Historian Howard Zinn dies at age 87

Thursday, January 28, 2010

American historian Howard Zinn, best known for his work A People's History of the United States, died Wednesday, January 27, of a heart attack while traveling to Santa Monica, California. He was 87.

Howard Zinn in 2004
Image: Jared and Corin.

Born in 1922 to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, Zinn served in the Army during World War II as a pilot. After the war ended, he took his medals and papers, put them in a folder, and wrote on top "Never again," becoming an anti-war activist for the rest of his life. He attended Columbia University, where he received a doctorate in history and wrote his dissertation on New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia's congressional career.

Zinn worked for Spelman College from 1956 to 1963, where he encouraged his students during the civil rights movement to request books from the segregated public libraries. He was a critic of Spelman's non-participation in the movement, and as a result was fired. He then became a professor of political science at Boston University from 1964 to 1988.

While a professor in Boston, Zinn wrote his major work A People's History of the United States, published in 1980. The work took a revisionist view of history, telling the story of American history through the eyes of women, Native Americans and workers, as well as accusing Christopher Columbus of committing genocide during his travels.

A People's History of the United States was praised by some and criticized by others, though Zinn noted that his book was not meant to be an objective history of the United States. Zinn also wrote more than 20 other books, including You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, his autobiography. He is survived by two children and five grandchildren.