13 June 2016

Embracing Bias

When I began Patriots and Peoples, I had a clear notion to read and reread two books. Neither A People's History of the United States nor A Patriot's History of the United States pretend to be objective. As an historian who has challenged presumptions of and ambitions towards objectivity, the openly expressed ideological positions of these two books refreshed me.

Many friends and colleagues over the years have praised Howard Zinn's approach in A People's History. Others have condemned it. More often than not, the opinions expressed revealed when Zinn's biases were shared or when they were anathema. My hope was to examine his claims more carefully. To what extent does his bias help illuminate neglected history? To what extent does his bias distort facts and interpretations?

I have neglected this critical reading of Zinn in favor of the same questions posed towards Larry Schweikart and Paul Allen's A Patriot's History of the United States. Their book is close to three times the length of Zinn's and offers better documentation. As I examined the sources they cite, I learned a lot that I did not know.* I also discovered a consistent pattern of distortion. Too few of their sources make the arguments that they allege (see especially "America was not a disease-free paradise").

I was hoping for better research in support of conservative ideology. Zinn's distortions appeared to be of a different sort than those by Scheikart and Allen.

The difference provoked disillusionment. My interest in this project waned. Increasingly, I put my energy into my Chess Skills blog (now 1001 published posts). In chess, fabricated evidence and analysis holds no sway. Checkmate cannot be faked.

I would like to return to this project--comparing right-wing and left-wing histories with equal scrutiny. There are plenty of lies and distortions on all sides of the American political spectrum. These lies and distortions affect public policy and they affect our understanding of a shared past. Recently, however, it has become increasingly clear that the pursuit of evidence-based history is less bipartisan than one should expect.

*I am particularly excited about how the work of Richard Steckel and his colleagues have expanded my understanding of early America. I remain indebted to Schweikart and Allen for bringing this work to my attention. See "Footnote to Larry Schweikart's Claim".

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP