June has come and gone (summer reading has caught up with us, and we can only hope it has with you, too). But this month, one story in particular has floated to the surface that affects our common state of Indiana as well as higher education and the liberal arts. Yes, we are talking about the Mitch Daniels-Howard Zinn ordeal. Read on for some of the pertinent links.
- “Daniels Looks To Censor Opponents” by Tom LoBianco at The Associated Press. This is the origin, the X and Y axis, the center of it all. The AP was able to obtain Daniels’ emails while he was governor of Indiana, and what they found was horrifying at worst, interesting in the least. Days after Zinn died in 2010, Daniels emailed several people within his administration, including the superintendent of public instruction, to say a “terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away.” Keeping the callousness of that statement aside, Daniels went on to ask and ensure that Zinn and his most famous work, A People’s History of the United States, was not being taught anywhere in Indiana. Among other things, Daniels called Zinn’s writing “propaganda,” “a totally false version of our history,” and “crap.” Daniels stood by his emails, telling the AP that Indiana has “a law requiring state textbook oversight to guard against frauds like Zinn, and it was encouraging to find that no Hoosier school district had inflicted his book on its students.”
- “Daniels Vs. Zinn: Round II” by Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed. It’s amazing to see the light shine on this situation, mostly because Daniels went from the governor of the state to president of Purdue University, one of the largest, most influential research universities in Indiana. Here, as governor, he asserts a mandate to stifle any Zinn teachings, including at Indiana University, yet he purports to support “academic freedom” at Purdue. Here, Scott Jaschik provides a great roundup of reaction and why Zinn is a highly debated figure in the first place. Some of Jaschik’s embedded links, we include here, as well.
- American Historical Association statement. The AHA, which is the general group representing historians in the country, issued a statement on the entire affair, saying: “Whatever the strengths or weaknesses of Howard Zinn’s text, and whatever the criticisms that have been made of it, we believe that the open discussion of controversial books benefits students, historians, and the general public alike. Attempts to single out particular texts for suppression from a school or university curriculum have no place in a democratic society.”
- “Agit-Prof: Howard Zinn’s Influential Mutilations Of American History” by David Greenberg at The New Republic. This is not the first time Zinn has made waves in 2013. David Greenberg, PhD, a professor of media studies and history at Rutgers University, wrote a more than 5,300-word critique of Zinn, “radical” historians, and why he believed Zinn oversimplified history while ignoring “intellectual honesty.”
- “Historians Respond To The New Republic’s Diatribe Against Howard Zinn” at Zinn Education Project. Three university professors threw back literary jabs at Dr. Greenberg’s article, many of whom said his article was flat-out wrong and misleading in several areas. The original article appeared at the History News Network, but I figured it was worth mentioning the Zinn Education Project, a pro-Zinn group who believes his history should be taught more within the American education system.
- “Howard Zinn’s History Lessons” by Michael Kazin at Dissent. Daniels quoted many historians and academics in his defense of bashing Zinn, including Michael Kazin. Kazin wrote this article at Dissent more than nine years ago, and indeed, it is supremely critical of Zinn and A People’s History, a la Greenberg and The New Republic (though this criticism came far before). However, Kazin has since published a response, saying that Daniels doesn’t understand “about how history is now and has always been written.” Zinn had always been abundantly clear with his book: He wrote it as a counter to traditional history, which is often written from a conservative, elitist point of view. Kazin even mentions this in his Dissent article, yet Daniels fails to realize this and looked to capitalize merely at the chance that a well-known academic shared somewhat similar sentiments.
- “Group Says Mitch Daniels Lifted Passages Wholesale In Attack On Zinn, Experts Have Doubts” by Hayleigh Colombo at The Lafayette Journal & Courier. Hayleigh Colombo, a Butler University grad and former editor-in-chief of The Butler Collegian, is a friend here at The Liberal Artist. She’s been covering the entire Daniels-Zinn hullabaloo at the Journal & Courier, and her coverage is worth reading, especially how Purdue professors responded to Daniels’ actions. (Yes, we admit our bias.)
I can’t forget to include one last link, one of our own, in fact. In March 2012, I spoke with Paul Hanson, PhD, a professor of history at Butler University whose courses I took as an undergraduate. In that interview, I specifically asked him about Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, and what it means to think critically when it comes to history and life in general. Make sure to read Dr. Hanson’s response here. It’s worth your while.
If anything, I think one thing is certain from this situation. I never knew Howard Zinn, but I bet he most likely would have enjoyed the fact this generated a robust discussion in many public circles.