Howard Zinn on the Limitations of American History Books

Question: How are traditional American history books limited?

 

Howard Zinn: The basic problem of traditional history books is that they’re nationalistic and they’re elitist. By nationalistic, I mean they look upon the world centered around us and they look upon American policy as benign.

A more realistic and more truthful history would take a look at American foreign policy over the last several hundred years, really. It will take a look at American foreign policy and see it for what it has been--expansionist, violent and militaristic. In other words, it would be a history that would be honest in the way that we expect individuals to be honest about themselves and their past and to rectify their mistakes.

To do this is not to be unpatriotic or un-American, unless you think that being American means approving everything your government does or being patriotic means supporting everything your government does.

No, being honest about our past, being honest about what we have done in the world, a history that looks at what we have done from the standpoint of Black people, Native Americans, poor people, women, people who have generally been omitted from traditional history. When you look at our history from the point of view of the people at the bottom, rather than people at the top, everything looks different. Policies look different. You have different criteria for measuring what the country does.

 

Question: Do strong nations like the U.S. have an incentive to write accurate historical accounts?

Howard Zinn:  The leaders of the nation don’t have such an incentive. The textbook publishers don’t have such an incentive. 

The only people who have such an incentive are the teachers and students and people who are not benefiting from the present system.  If there’s going to be a change in teaching history, it will have to come from below.  Whatever change has taken place so far, and there has been some change in the teaching of history, whatever changes does take place will take place because teachers and students begin acting in a different way, reading different materials, moving away from the traditional textbooks, rejecting the No Child Left Behind demands of standardized tests and dates and the old view of looking at history through generals and presidents.  It will have to come from below.

 

Recorded On: July 5, 2008

 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Do strong nations have an interest in writing accurate historical accounts?

Earth’s solid metal inner core is growing more on one side than the other

The eastern inner core located beneath Indonesia's Banda Sea is growing faster than the western side beneath Brazil.

Surprising Science

More than 5,000 kilometres beneath us, Earth's solid metal inner core wasn't discovered until 1936.

Keep reading Show less

An Olympics without fanfare: What would the ancient Greeks think of the empty stadiums?

In ancient Greece, the Olympics were never solely about the athletes themselves.

Photo by Despina Galani on Unsplash
Coronavirus

Because of a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases, the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2021 Olympics will unfold in a stadium absent the eyes, ears and voices of a once-anticipated 68,000 ticket holders from around the world.

Keep reading Show less

3,000-pound Triceratops skull unearthed in South Dakota

"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.

Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
Surprising Science
  • The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
  • It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
  • Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
Keep reading Show less

Bad at math? Blame your neurotransmitters

A new brain imaging study explored how different levels of the brain's excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters are linked to math abilities.

Mind & Brain
  • Glutamate and GABA are neurotransmitters that help regulate brain activity.
  • Scientists have long known that both are important to learning and neuroplasticity, but their relationship to acquiring complex cognitive skills like math has remained unclear.
  • The new study shows that having certain levels of these neurotransmitters predict math performance, but that these levels switch with age.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast