Reviews - What do customers think about Voices of a People's History of the United States?
Brief but enormously valuable Jul 30, 2007
People who know me, and my familiarity with the Washington, DC tourist market, know that I've argued that tourists, particularly young ones, in the nation's capital feel comfortable with "founding fathers" being Disney characters, and our history being a litany of one victory after another over savages, and foriegners not up to our standards.
It's impossible for any honest person to not challenge that sort of fairy tale.
Around thirty years ago, I read Zinn's "A People's History of the United States." First, for those who think that's some kind of Marxist diatribe (before the word "liberal" was made dirty by some of your favorite rightwing talk show demagogues), it isn't. Many have reminded us over the centuries that history is often written by the victor. So there is an inherent bias of the victor toward his or her objectives. Zinn's book challenges some of that. It's well researched, well thought out, not just leftie diatribes. So to this day I recommend it.
Then we often lose track of the underdog. We talk about Washington and Jefferson, maybe even include that they owned slaves. But do we hear the side of the slave? (I was at a plantation in Charleston last January in which the docent made it sound like the slaves rather liked it there as their masters treated them so well. I reminded her that the slaves had no choice but to be there. They were effectively abducted from their home lands, and, if they were to have escaped, their chance of death was pretty great.)
This CD, while short, starts with part of a speech by Bartolme de Las Casas who knew what Columbus's crew really did to the Indians they encounted. It includes part of a speech by Frederick Douglass on what July 4 means to black people. There are excerpts of speeches on imperialism (Mark Twain) women (Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth), patriotism (Emma Goldman) and others.
I acknowledge that we may have a tendency to romanticize excerpts in particular. For instance, those of us who challenge the norm sometimes make saints--nearly perfect people--of those we oppressed. And we must remember they were human too. Just remember that the excerpts and the speeches fit into the times and historical circumstances in which they were made. But the "other side" MUST BE heard. This is a great intro to that other side, and it may entice the listener to read the book by the same name, or others which, one hopes, would moderate the view of some Americans that we are the pinnacle of perfection.