Is Howard Zinn’s Book Bad History?

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People who love Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States—and they are many (the book has more than 2 million copies in print)—won’t like this article in American Educator by Sam Wineburg, a professor of education at Stanford University. The bottom-up, regular-people stories Zinn tells, Wineburg writes, “acquaint students with a history too often hidden and too quickly brushed aside by traditional textbooks”:

“But in other ways—ways that strike at the very heart of what it means to learn history as a discipline—A People’s History is closer to students’ state-approved texts than its advocates are wont to admit.

Like traditional textbooks, A People’s History relies almostentirely on secondary sources, with no archival research to thicken its narrative. Like traditional textbooks, the book is naked of footnotes, thwarting inquisitive readers who seek to retrace the author’s interpretative steps. And, like students’ textbooks, when A People’s History draws on primary sources, these documents serve to prop up the main text, but never provide an alternative view or open up a new field of vision.” (Read more here.)

What do you think? Is Zinn’s book good history? Should it be assigned to students?

(Hat tip to Dan Willingham.)

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One Response to “Is Howard Zinn’s Book Bad History?”

  1. As veteran homeschoolers, our preference is to avoid history textbooks altogether and piece together bios, period histories, contemporary writing and arts, and so forth.

    As the main history teacher of our children, I utilized history textbooks primarily for their outlines, to make sure I didn’t leave anything out.

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