Howard Zinn

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Howard Zinn (2009)
Howard Zinn (February 2004)

Howard Zinn (born August 24, 1922 in Brooklyn , New York City , † January 27, 2010 in Santa Monica , California ) was an influential American historian , political scientist and professor at Boston University .

The focus of his historical research was the civil rights and peace movements. As a practitioner of history from below , Zinn offered a revision of American historiography. His book A People's History of the United States , which has a circulation of more than one million, tries to present American history from the perspective of groups otherwise usually neglected in historiography, including powerless "victims".

Tin was also a staunch critic of United States foreign policy . He was active in the civil rights movement and peace movement and became one of the most famous figures on the American left alongside Noam Chomsky . Zinn writes: “The expression 'just war' is inherently contradictory. War is in itself unjust, and the great challenge of our time is to come to terms with evil, tyranny and oppression without killing large numbers of people. "


Zinn grew up in a working-class family of Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, worked in the Brooklyn shipyards, and bombed Europe during World War II. An experience which, even if Zinn saw "a certain moral core" in the war due to the fight against the fascists, became decisive for his opposition to the war. Zinn was a B17 bombardier in the 490th Bomb Group. In April 1945 he took part in the napalm bombing of Royan on the French Atlantic coast, which was still occupied by German troops. Nine years later, Zinn visited Royan, studied documents, interviewed residents, and wrote a report about it, which was published in his book The Politics of History and is also included in The Zinn Reader .

After the war, visited tin with a GI scholarship to New York University , graduated in 1951 with a BA and graduated from the Columbia University in 1952, a master's degree in History (Minor in Political Science). In 1958 the doctorate followed there .

His PhD thesis, LaGuardia in Congress, was a study of Fiorello LaGuardia's career in Congress. She portrays LaGuardia favorably; as "the conscience of the twenties" he fought for the responsibility of the state, for the right to strike, and for the redistribution of wealth through taxes. "His specific legislative program," wrote Zinn, "was an amazingly accurate foresight of the New Deal ." It was published by Cornell University Press for the American Historical Association .

In 1956, Zinn became dean of the Department of History and Social Sciences at Spelman College (now Atlanta University Center, Spelman College), a college for black women in Atlanta , where he participated in the Civil Rights Movement . Zinn advised the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Speaking of his experience at Spelman College, Zinn says, “Those seven years at Spelman College were probably the most interesting, exciting, and the most studied years. I learned more from my students than my students learned from me. "

Zinn worked with historian Staughton Lynd at Spelman and became a mentor to young activists such as Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman . Although tenured professor, tin in 1963 was fired after he sided with some students who produce the traditional ambition of Spelman College, "young ladies", questioned as Spelmans students, such as tin in an article in The Nation wrote , more likely to be found in a picket line or in jail for participating in efforts to bring down segregation . Zinn extensively portrayed his years at Spelman College in his autobiography, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times .

According to the files released by the FBI in July 2010 under the Freedom of Information Act , Zinn was denounced as an alleged member of the Communist Party during the McCarthy era , but the FBI found no evidence of this when it was checked against its informants in the party in 1964. The FBI tried to recruit him in 1953, Zinn told the agents that he was not a member of the party and refused to become an informant . The FBI, instructed by J. Edgar Hoover , then continued to observe him, according to the files, and classified Zinn as a high security threat due to his influence on Martin Luther King , his criticism of the Vietnam War and his critical articles on the FBI - a category that the In the event of a state of emergency would have allowed tin to be arrested. In 1974 the file was closed.

1963–64, in a year he was not teaching, Zinn wrote SNCC: The New Abolitionists and The Southern Mystique . In 1964 he became a faculty member at Boston University where he taught history and civil liberties until 1988 . He was one of the leading critics of the Vietnam War . Zinn's diplomatic visit to Hanoi in 1968 led to the first release of American prisoners of war. Daniel Ellsberg entrusted the " Pentagon Papers " to Zinn (and others) before they were finally published in the New York Times .

Summoned as an expert in Ellsberg's criminal case, Zinn was asked to explain to the jury the history of US engagement in Vietnam from World War II to 1963. Zinn debated this story for several hours. He later reflected on his time in front of the jury:

“I stated that there was nothing militarily significant in the papers that could be used to harm the US defense, that the information disclosed was embarrassing to the government because it showed how, in the internal government memoranda itself she had lied to the American public [...]. The secrets exposed by the Pentagon Papers might be uncomfortable for politicians or hurt the profits of companies that wanted tin, rubber and oil from distant places, but that was not the same as hurting the nation, the people. "

- Howard Zinn : You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times . 1994, p. 161.

Ellsberg was acquitted.

Howard Zinn was most recently Professor Emeritus in Political Science at Boston University . He lived in the Auburndale neighborhood of Newton, Massachusetts with his wife Roslyn. Your children are Myla and Jeff.

Howard Zinn died of a heart attack on January 27, 2010 while on vacation with his family in Santa Monica , California .

Zinn's autobiography You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times was filmed in 2004 and is available on DVD. Zinn received the Thomas Merton Award in 1991 , the Eugene V. Debs Award and the Lannan Literary Award in 1998 , and the Upton Sinclair Award in 1999 . In 2006 he received the Haven's Center Award for Lifetime Contribution to Critical Scholarship. On April 14, 2010, just under three months after his death, he was posthumously awarded The Ridenhour Courage Prize . His son Jeff Zinn accepted the award on his behalf.

A People's History

Zinn's best-known work is the extensive A People's History of the United States (published in German as “Eine Geschichte des American Volkes”), which was published in 1980 and has been available in German translation since 2007. In it, he tells the history of the United States from the perspective of people outside the political and economic establishment : indigenous people , slaves, workers, women, blacks and others whose struggles are often neither recorded nor recognized. A People's History was originally published without major advertising and only in a small print run (4,000–5,000 copies), but developed into a bestseller due to the recommendations of the readers . The book is recommended for reading to students in American high schools and is used as a textbook in colleges.

Actor Matt Damon , who grew up in the Zinn neighborhood, included a reference to A People's History in his film Good Will Hunting and later recorded an audio book version of the book.

In the spring of 2003, a dramatic reading was held at 92nd Street YMHA in New York City to celebrate the sale of the 1,000,000th copy. Alice Walker , Marisa Tomei , Myla Pitt , Alfre Woodard , Kurt Vonnegut , Harris Yulin , Andre Gregory , Danny Glover , James Earl Jones , actor and producer Jeff Zinn and Howard Zinn (as narrators) attended the reading . The result was published as The People Speak: American Voices, Some Famous, Some Little Known .

In 2004 Zinn released Voices of A People's History of the United States with Anthony Arnove . Voices expanded the concept and offers a large collection of dissident voices. The book is intended as a companion volume to A People's History and has a parallel structure.




  • A People's History of the United States (1999)
  • Heroes & Martyrs (2000)
  • Stories Hollywood Never Tells (2000)
  • Artists in the Time of War (2002)

Web links

Commons : Howard Zinn  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Biography
  2. ^ Howard Zinn, Historian, Is Dead at 87 , The New York Times , Jan. 28, 2010
  3. .
  4. The FBI's File on Howard Zinn , The Progressive , July 31, 2010
  5. Peter N. Kirstein: The People's Historian and the FBI Zinn Files , George Mason University 's History News Network, Aug. 9, 2010
  6. ^ Howard Zinn: 2010 Recipient of The Ridenhour Courage Prize at, accessed February 27, 2012
  7. The Huffington Post: Howard Zinn Dead, Author Of 'People's History Of The United States' Died At 87 , January 27, 2010
  8. ( Memento of the original from March 9, 2005 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. .  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  9. Review in The New York Times , June 17, 2007; Excerpt from