How does A People's History of the United States further one's understanding of American history?
While Zinn does fall into some traps in his retelling of history, there is great value in the discussion that he initiates. While thinkers like Kucklick argue that Zinn's work is a collection of stories of "the oppression of people," it could be said that Zinn's real value is in opening a historical dialogue. A People's History of the United States is at its most valuable when it is not taken as sole dogma. When it is juxtaposed with more mainstream sources, such as traditional textbooks, students are able to participate in the construction of history. For teachers who seek to enliven the discipline, being able to contrast Zinn's work with other sources allows the student to be in the position of power. Zinn's real contribution is to the historical dialogue process. When students are placed in the position of scholarship, being able to assess Zinn's view of history as the "collection of people" against the more traditional notion of history as the "collection of states," they are empowered. Zinn's work is able to empower students because it enables them to reflect on their own prejudices and predispositions, their own constructions of power, and how they view American history. On an existential level, the value of Zinn's work lies in this reflective capacity within the student and teacher. Enabling both sides to view history through the lens of consensus and conflict narratives is where Zinn's work holds its greatest value and meaning.
check Approved by eNotes Editorial