American Social History Project • Center for Media and Learning

Howard Zinn (1922-2010)

Published March 30, 2011

The career of Howard Zinn took him from the Brooklyn shipyards to New York University on the G.I. Bill to a Ph.D. in History from Columbia University and then to the faculties of Spelman College and Boston University, where he urged his students to social activism and mightily irritated university administrators. He published A People’s History of the United States in 1980, a single volume that told a very different story of U.S. history than traditional textbooks did at the time. If the broad strokes and unabashed romanticization of working-class struggle that characterize A People’s History make some historians wince (ASHP’s own Who Built America? textbook, for example, deliberately offers a more warts-and-all telling of similar stories), the book has been hugely influential in bringing social history to people who felt the subject had little to do with their lives and experiences. Zinn was a trailblazer who opened doors for many readers, prompting them to critically engage with the past, and in that spirit we honor his work.

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