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Re: [Phys-l] American History; was Academic Familiarity Breeds Discomfort?

I'll interleave, but first I don't think the reviewer read the same book I have.

On 2008, Jul 26, , at 10:03, Jack Uretsky wrote:

Hi all-
On Fri, 25 Jul 2008, Bernard Cleyet wrote:

Since we're referencing, any of Zinn's People's Histories.
Here's a review of one such book:
36 of 166 people found the following review helpful:3.0 out of 5 stars
Raises important questions, terrible scholarship, January 5, 2002By A
CustomerTHE GOOD: Professor Zinn raises important questions that test our
long held assumptions about American history, and for this--the
questions--the book should be read and discussed vigorously. The book is
also very readible, with a flowing, yet serious style.THE BAD:
Unfortunately, the book suffers from two fatal flaws, and for this reason
does not belong in a classroom (college or otherwise). First, Zinn fails
to cite adequately his sources (no footnotes or endnotes), leaving the
reader with only a vague sense of his source material. This is
particularly unacceptable for
a work that admits to be controversial. His excuse, in the preface, that
the foo
tnotes would be too voluminous, is lame at best.

No preface, but an intro. to the bibliography where he does write of "... impossibly cluttered with footnotes. ..." But, "... and yet I know the curiosity of the reader about where a startling fact or pungent quote comes from. Therefore, as often as I can, I mention in the text authors and titles of books for which the full information is in this bibliography. Where you cannot tell the source of a quotation right from the text, you can probably fugure it out by looking at the asterisked books for that chapter."

He then lists the principal scholarly periodicals he used and some less orthodox ones. The biblio. for the first chapter, which is the only one the reviewer discussed, contains nine books, of which six are asterisked.

Witness Pulitzer winning
historian McCullough's use of sources in his much acclaimed JOHN ADAMS.

For instance, in his chapter on Columbus, he indicates that two years
after Columbus landed on Hispaniola the native Arawak population had nearly
all died.

Quoting Zinn: "the chief source--and on some matters the only source--of information about what happened on the islands after Columbus came is Bartolomé de las Casas, who as a young priest, participated in the conquest of Cuba. For a time he owned a plantation which Indian slaves worked, but he gave up and became a vehement critic of Spanish cruelty. Las Casas transcribed Columbus's journal and, in his fifties, began a multivolume 'History of the indies.'" ....

After some description of the Natives and the cruelty of the Spaniards -- all quoting Casas, he quotes (i.e. it 's not Zinn, as claimed by the reviewer, writing the "... two years after ...", but Zinn quoting Casas.

If one wishes to discuss scholarship, I would discuss the scholarship of the reviewer who, evidently, can;t distinguish type size and quotation marks, but that would be tu quoque.

for completeness here's the quote: "there were 60,000 people living on the island [when Casas arrived in Hispaniola in 1508] , including the indians; so that from 1492 to 1508, over three million people had perished from the war, slavery , and the mines. who in future generations will believe this ? I myself writing as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it ..."

The following paragraph includes the quotation: "The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in COMPLETE GENOCIDE." [My emphasis, naturlich.] This is from "Christopher Columbus, Mariner", written in 1954, by the somewhat more illustrious Historian Samuel Eliot Morison.

He also cites evidence of some gratuitously harsh treatment by
the Spanish-- but he does not really indicate the degree to which these
events were isolated or the norm.

No so unless he read it in a not quite parallel universe.

Specifically: did the Arawaks perish as
a result of systematic slaughter or from disease transmitted from Spanish
soldiers? If only, say, 20% were slaughtered and the rest died from
disease, our moral judgments would be different than if the case were
reversed. This historical method characterizes his use of examples
throughout the book: anecdotal pieces without proper context. To the
extent Zinn fails to quantify or even discuss the problems of
quantification (however crudely) he is really just putting on a slight of
hand. He invites the unsuspecting (or unsophisticated) reader to adopt
inferences that might not be warranted or which the reader's emotions
might have predisposed her.

Hence, though well written and fascinating for the questions it raises,
the book fails to make its case stick and can be misleading. Read it, but
with extreme caution, and try to recognize the slights of hand for what
they are. It's a pity: his inquiry is important, but his method undermines
his case.
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duplicate text removed.

I will be pleased to copy the first ten pages to any who wishes to decide between the anonymous reviewer and me whether Zinn's book lacks too much in scholarship.


p.s. the reviewer discussed only the first seven pages of the first (of 21) chapter. Of these seven, I estimate about 25% is quotation.

I don't think Zinn claimed it to be a scholarly book. Just a recounting of events from the other side.



"Trust me. I have a lot of experience at this."
General Custer's unremembered message to his men,
just before leading them into the Little Big Horn Valley

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