Monday, February 1, 2010

Clarification

Since his death last week, NPR commentators have referred to Howard Zinn as a "revisionist historian" twice. And this strikes me as strange and inaccurate. It only makes sense to call someone like Zinn a revisionist if you believe that there is such a thing as history-with-a-capital-H. Like History from the God's-eye-view, or The Way Things Really Were. Period. But nobody believes that anymore, do they? I mean, don't we all pretty much accept the fact that History is just history told from the dominant, mainstream perspective, and that all the histories that are told from the marginalized view are just as valid; they're just coming from a different perspective? And in this sense, it's not only nonsensical to call the histories from marginalized perspectives "revisionist," but it positions the mainstream view as the right one - the best one - and all the rest as somewhat suspect, if not flat-out illegitimate. So let's cut it out already with the "revisionist" talk.

18 comments:

  1. Anonymous2/04/2010

    This is a really interesting example of how the terms of discourse both reveal and influence our attitudes regarding who's voice is legitimate. Nice post!

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  2. Rachel,

    You're joking right? You're the first person I've known that is Left of NPR. Don't you think that if the acknowledged leading liberal / progressive radio network in America identifies Zinn a historical revisionist it might be accurate? They're not Fox Fucking News.

    I'm glad you posted this because it is such an accurate reflection of the attitude of the Academic Elites like you. It is never about what actually happened. It's always about advancing your political agenda regardless of its accuracy. You folks just make shit up as you go along and call it fact. It's insane.

    "No one believes that anymore do they?" WTF?!? They probably don't if they've been allowed to live in an alternate universe for most of their professional lives, where facts don't matter and whatever someone thinks might have happened ends up in college text books in the Humanities, the Social Sciences and Women's Studies. This shit has been going on so long people think it's normal.

    Here's an example for you. I was in Phoenix last week and visited one of my nephews. He's going to ASU and is finishing up some electives so he can graduate and get a job. So he decides to take some 200 level history course titled "U.S. History since 1856" or something. Whatever. I see a stack of his textbooks on the floor and look through them. There are three books that are specifically black history publications. I ask him if he's also taking a Black History elective. He says no. I say then WTF is it with these textbooks. We check out the ASU web site and damned if this History Since 1856 course isn't being taught by a black guy with a History PhD. I frankly don't care who teaches the class or that he's black. I do however have a huge problem with him teaching this course and focusing on Black History if it is supposed to be U.S History. If the kid wanted to take a Black History course he would have signed up for one. Another opportunity for some progressive asshole like you to push a political agenda on a student that just wants to take a U.S. History Course. This is just more of the academic elites pushing their political propaganda on the public without their knowledge or approval. I imagine that when he finishes the class he'll know everything he needs to know about why Blacks should be paid reparations. Unbelievable. Trust me when I tell you that I'll be having an exchange with his father and ASU on the issue.

    It's kinda like college kids taking Women's Studies Courses and getting your bogus patriarchy propaganda jammed down their throats as truth when everyone with a brain knows that Women's Studies is the most politically motivated and least academically robust major in existence.

    Tell you what Darlin', public post-secondary education is in serious need of an overhaul. Everything needs to be on the table including getting rid of tenured positions and shutting down or revising & relaunching programs that are driven by politics rather than academics. Given the economy, the recent advances in on-line education and the foolish shit being peddled as education in the state universities right now by you and your ilk something has got to give.

    By The Way…since people are supposed to "cut out the revisionist talk" what exactly would you call your strongly held position that the Cowboy Culture never really existed? If that isn't revisionism then I guess that neither is Ahmadinejad's position on the Holocaust right? You're the prof so please clarify it for me. I'm just trying to become smart like you.

    Burn

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  3. Dear Burn,

    I never said that cowboy culture never existed. Please acquire some reading skills, and then we can talk. Oh, and while you're at it, take a basic history class at any university. Nobody thinks that here is a such thing as History-with-a-capital-H anymore. Not even the most conservative old-fashioned thinkers. Just as you'll get very different accounts of a car accident or a movie or a football game from the various observers present, history is colored by the perspective and the interests of the person telling it. That's just a part of what it means to be human, so get over it already.

    Sincerely,

    Rachel

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  4. I took history at university, Darlin'. I just didn't take the version in which everything gets made up to fit your agenda as you go along.

    I love it when everyone in the fucking world thinks Zinn is a revisionist except you, but that makes me confused. WTF?!? You've been teaching too long and not having anyone with a brain rebut your goofy positions.

    You're not getting it, but I appreciate you admitting that you think you can create anything you'd like from whole cloth with no basis in fact, based upon just your politically slanted version of reality.

    I've got nothing to prove to you. You and your friends will be feeling the impact of the coming changes soon enough. When it happens just remember that it's all on you and what your moronic friends did to the Academy.

    Maybe Starbucks will take you back. I hear you can make like $7.25 an hour...

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  5. Anonymous2/04/2010

    Burn, I think you've misunderstood. The commentators on NPR (that I heard) were being critical of Zinn. And the view of history that Rachel has identified here is indeed the standard at this point. That doesn't stop people from telling things from a mainstream, privileged perspective, of course.

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  6. happyfeminist2/04/2010

    The car accident thing is a great illustration of this. I took an English class where we watched a video of a car accident, and everyone wrote a brief description of it. We were amazed at how different they were, and how we all noticed totally different aspects of it. It was a great exercise.

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  7. Michael2/05/2010

    So, let me get this straight, Burn. You think that managing a Starbucks while attending college fulltime is something to be mocked? I thought you were a model capitalist. Because if you were a model capitalist you would realize that 1) managers at Starbucks don't make whatever ridiculous hourly wage you spouted out in an attempt to humiliate Rachel in reference to her college job, and 2) Starbucks provides respectable benefits to their managers, leaving them with a pretty decent start to their retirement fund and stock portfolio. Seems like you might be jealous. Where did you work while an undergrad? MacDonalds maybe?

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  8. melbatoast2/05/2010

    Sad, but predictable, that Burn doesn't think black history is US history. I suppose he doesn't think women's history is US history either. Only white hetero males are really American, right? The rest of us can suck it, cuz we just don't count when it comes to historicizing.

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  9. @ Anonymous - I didn't misunderstand anything. I didn't say I heard the NPR broadcast. Your girl Rachel was calling bullshit on NPR for calling Zinn a revisionist, right? Concerning changing "history", if you look back at the Academy what you will find is that until around forty years ago revisions to "baseline dogma" were limited to academically robust proofs that historical assumptions were erroneous in some legitimate way. There have certainly always been some profs outside the mainstream in the past that were free to speak their minds, but were not allowed to negatively impact the quality of the baseline post-secondary educational experience that parents and students had a reasonable expectation of receiving.

    What has changed since that time is a major shift in the political views of the tenured professorship in the Academy. Somehow it migrated to the collective decision that anyone with any opinion deserved to be treated the same way, as opposed to teaching students what actually happened. This of course set the stage for the current state of academic relativity in which if anyone perceives themselves as being somehow oppressed in the past their views were assigned as much intellectual validity as facts that had stood scrutiny of time. For those of you that are not professors and are too young to understand what is going on I suggest you do some research on your own. It's not pretty.

    @ happyfeminist - If the opinions about the car wreck are objective I also don't have a problem with it. The issue here is that we have an "educated class" of people with advanced degrees that are indoctrinating young people to a political agenda instead of giving them the post-secondary education that they and their parents believed they were paying for. In this process they are trying to change these students' political foundation and world view. To the extent they change people's baseline view of the world they change the way in which they perceive the referenced car wreck.

    I will give you folks credit though. Generations of parents have sent their children to college honestly believing that they would be positioned for success going forward. What has happened is that they have been indoctrinated into the relativity of the Academy by a group of people that have never even really lived in the real world.

    @ Michael - Let me help you get it straight. Do I seem like someone that gives a shit about Starbuck's business model or the people that work in it? Not so much. I think life is a meritocracy and you need to bust your ass to succeed. It would be better if you didn't totally disclose your ignorance concerning retirement savings by claiming that being a Starbucks employee might actually represent any reasonable foundation for retirement. Actually I paid for my university by a combination of a football / basketball scholarship, the GI Bill and working for the university service shop. So no, I didn't get a chance to sell egg mcmuffins to college students and senior citizens. I did however get a chance to serve my country, which I'm thinking that a goof like you not only didn't sign up for, but it probably wasn’t even in your realm of choices.

    Yep, you totally busted me…I'm jealous of Rachel. Evidently you missed the prior chapters of this drama in which everyone decides that I'm a fraud and a bullshit artist. I subsequently offer to prove up the facts and of course no one steps up to the challenge because they can't.

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  10. @ melba,

    Right. If you would pay attention you'd see that my nephew signed up for U.S. History, not Black U.S. History. You are probably one of the "smart ones", but let me clue you in…ASU is a taxpayer supported State School. In that context don't you think it is reasonable to expect that when you sign up for a U.S. History course that you don't get a bunch of bullshit propaganda by another PhD goof with a political agenda like Rachel (except being Black instead of Feminist), about their personal views of what actually happened? You probably don't because it's all about your politics, not about what actually happened or a kid getting the education that he and his parents think they are paying for.

    For the record, I'm sure we can independently confirm that ALL History textbooks currently being used in State Universities in the U.S. have correctly "adjusted" to properly reflect the currently politically correct position of the Academy on U.S. History. Point being, since three of the four textbooks in the class being discussed are obviously Black History Textbooks (one of which was authored by the Prof) it's a problem in a "regular" U.S. History course. If the kid signed up for Black History I would shut up, but he didn't.

    Please don't misunderstand me here. I fully recognize that you girls feel like my objection to this is based upon my complete lack of character and fairness. That said, I think it's as simple as someone saying one thing and doing something else. You goofs are so used to getting away with bullshit like this you think it's normal.

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  11. melbatoast2/06/2010

    Once again, you've just confirmed that you don't think black history is US history. Do you think blacks (and women) don't also pay taxes, which support the academic institutions that teach history classes? What a backward and myopic view of the world!

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  12. @ Melba,

    I think if you'll read my post you'll see that I said that all the currently politically fashionable propaganda has already been integrated into standard post-secondary textbooks. Point being If the kid was taking a core history course (which he was) all of the generally accepted black history had already been included in the baseline text. No need for the extra three black authored opinions about U.S. History, unless he want's to major in black studies, which I can assure he does not want to do.

    Don't put words in my mouth. If you'd like to have a discussion about which sex & race pays most of the taxes in this country bring it on. I suggest you do your homework first though.

    As long as we're on the subject of me being backwards and unfair, If you decide to continue to argue your currently weak position please enlighten the class concerning the odds of crimes being committed by a black person against a white person versus white on white in the U.S.. Better yet, share with everyone the odds of a crime being committed against a white woman by a black man versus a white man. The information is certainly out there, although I doubt that you and your friends will appreciate the truth, nor will be it consistent with your political views of our country. I understand you folks normally don't want to let the facts get in the way but you may try to check them out, for once.

    Don't get me started on taxes. I'm working on mine now and trust me when I say you'll lose that argument.

    Burn

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  13. lizbeth2/08/2010

    "the kid was taking a core history course (which he was) all of the generally accepted black history had already been included in the baseline text"

    What a quaint view! Amusing.

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  14. Hey Lillith,

    Bullshit responses like yours are exactly what prove up the elitism I originally called out. If in fact whatever the currently fashionable black history interpretation had not been integrated into these baseline textbooks it certainly is no fault of the student, nor is it the fault of the Academy not being liberal enough. If the Academy failed to integrate it's on them.

    You seem to be a really smart person. Enlighten me. If I sign up for "U.S. History since 1856" should I get the version of that class that is described in the catalog? You know...the one that I'm assuming someone at the University decided would be part of the core electives because they understood what was being taught?

    Or...should we just let the unsuspecting student that picks one of say 10 sections of this elective to get "pot luck"? In this case, a Black History Primer. That way they can play the academic version of the lottery and just by luck, fate and / or the Gods of whatever my nephew will be enlightened as to the plight of black people and will go on to become a sensitive, progressive person like you morons? Maybe that’s how you live your life, but that isn't how I live mine.

    You're either a grad student or professor. In any case, too bad for those who draw the short straw and get you.

    3-7-77

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  15. Anonymous2/09/2010

    There is a difference between offering a perspective on history, and being a historical revisionist. A perspective will take the facts, and from them build opinions about motives, causes, etc. A revision will distort the facts.

    Take the car wreck video for example. I'm sure each student brought a different perspective as to the cause of the crash, but none disagreed that a crash occured.

    I have read many history books, and it becomes quickly apparent that each author has his or her own perspective, but the good ones don't change the facts to fit their perspective. Zinn distorted, omitted and changed facts to suit his agenda. He was not one of the good ones.

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  16. Burn,

    I'm probably wasting my time here, but...

    I think there's a basic misunderstanding going on here. Nobody is saying that US history should only be taught as Black history or Women's history or whatever. We're simply saying that, generally speaking, historical events affecting marginalized groups have been either ignored, or glossed over, or straight-up misrepresented. This is not a controversial statement. It is widely accepted to be true by even the most conservative people. You've heard the old adage "history is written by the victors," right? This is just that basic statement, but fleshed out a bit. But nobody is suggesting on the basis of this that we should only teach the history of marginalized people. The claim is simply that you should try to be as inclusive as possible. And often that requires using supplementary texts, because the standard ones still tend to be predominantly white, male, straight history. The same is true in Philosophy. Most intro textbooks are not a real Intro to Philosophy, but actually an intro to white male western philosophy, so you have to use supplementary sources to round out the course. This has become standard practice, and course listings reflect this. What was really dishonest was the way white male history and philosophy used to be (and often still are) presented as The History and The Philosophy when really it was just one slice of history and philosophy. So in this way an inclusive syllabus is actually more honest and less of a misrepresentation, contrary to your statements.

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  17. Anonymous,

    It's true that different people form opinions and offer their own perspectives, but it's simply never the case that any one human just presents "the facts." Writing history is a selective process - you can't include everything that happened, and in some cases it's hard to really know what happened at all, because there are so many competing accounts. Nobody can get a God's-eye-view, and every human account will come from a particular, situated perspective. This is because we're all embedded in a culture, and our conceptual framework and vocabulary is determined by that framework, and our values and interests are determined by our experiences. Acknowledging this aspect of the human experience doesn't amount to disrediting anyone or claiming that we can't do history or anything like that. It just means that we need to remain aware of this dynamic and include a multiplicity of voices, from many different perspectives. So it's not really a question of changing the facts at all, and that wording is misleading. It's really an issue of which facts you choose to include, which ones seem relevant to you, how you choose to describe events that happened, which details you include, etc.

    As to the claim about Zinn, I'm not always a fan of Zinn's, but at times people like Zinn "distort" "facts" to make a point. We have a habit of accepting the claims of the dominant group in a culture as if they are unquestionable facts, and at times we need to shake people out of this kind of mental inertia and make them question all the accounts they're presented with in order to get a more fair and accurate picture. Everyone has an agenda; nobody is working outside of a cultural and personal perspective, and thus all history is revisionist to some extent and there's no such thing as completely uninterpreted facts.

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  18. Rachel,

    Thanks for stepping up to what is going on. That is all I've been looking for. You've confirmed that you and your compatriots are doing exactly what I originally said you were doing. Trying to change history because you politically don't agree with the current version. You rationalize it by finding real, semi-real or totally fictional information that supports your revisionist strategies.

    I just hope most of the folks reading your blog actually understand where you are coming from. Anyone with the ability to think objectively that has read Zinn understands exactly what he was about. For those of you that haven't I suggest they go on an independent fact finding mission.

    Your last paragraph to Anonymous is enlightening. Your admission that Zinn's factually incorrect statements are fine because sometimes you need to "shake up" people (by lying) to serve your political agenda. WTF? You know, for a professor I would have thought you would have been a bit more careful concerning your disregard for the truth. This approach is however very consistent with not only the roots of feminism, but how it is practiced to this day. I've always understood where you were going but I didn't think you'd step up to it in writing. I think you screwed up. Seems you are also an Alinsky disciple?!?

    Reminds me of something I read recently from an interview with a currently fashionable feminist when she was asked about how she felt about the progress that women had made over the past forty years. She responded with the analogy of walking around with five stones in your shoe. She said that a couple of stones had been removed now based upon current progress, but that feminists still had a long way to go.

    All this proves is that no matter how much progress made on the real or imagined issues that Feminism believes they face, they will never stop looking for more nor will they ever be satisfied. This may sound like a minor point to you feminists, but to the regular guy on the street the only reason they signed up for feminism to begin with was the fairness argument. Now that college attendance has flipped from 60 / 40 male / female thirty years ago to 40 / 60 now, Dudes are starting to figure out that they are getting screwed with no end in site. Suggest you revisit the Super Bowl Ad piece for where this is going.

    Feminism's risk was always been that their aggressiveness and unreasonableness would finally override men's natural inclination to be accommodating to women as a group. You've pretty much been getting it your way for the past forty years. Change is in the air.

    We may be reaching a tipping point.

    3-7-77

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