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Letters: 'A People's History' vs. victors' history

August 04, 2013

Re "History meets politics," Opinion, Aug. 2

Sam Wineburg's cogent essay unwittingly makes a powerful case for Howard Zinn's signature contribution to history education.

Everyone I know in my profession who assigns "A People's History of the United States" does so for the right reasons: It encourages students to think with some detachment, shows how all histories are "constructed," illuminates the narrative in which we all have been submerged and invites criticism (if only for the simple fact that Zinn himself is so critical).

In other words, Zinn's take on history stimulates discussion and challenges our warm embrace of the traditional narrative. Students learn not necessarily from him but through him, which I guess is like saying that Zinn may have been a better teacher than scholar. No small reward.

Historians justifiably quibble with some of Zinn's facts and omissions. I do as well. But try and find another book that invites an undergraduate to imagine, maybe for the first time, that he or she might be part of the history they are being asked to read.

David L. DiLeo

San Clemente

The writer is a professor of history and humanities at Saddleback College.

Having served on numerous textbook adoption committees and a state framework writing team, and having taught history for more than 36 years, I know historical-political spin by heart.

When considering the mountain of works dedicated to selling "how the West was won," how John Wayne is often mentioned more prominently in high school texts than presidents, how suffragettes are cast as uppity women, and the claim that slavery brought Christianity to black Africans, there is almost no opposing viewpoint available. Zinn was that established and respected voice.

In the spirit of fair and balanced, I recommended Zinn to many of my students. With his passing in 2010, who will be the next small voice in a large and jingoistic wilderness?

Stephen S. Anderson

Hacienda Heights

I object strongly to Wineburg's questioning of the credibility of "A People's History of the United States."

Zinn's book carries out his assertion that "history is written by the victors." Wineburg asserts as much and credits Zinn with that statement.

But then Wineburg goes on to criticize Zinn's scholarship by attempting to show minor errors and the disregard by some historians. Finding a few erroneous facts in a 700-page history book in no way impugns the ideas or the conclusion. However, Zinn's book is well documented throughout.

Zinn's book is full of insights. Every major social area is examined from its historical beginning to its almost always tragic and greedy end. The stories are told through those who suffered greatly.

The criticism from Wineburg only shows that the victors continue to write our history.

Ralph Mitchell

Monterey Park


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