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An experts' history of Howard Zinn

Opinion

Fellow historians are interviewed about the legacy of Howard Zinn, author of 'A People's History of the United States,' who died Jan. 27.

February 01, 2010

His professional persona reminded me of something someone once said about the great British historian A.P.J. Taylor, who was a northerner, and like so many northerners, he was an "aginner." You said whatever you wanted to say and he was "agin" it. Zinn had some of that temperament. He did not naturally agree with anything. He was a kind of temperamental contrarian. In the great collective enterprise, I think that was a healthy thing.

Doris Kearns Goodwin
Presidential historian, "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln"

I knew him, and I thought he was an extraordinary person. I met him when I was just starting to teach at Harvard in 1969. It was so exhilarating; he was so passionate about history. I had just come back from working in the White House and then on the ranch with Lyndon Johnson. We had tons of things to talk about.

Even though there has been a lot more movement recently to look at American history from the bottom up, at the time Zinn was writing, he was really forging new ground. Especially during the '60s, it all made so much sense.

In these last decades, there is a much greater awareness of the need to see the context of social and historical events, and the way they influence the leaders at the top.

I'm writing about Theodore Roosevelt, and the progressive force of the muckraking journalists will be a big part of what I'm writing about -- Ida Tarbell and Lincoln Steffens and Ray Baker -- because they created the climate of reform that Roosevelt gave voice to.

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