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Reading, Learning, Teaching Howard Zinn

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Ed Welchel

Howard Zinn is one of the most celebrated historians and social activists of our time. Raised in a working class family in Brooklyn, he was a shipyard worker and union organizer when World War II began. He served as a bombardier in the European Theatre and this experience shaped his opposition to war as an instrument of foreign policy. He became active in the civil rights movement as well as the anti-war movement from the 1950s to the 1970s. He is perhaps best known as the author of A People’s History of the United States, published in 1980. This study of Zinn’s life and work opens the door to many aspects of historical study generally untouched in traditional secondary and collegiate survey courses in United States history. To Zinn, history is not an objective account of the past to be indelibly carved into the brains of American citizens; rather, history is an ever-changing palette of events as people react to the contexts and cultures they find themselves immersed in. By considering the lives and thoughts of less politically and socially prominent individuals, students have the opportunity to re-examine their own beliefs and assumptions about contemporary American life. Students will gain insight into how history is constructed and recorded through a consideration of the life and writings of Howard Zinn.