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People’s Voices in American History – Zinn Memorial Lecture

Contributions of Prof. Howard Zinn (1922-2010) to the discipline of history has been highlighted in a lecture on the topic “Howard Zinn: A People’s History of the United States” organized by The Area Study Centre of Africa , North and South America at Quaid-i-Azam University.

Dr. Ilhan Niaz, Assistant Professor of history at Quaid-i-Azam University , was the guest speaker on the occasion. Prof. Howard Zinn had been Prof Emeritus, Boston University (until his passing away this February) to the discipline of history who promoted subjective reading of history from the common person’s perspective in his most influential book A People’s History of the United States .” (1980)

Dr. Ilhan Niaz attempted to explain Zinn’s book in historical and philosophical terms. He said that the work of Zinn is an eye opener and quite different form the curriculum taught at the academic level in the US colleges and universities.

He aid that Zinn did not fall into the same pitfalls of academic research as other academics, such as Francis Fukuyama, who has retracted his neo-conservative stance on the war in Iraq. He commented on a remarkable consensus among the American elite that only broke down during the 1860-65 Civil War. Zinn’s use of the term “establishment” to refer to the nexus between business executives, army generals, etc, Following Zinn, the establishment is today a term used across the globe, especially by journalists.

Dr. Ilhan shed light on the US imperial behavior in international affairs, especially during the Spanish-American. He termed World Wars as “the 30-year war” that lasted from 1914-45 after which the US “locked itself into a cycle of engagement in international affairs”.

Following this involvement, US defense spending did decrease but it was only between 7 to 10 percent. Successive American presidents, like Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama have tried to keep the people’s interest foremost, through programs such as Social Security, and even proposed tax incentives of US to $3 trillion.

In response to a student’s question about the current US President, Dr. Ilhan said that: “Obama is clearly in love with the American narrative .America has a remarkably flexible system in which a charismatic leader, like Obama, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, FDR, and many more, can restore people’s faith in the system, retain the elite consensus and garner popular support both domestic and international.”