diverse group of people with an image of the United States superimposed on a large part of the group

A People's History of the United States

by Howard Zinn

Start Free Trial

According to Zinn in A People's History of the United States, how is history presenting an inaccurate representation of the cultural encounter between Columbus and the Arawaks?

According to Zinn in A People's History of the United States, history is presents an inaccurate representation of the cultural encounter between Columbus and Arawaks by brushing over the European genocide of this Native group.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Zinn says that the traditional history of the cultural encounter between the Arawaks and Columbus downplays the brutal genocide that occurred. He states that this is because official histories give the view from the top, from the perspective of elites who benefitted from what is described as "progress":

The treatment...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Zinn says that the traditional history of the cultural encounter between the Arawaks and Columbus downplays the brutal genocide that occurred. He states that this is because official histories give the view from the top, from the perspective of elites who benefitted from what is described as "progress":

The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks)—the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress—is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders.

Zinn goes on to say that

It is as if they, like Columbus, deserve universal acceptance.

By brushing over the cruelty of the conquest of the New World, history is inaccurate, Zinn says. He corrects this by putting a focus on the underdogs—the Arawaks—and showing them as a people of dignity and generosity who were brutally wiped out by Columbus and his men. Zinn uses Columbus's own diary accounts to reveal the callous disregard this explorer felt for the humanity of the Native people. He simply calculated that the Europeans had a far superior military technology and so could enslave and exploit the Arawaks. In contrast to their kindness and hospitality, Coumbus and the Europeans emerge from this account as greedy, hard-hearted, and rapacious.

Zinn's narrative counters what he perceives as the traditional self-serving story that glorifies Columbus's coming to the New World as a positive event. Zinn states too that what happened to the Arawaks is paradigmatic: the same behavior was repeated by various European groups.

What Columbus did to the Arawaks of the Bahamas, Cortes did to the Aztecs of Mexico, Pizarro to the Incas of Peru, and the English settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts to the Powhatans and the Pequots.

Zinn states that his book will offer a different view of history, one that incorporates the viewpoints and reality of the people at the bottom of society.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team