September 6, 2012

Zinn v. Kennedy on Columbus

Historians, and all other writers, write with bias—whether they realize it or not. Their biases may be implemented in discrete ways such as the facts they choose to leave out or gloss over. Zinn1 attempts to dispel and exploit this in his writing of A People’s History of the United States.2 He executes this open-minded style using quoted primary sources and details often buried underneath the glory and pride of human progress. I believe this to be courageous and daring of Zinn; it takes great bravery to delve into the depths of truth, especially when it is not always pretty.

In comparison with Kennedy’s excerpt, Zinn goes in-depth about the suffering and genocide caused by the Europeans to the Arawaks. Kennedy, however, simply breezes by it in saying Enslavement and armed aggression took their toll, but the deadliest killers were microbes, not muskets.” This comes across as very nonchalant and implies the killings were more or less out of the control of the Europeans. When retelling the past, historians should certainly tell the truth from multiple perspectives. As Zinn states: My argument cannot be against selection, simplification, emphasis, which are inevitable for both cartographers and historians.” This expresses his tolerance of writers’ styles, yet also subtly states the intolerance of incoherence and misinformation in the construction of history.

  1. Howard Zinn↩︎

  2. A People’s History of the United States↩︎


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