Rethinking Howard Zinn on the BU campus

Historians in the News

Friends and colleagues of the late Howard Zinn, perhaps BU’s best known political scientist, gathered at the Castle last week to examine the legacy of the historian whose 1980 book, A People’s History of the United States, sold more than two million copies and was the inspiration for the 2009 movie The People Speak.

The seminar, sponsored by the International History Institute and titled Reconsidering Howard Zinn as a Historian, featured short talks by three former colleagues and friends. Zinn, who died in January 2010 at the age of 87, taught in the College of Arts & Sciences political science department for 24 years. And while all three expressed obvious affection and respect for Zinn and admiration for his exceptional quest for the truth, there were several points of disagreement with the great man’s widely shared opinions.

William Keylor, a CAS professor of international relations and history, argued that Zinn unfairly held the United States to a higher moral standard than he did other countries, and later applied similar extraordinarily high standards of behavior to Israel. He also challenged Zinn’s assertion that if “we removed the evil people on Wall Street and big corporations on Madison Avenue, and let the people speak for themselves, then the history of this country would be a lot better than it turned out to be.” Keylor warned that “the people” too often turned to demagogues, citing as an example Joseph McCarthy, the notorious 1950s communist-hunting U.S. senator....

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