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A People's History of the United States

by Howard Zinn
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What is the bias of Howard Zinn in A People's History of the United States?

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Howard Zinn (1922–2010) believed that common people were the real driving force behind history. Most historians had traditionally viewed history in much different ways. For example, many historians were influenced by the idea that great men—kings, generals, and presidents—made history. Zinn's view, which emphasized the primacy of ordinary people, was...

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Howard Zinn (1922–2010) believed that common people were the real driving force behind history. Most historians had traditionally viewed history in much different ways. For example, many historians were influenced by the idea that great men—kings, generals, and presidents—made history. Zinn's view, which emphasized the primacy of ordinary people, was a direct and forceful challenge to this conventional view.

In Zinn's view, the Founding Fathers were aristocrats who did not trust the people. For instance, the Presidency, the Senate, and the House of Representatives were important institutions in the new government of the United States. Of the three, however, only the House was to be elected by popular vote. Moreover, slaves, Native Americans, and women could not vote at all. Only white male property holders enjoyed suffrage.

The public shapes history, according to Zinn. One example he gives of this is in his chapter on the Vietnam War. Protests against the war spread and ultimately persuaded President Richard Nixon that the war had to be stopped. "It was the first clear defeat to the global American empire formed after World War II," Zinn writes.

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Zinn's bias in his book is towards people who have been underrepresented in traditional narratives of American history. In addition, he emphasizes the struggle that people on the margins, including African Americans, women, Native Americans, and the working class, have made during the entire span of American history to challenge the power of the wealthy, white, male-dominated ruling class.

For example, in chapter 1, in his narrative of the Columbian Encounter (which refers to Columbus's arrival in the US and the later relationships between Europeans and Native Americans), Zinn challenges the standard history given in most textbooks that emphasizes Columbus's "discovery" and his role as a hero. Instead, Zinn emphasizes Columbus's brutality in the face of the Arawaks' generosity and hospitality.

In chapter 4, Zinn's narrative about the American Revolution stresses the way in which the white ruling class co-opted the grassroots working-class rebellion in the revolt the elite mounted against the British. Zinn emphasizes the ongoing battle of those who have less power in the US to gain more power against the ruling class and the government.

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Zinn does not try to hide the fact that he is telling the history of the United States from the point of view of the common person, which is why he calls it a people's history. He believes that most standard American histories are told from the point of view of the wealthy and powerful. He thinks those histories are themselves biased and that because of that, they have downplayed the struggles and sufferings of black people, Native Americans, women, immigrants, and the poor in order to present a triumphant narrative of American progress and success. Zinn tries to show that from the start, the colonization of America was built on oppressing and murdering native peoples, importing African slaves, and paying common laborers starvation wages while punishing them for trying to organize. He refuses to glorify American wars and argues instead that the average person was not interested in warfare, which primarily profited the wealthy.

Many of Zinn's arguments seem less radical today than when the book was published 40 years ago: now we are more accepting of the some of the downsides of U.S. history, though this has also caused "culture wars," clashes over which version of history should prevail. While Zinn's bias is in favor of the "common people," he would say he was filling in the gaps in the standard historical narrative.

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A People's History of the United States is written with an extreme leftist slant.  Howard Zinn is strongly biased against capitalism and towards a Marxist interpretation of society and history.

The book does not really try to be even-handed.  Zinn is avowedly left-wing and his book is a polemic that is meant to try to convince the reader to accept a Marxist analysis of US history.  In every chapter of the book, Zinn tries to show how elites have constantly been trying to maintain and solidify their dominant position in US society.  He tries to rectify the dominance of the elites by exposing their actions and by trying to highlight actions taken by nonelites to resist the elite.  In this way, there is a very strong leftist bias in this work.

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