History is about interpretation by those who study it and try to
comprehend the lessons. History is thus for us the living as only we can
benefit from it. Overtime, professional interpretations have evolved.
In the beginning of historical studies, the focus was often on the great
men, nations, and the winners. History was perceived from the point of
view of the powerful. This is sometimes referred to as “top down”
history. Succeeding generations came to take a different approach by
seeking to understand cultural influences on history and how those
ignored by the top down approach (women, slaves, the conquered, etc.)
exerted their agency in molding history. This is often referred to as
the “bottom up” approach. Today, many historians like to combine the two
in order to achieve a more holistic interpretation.
Howard Zinn was a controversial US historian in that he approached the
study from a Marxist perspective which has been used by academics to
better achieve a “bottom up” perspective. Marxist scholars understand
history in terms of economic class struggles–the “haves” versus the
“have nots.” Zinn would certainly agree with Karl Marx that “economics
is the great engine of history,” and class struggle is its gasoline.
Those who follow this interpretation argue that most history has been
written by the economic winners–the “haves.” In the process, they
ignored the story of the “have nots” and Zinn wants to correct this by
attempting to portray American history from the “have not” perspective.
Read the Howard Zinn article regarding Columbus, colonization and
slavery. How does Zinn’s analysis compare to that of the On-line text in
Chapter 2? How does his analysis differ from what you were taught in
secondary school? What does this suggest about historical
interpretations? Does Zinn succeed in offering up the “have not”
perspective? How? Which style of writing is more appealing to you? Why?
Be thorough and specific in your answer. Cite information from the articles to support your arguments.
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