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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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  • 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

      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

      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

        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.

  • Walter Benjamin

    Why did Daniels wanted to ban that book?

    • Jeremy

      According to the article I read, it was “anti-American”.

      • Mike G

        These are the same people who wail about the “tyranny” of “political correctness”.

    • Theodor Adorno

      Like you don’t know.

      • Hudson

        Yeah, all he has to do is read Zinn’s “People’s History” and it will be very apparent, Comrade.

        • Anonymous

          One of the ‘contraversies’ in TX education(upper grades through 12) was a passage describing how George Washington would use white powder to cover up the pockmarks on his face and hands

    • Duvall
      • Cody

        Well, there was a lot of IU bashing in that email chain. So I see how he ended up at Purdue.

        At least he seems to care about education, but where in the world did he get the idea that Zinn isn’t factual? Did he talk to Ron Paul and learn about American history or something?

  • Alan Tomlinson

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

    Cheers,

    Alan Tomlinson

    • Murc

      Sewer maintenance is an exacting tax requiring a lot of expertise. I don’t know I’d trust Mitch Daniels to do it properly.

      • wengler

        He’s small enough that he could be a human brush being pulled through the shit with a rope controlled by qualified sanitation workers.

        • Lee Rudolph

          I believe such a device is called a “pig”.

  • brad

    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.

  • joe from Lowell

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

    • rea

      Perdue is a school in Georgia named after the former governor . . .

      • Cody

        Perdue is a brand of chicken!

        • joe from Lowell

          ….and I feel really, really sorry for those “graduates.”

          • Hogan

            Should have transferred to Bovine University.

  • 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

      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

      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

        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.

      • “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.

        • Depending on how broad we frame the topics of course.

        • Frank Somatra

          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

          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

            Popularity has always been the kiss of death.

          • 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

              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.

              • 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

                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

          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.

          • postmodulator

            It’s quite possible that some young Horowitz types might have gotten the idea that they were in some kind of liberal indoctrination factory

            Eh, they think that if you make them read a lesbian poet or talk about evolution. Fuck ’em.

            • Origami Isopod

              +1

          • I’ve thought about assigning Dos Passos but I feel the students would really revolt, or the amount of work you’d have to do with them to accept the challenging parts of it would be really hard.

            Not to mention he writes almost entirely about white people.

          • There are better texts for that purpose – like Who Built America, for example.

  • Manny Kant

    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.

  • leo from Chicago

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

    • Origami Isopod

      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.

  • Jordan

    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].

  • Hogan

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

    • Marek

      I see what you did there.

  • Ed K

    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.

    • timb

      welcome to Indiana. We don’t speak that way to our betters here

  • Mike Schilling

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

    • ChrisTS

      I have no idea if you are being, in any sense, serious, but there is a significant difference between the work of doing history and science.

  • efgoldman

    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.

  • 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.

  • hells littlest angel

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

    • Jordan

      What high school did you go to?

      • hells littlest angel

        The one in Mitch Daniels’ imagination.

        • Jordan

          haha, I’m dumb.

    • Warren Terra

      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

        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

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

          • ajay

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

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

            • In the former case, I think it’s an example of this trend. For the latter, like the Tractatus, the English/German name just *is* the Latin name.

          • ajay

            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

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

            • 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

          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.

          • postmodulator

            Le Rouge et le Noir

            I’ve always just heard it called “The Scarlet and Black.” “Malleus Maleficarum” does tend to prove your point, as that just sounds cool as shit.

          • Hogan

            Dante’s Really Hot Place

            Sir Quixote

            The Troy Tale and The Odysseus Story

            Mrs. Bovary

            • Anonymous

              I am proposing marriage to this comment

            • Origami Isopod

              As amused as I am by the idea of a classic titled Dante’s Really Hot Place, “inferno” translates more literally into “lower regions.” Either way, though, you’ve got some great porn-parody title potential.

      • MAJeff

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

        • Isn’t pronouncing Weber’s name correctly more like not saying So-Crates for Socrates?

          • You gotta say So-crates if you want to earn that Ziggy Piggy.

  • lee

    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?

    • Who Built America is a great introductory-level textbook, in large part because it privileges primary documents much more than most textbooks.

      Honestly, if it were up to me, I’d just hand students a timeline, key terms, a couple books of primary documents, and a reader of academic articles.

      • Mike Schilling

        a reader of academic articles

        A graduate student?

        • /rimshot.

          But because I’m a pedant, I was referring to a course reader, sometimes also known as a course pack.

  • Manju

    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

      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

        Now *that* is a quality smackdown.

      • RedSquareBear

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

        • ajay

          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.

          • Barry Freed

            Her bingo wings are so huge and flabby that her Second Amendment rights to bare arms had to be infringed.

      • Manju

        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

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

        I also heard his mom ate Robert Byrd

    • timb

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

      • Manju

        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.

        • Hogan

          For certain narrow definitions of “penalties,” yes.

          • Manju

            “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.”

            legal penalties.

      • Manju

        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

          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

            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

              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

            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.

            • Speaking of the 1st Amendment, if this is a line you are going to continue with, I will ban you.

          • timb

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

  • jake the snake

    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.

    • Except that the history in modern college textbooks is actually quite nuanced and hardly some sort of rah rah America history. The most used college history textbook is written by Eric Foner.

      • timb

        And, to be honest, Foner was a god among men