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Banning Howard Zinn

[ 101 ] July 17, 2013 |

I certainly have my critique of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as a good history book, but it’s power and importance can’t be denied. And that’s why Mitch Daniels wanted it banned from state universities when he was governor of Indiana. Unfortunately for the good people of the Hoosier State, the same Mitch Daniels with his die-hard commitment to academic freedom is now the president of Purdue University. Were there any justice in the world, Daniels would be forced to resign for such an awful goal.

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  1. Were there any justice in the world, Daniels would be forced to resign for such an awful goal.

    Has their been any move to force such a thing at Purdue once this story broke? Also is the TradMed, including Joke Line, going to apologize for calling this clown a moderate yet?

    • Snarki, child of Loki says:

      Were there any justice in the world, Daniels would be forced to live in West Laffalot Indiana for the rest of his natural life, while Perdue loses all its football games for such an awful goal.

      FTFY

    • Cody says:

      As someone from Purdue…

      No one thought he was a good person there. From my understanding, the University’s main selling point is he’s just a fundraising figure head. Also, I thought it pretty ironic the man known for destroying Purdue’s State funding would get a job there immediately after his political career ended.

      • slybrarian says:

        You mean “no one thought he was a good person except the people who were appointed to the trustees by him so they could appoint him as president”. Oh, and I imagine all the buddies he’s hiring think he’s great too.

  2. Walter Benjamin says:

    Why did Daniels wanted to ban that book?

  3. Alan Tomlinson says:

    Were there any justice in the world, people like Daniels would be working full-time cleaning sewers.

    Cheers,

    Alan Tomlinson

  4. brad says:

    I fail to see what value academic freedom adds to the bottom line of a sports franchise, Daniels is simply increasing profits by having his company give the customer what Daniels the customer wants.
    It’s not like he’s tampering with the agribusiness sector, it’s just nerds who talk.

  5. joe from Lowell says:

    I feel sorry for Perdue grads. This is not going to help the university’s reputation.

  6. Banning Zinn is a bit harsh. A warning label and some sort of balanced intellectual diet requirement would be sufficient.

    But yeah, screw Daniels.

    • rea says:

      Well as a matter of common sense, if you really though Zinn was pernicious, you wouldn’t ban his book–you’d subject it to intense study, so that its flaws are exposed. Banning it suggests that you find it convincing . . .

    • wengler says:

      Or you could have students read a variety of sources and figure things out for themselves. I never had a college-level history course that consisted of one text, hell, I don’t think I had one that had less than 10.

      Also it is quite all right to celebrate Zinn every time he is mentioned rather than unload a heaping pile on People’s History. It’s well worth reading and includes plenty of historical voices that aren’t well represented in American historiography.

      • Murc says:

        I never had a college-level history course that consisted of one text, hell, I don’t think I had one that had less than 10.

        I’ve had a couple, but they were typically weighty; something like 1200 pages over ten weeks. That’s a lot of reading; more would have been somewhat unjustified.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        “It’s well worth reading and includes plenty of historical voices that aren’t well represented in American historiography.”

        The first part of that statement is true enough but the second part is completely false. All of the voices he discusses are quite well-represented in American historiography. Most of them were pretty well represented when the book was published in 1980. And they certainly have been expanded upon today. Most of those topics have hundreds, if not over 1000 books written on them.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          Depending on how broad we frame the topics of course.

        • Frank Somatra says:

          They aren’t well represented in popular high school and (sometimes) introductory college American history textbooks*

        • Yeah. I can see the appeal at the time he was writing it, but the discipline’s gone way past it.

          It’s also, as an analytic text, pretty problematic in its New Lefty “the American state is always bad, the proletariat is always righteously resisting yet always oppressed.”

          Honestly, if it’s new voices people want, I’d much rather steer them to Who Built America.

        • Tyro says:

          I’ve noticed that professional historians really have it in for A People’s History in the same way they don’t seem to have it in for, say, a James Q. Wilson textbook.

          • DocAmazing says:

            Popularity has always been the kiss of death.

          • Erik Loomis says:

            Professional historians do not have it in for A People’s History. One can critique its many shortcomings without saying it is terrible.

            Or would you rather us commit hagiography with it and for us to ignore its problems, 33 years after its publications? Which we would do with no other book.

            • Tyro says:

              Then why are you picking on it compared to any other standard textbook?

              I have a feeling that when history professors mention their profession to someone, they have to deal with people who say stuff like, “I love US history! A People’s History Changed My Life™” and this gets on their nerves.

              Once again, James Q. Wilson has many texts accepted as “standard”, and he was somewhat conservative, and presumably the texts are as flawed as any other, but I don’t hear the same seething hostility to him from historians that I hear when Zinn’s name comes up.

              The best yet least relevant criticism I’ve heard is that it is not an original work of historiography, and is rather just a rehash of history collected from other sources. Which is true as far as it goes but sounds more like professional resentment against a colleague who wrote a popular text rather than getting famous for original research.

              • Erik Loomis says:

                Because a) as a work of history, it has real problems, b) it creates an overly simplistic narrative of American history for its readers, and c) it, albeit unintentionally on the part of Zinn, gives rise to false claims about the historical profession and claims that Zinn was telling stories other historians wouldn’t tell–which wasn’t even true when he wrote the book.

                I think most of the people who read this book at age 23 and say they didn’t get this history when they were in college were actually just not paying attention when they were 18 and took their U.S. history survey course.

              • Hogan says:

                I certainly have my critique of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as a good history book, but it’s power and importance can’t be denied.

                Yeah, that’s some seriously seething hostility right there.

          • Well, if I was a political scientist, I imagine I’d be active about James Q. Wilson’s American Government Institutions and Policies, but he hasn’t written any history textbooks that I can find.

      • It’s more the entry-level survey courses where I see Zinn being a problem. Way too much on the plate to really do a critical reading of Zinn.

        • Cheap Wino says:

          I had an early American history course where the profs used People’s History as the primary text, though not the exclusive one. The focus was clearly on the idea of how seeing history through the lens of those not in power changes the perspective. It’s quite possible that some young Horowitz types might have gotten the idea that they were in some kind of liberal indoctrination factory but that wouldn’t be the first time the point flew undisturbed over a delicate flower conservative’s head.

          I always thought people should read Dos Passos in American history classes. But maybe that’s not entirely appropriate.

  7. Manny Kant says:

    Obviously, the person in the best position to determine academic syllabi in public universities in Indiana is the governor. How ridiculous.

    I’d be fairly critical of a historian who used Zinn as his primary text for an American history survey, but there’s all kinds of ways Zinn could probably be used usefully, and it’s certainly none of Mitch Daniels’s fucking business.

  8. leo from Chicago says:

    Were there any justice in the world, Daniels would be forced to take the course that features Zinn.

    • Origami Isopod says:

      The other students in the course wouldn’t deserve that. He’d be just like the YAFhole who insists on dominating the entire classroom discussion with his “outlawed” point of view.

  9. Jordan says:

    So Daniels sucks in general, for his term as governor, and for this shit, etc.

    But am I hallucinating, or didn’t he actually do something good re: administrative salaries versus faculty salaries upon becoming president of [non-existent college football team].

  10. Hogan says:

    This is the kind of thing that makes a guy drink boilermakers.

  11. Ed K says:

    This really is the kind of thing that should be absolutely disqualifying for a post in academic administration at any level. I’m a bit disturbed that the calls for him to resign aren’t significantly louder.

  12. Mike Schilling says:

    Banning A People’s History of the United States is unacceptable, like banning Creationist texts from the bio curriculum. Embrace the controversy!

  13. efgoldman says:

    I took a course (large lecture course) with Zinn at BU in the mid-60s. He was just becoming really notorious, and of course in those days it was all about Vietnam. He was an early opponent of the war.

  14. mtraven says:

    It will probably help sell a few books, and I imagine some youngsters who couldn’t care less about history might be motivated to read something that Mitch Daniels thinks they shouldn’t. So, on the whole this is a win.

  15. hells littlest angel says:

    A People’s History was my third favorite high school textbook, right after Kapital and The 120 Days of Sodom.

    • Jordan says:

      What high school did you go to?

    • Warren Terra says:

      Isn’t it funny how we’re programmed to make Marx’s work Capital other-ly by calling it “Das Kapital“? There’s a lot of other things we read in translation, but it’s unusual not to translate their titles.

      • ajay says:

        Isn’t it funny how we’re programmed to make Marx’s work Capital other-ly by calling it “Das Kapital“? There’s a lot of other things we read in translation, but it’s unusual not to translate their titles.

        The only other one that comes to mind is “A la recherche du temps perdu”. You hear the French title a lot more than you hear people calling it “In search of lost time” or whatever. And “Anabasis” – no one talks about ‘Xenophon’s “The March Up”‘.
        My suspicion is that, for those two, it’s because there isn’t a single obvious translation into English, and all the translations sound a bit weak and woolly. (As does “Capital”.)

        • rea says:

          There is, of course, one obvious comparision–nobody talks about Hitler’s “My Struggle”

          • ajay says:

            Oh, good one rea. I’d forgotten that one.

            Or the “Principia Mathematica” – either one, Newton’s or Russell & Whitehead’s.

          • ajay says:

            Oh, and “Also Sprach Zarathustra”.

            And lots of music: “Gotterdammerung”, etc.

            Is the rule here that, when we disagree with something, we leave it in the original German to make it sound more weird and threatening? (See also “Panzers”. Panzer just means armour. We don’t talk about the French army having “chars”, we say “tanks”. But the Germans had “Panzers”.)

            • Barry Freed says:

              That’s because “char” sounds like it should be a dainty sausage or something.

            • john b says:

              I definitely first encountered Zarathustra as Thus Spake Zarathustra. Google suggests 500k for the translation and 1.1m for the original.

              Given the existence of both Germans and the (title untranslated by convention) opera, that suggests to me that they’re about even.

        • DocAmazing says:

          books:
          The Malleus Maleficarum

          Le Rouge et le Noir

          Les Fleurs du Mal

          movies (sorry, “film”)
          Un Chien Andalou

          Ran

          Some stuff just sounds better in the original language.

      • MAJeff says:

        I sort of puzzle about that with sociologists continuing to use Vayber instead of Webber for old Max.

  16. lee says:

    I went back and reread the comments on the ‘Problems with Zinn’ post but I don’t think there were many recommendations for alternatives to Zinn or anything close to that

    new, beautifully-written synthesis of a progressive American history to update and replace the old standard, something that would avoid Zinn’s Manichean view of the world and deal with the questions he didn’t want to try and answer.

    any ideas this time round?

  17. Manju says:

    Erik:

    Your views expressed here:

    Do I want to see Wayne LaPierre punished in the way many of us wanted to see Tony Hayward punished during the BP oil spill or the way many of us wanted to see Dick Cheney punished during the Iraq War. Of course.

    …are not consistent with the First Amendment.

    • ajay says:

      Hey, Manju? Your mother is not consistent with the First Amendment, because she’s so fat that when she’s on the National Mall, she obstructs the people from peaceably assembling and petitioning the Government for a redress of grievances.

      • Anonymous says:

        Now *that* is a quality smackdown.

      • RedSquareBear says:

        Manu’s mom is so dumb the state only needs to show a rational basis for discrimination against her.

        • ajay says:

          She is also so fat that she’s physically unable to break the Third Amendment; when she was in the army she tried to get herself quartered in someone’s house in time of peace, but the only way they could get her to fit was to sixteenth her.

      • Manju says:

        ajay,

        a friendly warning….i’m afraid you’re in violation of Paul Campos’ cutting-edge civil rights issue. i know he sounds like a quack, but look what happens to those who cross him. just ask every other Law School Dean, not to mention Brian Leiter.

        or ask me. Uncle Kvetch took me to the cleaners and I had to retract.

        as should Loomis. then he can proceed to lecture about free speech without being a hypocrite.

      • timb says:

        FTW!!!!!!!!!!!

        I also heard his mom ate Robert Byrd

    • timb says:

      Here’s a hint, a trial for a criminal or civil act is not a violation of the First Amendment

      • Manju says:

        It is not a criminal or civil violation to advocate against gun control. To say that LaPierre should face penalties for doing that is inconsistent with the First Amendment.

      • Manju says:

        To be clear, I’m not taking issue with his position on Tony Hayward or Dick Cheney, but Wayne LaPierre.

        i withheld fire on this point while loomis was under siege by censors, but now that he’s free and waxing poetic about free speech, i thought it apropos to finally take the 2×4 to his absolutely batshit insane interpretation of the 1A.

        • ajay says:

          The First Amendment constrains government action only. Erik’s free to want whatever he likes and to express his wants in public.

          a friendly warning….i’m afraid you’re in violation of Paul Campos’ cutting-edge civil rights issue.

          Not in the least. I never suggested that your mother was unhealthy.

          • Manju says:

            The First Amendment constrains government action only. Erik’s free to want whatever he likes and to express his wants in public.

            Erik wants the government to punish Wayne LaPierre for exercising his 1st amendment rights.

            You are correct that the 1A protects Erik’s expression of his anti-1A views, but his views are indeed not consistent with the First Amendment.

            • postmodulator says:

              Nah. He “wants to see” it. I had a girlfriend who screwed my life up pretty badly; I “want to see” her living in poverty to a ripe old age. But I’m probably not going to ask the government to take away all her money.

          • Manju says:

            Not in the least. I never suggested that your mother was unhealthy.

            “Since doubleplusgoodthinking liberals seem to have a whole lot of trouble grasping this analogy, I’ll spell it out a little further: “Homosexuality = “Obesity.” “Gay” = “Fat.””

            -Paul Campos

            Unless you think its OK to talk about homosexuals in the manner in which you spoke of my mother, you are indeed in violation.

          • timb says:

            AJ is a much better lawyer than you are a commenter, Manju

  18. jake the snake says:

    I tend to agree with the criticisms of People History as a stand alone history, and Zinn himself did not think it should be read as such. However, I view it as one long sidebar to the history we do get in textbooks.

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