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A People's History of the United States

by Howard Zinn
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How can I begin writing my first paragraph to include my thesis statement about the first chapter of Zinn's A People's History of the United States?

Expert Answers

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Your first paragraph can begin by introducing Zinn and his quest to revise traditional histories to look at the people's, rather than the state's, point of view. Zinn’s Marxist ideology, dislike of capitalism, and contempt for the elite in society is obvious in his writing. In other words, your introduction answers the question: Why did Howard Zinn write not just chapter 1 of A People's History of the United States, but the whole book? Your thesis statement for chapter one must keep Zinn's overall mission in mind at the same time it takes into consideration the content in chapter one. Following is a one way to develop your thesis after you have introduced Zinn and his ideology.

Writing a thesis statement about any topic must start by answering a few specific questions. To make this specific to Zinn’s first chapter in A People’s History of the United States, you will need to focus on the following:

Question 1: What is the general topic or problem Zinn discusses in Chapter 1?

Answer: Zinn’s problem with history in general is that historians usually tell the story from the state’s point of view rather than the point of view of the people. The people in Chapter 1 are the Indians, indigenous peoples including the Arawak, who Columbus met in the Americas.

Question 2: What is the central question Zinn tries to answer about the general topic/problem (your answer to question 1)?

Answer: What key details were left out of the historical narrative when Columbus explored the American coast and other Europeans came in search of gold and/or settlement?

Question 3: What was Zinn’s conclusion about the central question of Chapter 1 (your answer to question 2)?

Answer: The key details left out of the historical narrative, according to Zinn, revolve around the Indian experience rather than the European explorers’ and settlers’ (Columbus and others) experiences:

  1. relative peacefulness of the natives
  2. cruelty of Europeans in their quest for gold
  3. dwindling numbers of Indians due to disease, violence and enslavement

Question 4: In one sentence, how would you describe Zinn’s first chapter in A People’s History of the United States to a classmate who has not read the chapter?

Answer: You might say something like: In the first chapter of A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn reevaluates the “price of human progress” by focusing on the relative peacefulness of indigenous peoples living in the Americas prior to Columbus and other European exploration, the cruelty of Europeans in their quest for gold, and the dwindling numbers of Indians due to disease, violence, and enslavement brought by European conquest.

If you can answer the first three questions when you are writing an essay on any topic, your thesis statement—the answer to the 4th question—will be much easier to formulate. This may be more information than you wanted, but learning how to formulate an introduction and thesis statement is one of the most important steps a writer can take. 

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