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Zinn is certainly interested in overturning the popular mythology surrounding Christopher Columbus, and he is unsparing in his condemnation of the famous explorer's treatment of the Arawaks. Indeed, he describes Columbus's policy as that of genocide, driven by a desire to squeeze as much wealth as he could from the inhabitants of the Indies. But as Zinn says, the point is not to, "in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia." In the chapter on Columbus, which also serves as the introduction to A People's History, Zinn is interested in making two broader arguments using Columbus. The first is that the "quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress," which he detects in the works of Columbus historians like Samuel Eliot Morison, is "deadly," because it makes it easier to forgive such acts in our own time. The second, historiographical point, is that Columbus's apologists are typical of historians who view history only from the perspective of "governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders" and other powerful figures and institutions. Zinn's aim is, of course, to turn this narrative on its head, emphasizing the perspective of common people. From this point of view, Columbus appears not as a conquering hero, but as a man who ushered in a disastrous series of events for Native Americans.
Source: Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States (New York: Harper Perennial, 1995) 1-9.
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