Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students
Howard Zinn and the Quest for Historical Truth
What if the history you learned in high school turned out to be a pack of lies, that all the material you memorized to get a 5 on AP turned out to be government-issued slop intended to deaden critical thinking, not promote it? What if, for example, the "Founding Fathers" turned out to be not the sages who, in the words of the late Senator Robert Byrd, created "this wonderful, glorious experiment in representative democracy," but rather a nefarious cabal who set out to create "the most effective system of national control devised in modern times?" This characterization comes straight from Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, a history that is unabashedly "disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." A People's History is more than a book. With two million copies in print, it's an icon. "You wanna read a real history book," Matt Damon tells Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, "read People's History of the United States. That book'll knock you on your ass." Zinn's book is the defining example of revisionism, in which the cherished truths of a previous generation are turned on their head. Together, in this seminar, we will use A People's History to probe the question of historical truth. How do we know what was true in the past? What's the difference between the history you learned in high school and the way knowledge is made, debated, and verified in the university? Under what conditions are we compelled to rethink our interpretations, even if doing so causes discomfort, dread, pain, and upheaval? Finally,in our age of disinformation on the internet, we'll examine what the digital Wild West means for seeking historical truth.