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What is Zinn's main argument in chapter 1 of A People's History of the United States?

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user4697308 | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 15, 2013 at 1:50 AM via web

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What is Zinn's main argument in chapter 1 of A People's History of the United States?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 15, 2013 at 2:23 AM (Answer #1)

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In Chapter 1, Zinn details the savagery and brutality that Columbus demonstrated to the indigenous people.  It is from this point where Zinn's main argument emerges.  Zinn wants to liberate the telling of history as the narrative of "states" and transform it to the narrative of "the people."  In Zinn's mind, traditional modes of narrating history have lost this emphasis.  Zinn's primary argument that if historical scholarship focuses on the historical consciousness of those who are normally excluded from the traditional narratives, a wider and more inclusive understanding of history emerges.  

Zinn's argument in chapter 1 is that there must be a more inclusive understanding of history in the hopes of gaining more accuracy and a greater sense of democracy.  For Zinn, this process of questioning and reevaluation is essential to what the historical dialectic should be:

Even allowing for the imperfection of myths, it is enough to make us question, for that time and ours, the excuse of progress in the annihilation of races, and the telling of history from the standpoint of the conquerors and leaders of Western civilization.

This becomes one of the most important parts of Zinn's argument in chapter 1, as it seeks to "question" and better value what defines "progress."

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