In A People’s History of the United States, what is the main idea of chapter 1?

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The main idea of the first chapter in Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States  is that history should be examined from the viewpoints of individual people, rather than of governments or people in power.  He describes his approach to historical research, which is to look at the...

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The main idea of the first chapter in Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States is that history should be examined from the viewpoints of individual people, rather than of governments or people in power.  He describes his approach to historical research, which is to look at the experiences of ordinary people.  He examines how decisions by governments and leaders had an impact on them.

In the first chapter, Zinn goes into great detail about how the Arawak people in the Bahamas were treated by Christopher Columbus and other Spaniards.  Columbus was sent on a mission by the monarchs of Spain to find gold and spices.  When he explored the Bahamas and other nearby islands, he found very little gold.  Desiring power, influence, wealth, and recognition, Columbus decided to take slaves back to Spain.  He wanted to distract from the fact that he did not find the vast amounts of gold he had expected to discover.  He and his men captured many Arawak people.  Some were sent to Spain as slaves, and others were enslaved in their own homeland.  Many tried to resist, but they were overpowered by the Spaniards.  The greed of the Spaniards completely changed Arawak society.  It altered their history until their culture died off.

Zinn's approach to historical study also focuses on the accomplishments and moments of victory for ordinary people.  In chapter one, he describes how history should reveal "episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win" (page 11).

 

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