep into. Zinn addresses controversial topics head on and proves no need to hold back on strong quotes or facts that must be brought up to prove his point. Personally, I enjoy hearing from a opinionated writer as it is different from most textbook sources because of the opinion that is present in Zinn’s work.

However, I wish that Zinn would bring in juxtaposition through others strong opinions and facts that can counteract his, rather than his bias in his writing the whole time. Flynn disregards Zinn’s belief that “objectivity is impossible” (Flynn pg 1), and thinks that justice is good when talking about history. Flynn really disagrees with Zinn’s account of the Pequot War, and believes that his bias takes over the historical event to the point where it complete distorts the event from the truth, (Flynn pg 3). Flynn again goes on to say that Zinn tends to leave out many parts to his liking that is crucial to the history of that certain occurrence.

After everything considered, Daniel Flynn seems to be the best fit for a history teacher because of the simple fact that through his writing he seems to display truth with factual history, and a hint of personal opinion. Flynn displays characteristics of someone who likes to look at both sides of the spectrum while also uncovering the truth about important events in history. As more was revealed, Zinn seemed to have his personal opinions outshine the facts presented, which is why Flynn seems to be the perfect candidate for a history teacher.


Cite this paper

Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. (2021, Apr 17). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/howard-zinns-a-peoples-history-of-the-united-states/

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