A People's History


"The United States spends over $87 billion conducting a war in Iraq while the United Nations estimates that for less than half that amount we could provide clean water, adequate diets, sanitations services and basic education to every person on the planet. And we wonder why terrorists attack us." - John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man


One of the great changes in the writing of history, in my opinion, is the advent of "People's Histories", like Parenti's _Assassination of Julius Caesaar_, or Zinn's _A People's History of the United States_.

It has been said that the victors get to write the history of events. Well, until recently that has also been the case with the wealthy elites. Historians, on the whole, have tended to focus on and side with the elites, ignoring the sometimes vast movements and changes brought about by common people.

Another mistake in thinking, fostered by elite historians, is the idea that famous individuals cause all great changes. Not true. A majority of the great changes, especially in the USA, have been brought about by large groups of people cooperating and coordinating as communities. Think of the Civil Rights movement, the union movements, the French revolution.

The best way to create change is to work with others, not following the fiat of one individual. Cooperation is a wonderful technique which gets little attention today because of current dogma. Instead, cooperation should be celebrated and fostered.

(from an email of mine to a student, 7/8/15).


"By my view, any history that deals with the efforts of the populace to defend itself from the abuses of wealth and tyranny is people's history. Such history has been written over the past century by such notables as W.E.B. Du Bois, Philip Foner, Herbert Aptheker, Albert Marhiez, A.L. Morton, George Rudé, Richard Boyer, Herbert Morais, Jesse Lemisch, Howard Zinn, G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, and others" (Parenti, Michael. The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome. NY: New Press, 2003. p. 10).

"A people's history should be not only an account of popular struggle against oppression but an exposé of the anti-people's history that has prevailed among generations of mainstream historians. It should be a critical history about a people's oppressors, those whoc propagated an elitist ideology and a loathing of the common people that distorts the historical record down to this day" (Parenti, Michael. The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome. NY: New Press, 2003. p. 11).

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References

Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States. Beacon Press, 2014.

Harman, Chris. A People's History of the World: From the Stone Age to the New Millennium. Verso, 2008. " a narrative of ordinary people forming and re-forming complex societies in pursuit of common human goals."

Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. Touchstone, 2008.

Parenti, Michael. The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome. NY: New Press, 2003.

Prashad, Vijay. The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World. New Press, 2008. " traces the intellectual origins and the political history of the twentieth century attempt to knit together the world's impoverished countries in opposition to the United States and Soviet spheres of influence in the decades following World War II."

Raphael, Ray. A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence. Harper, 2002. "the first book to view the revolution through the eyes of common folk. Their stories have long been overlooked in the mythic telling of America's founding, but are crucial to a comprehensive understanding of the fight for independence. Now, the experiences of farmers, laborers, rank and file soldiers, women, Native Americans, and African Americans -- found in diaries, letters, memoirs and other long-ignored primary sources -- create a gritty account of rebellion, filled with ideals and outrage, loss, sacrifice, and sometimes scurrilous acts...but always ringing with truth."

Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States. Harper, 1980. A bestseller. "A People's History triggered a revolution in the way history is told, displacing the official versions with their emphasis on great men in high places to chronicle events as they were lived, from the bottom up."

Zinn, Howard and Mike Konopacki. A People's History of American Empire.


Colby Glass, MLIS, Professor Emeritus