Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Assignment #1- Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress

Zinn's primary thesis is one shrouded under a veil of strong personal bias, hypocritically written, but a thesis, no less. The author suggests throughout the reading that the Europeans and all other conquerors and victors wrote the history of their past and therefore skew the facts of the past. Zinn also makes it very apparent that he believes the "victors" of the past acted in a universally selfish, self-interested manner.
Howard Zinn's main ideas in this reading are centered around the injustices of the conquerors of the past, and not just Columus' exploits into the islands of North America. He uses the exploits of Columbus and his Spaniard crew as an example to set up his main ideas. Zinn states many examples of cruelty and barbarism of the Spaniards toward Arawaks of North America, much like he relates the Puritan dominance in Virginia. Zinn's main point of this excerpt is to denounce the wrongdoings of European conquerors in the Americas. He uses a number of examples of these acts, including the completely needless beheadings of Arawaks and the burning of Native American villages in modern-day Virginia during Puritan colinization. Zinn's argument is mostly centered around his own personal beliefs and opinions, including his obvious statements of disdain regarding the killing of Native Americans. He suggests that all conquerors in (mostly European) history have killed, decapitated, mutilated and burned anyone and anything in their path to "progress" and advance.
I was less than enthusiastic about the reading, however. All throughout Zinn's writing, I felt the need to be critical of his work. I felt that Zinn was very hypocritical at times. He claimed to be writing from an unbiased view, different from historians who distort their views in order to accomplish something in a selfish manner. He compared himself to a mapmaker (although not directly) by going into detail about the tasteful and needed distortion of maps, a comparison to his own writing about the needed distortion and bias of his writing.
I was most driven to feel angered by Zinn's writing when he began quoting the journal of a European present during the Puritan colinization in Virginia. It seems as if he put extra emphasis on the ignorance of Europeans by using these quotes that were poorly written by the original author and fall less than eloquent. At the same time, Zinn quoted a letter from a Powhatan that was marvelously written and very eloquent. It is almost as if Zinn wrote this entire reading to sneakily denounce European conquest, doing so becase he wanted to maintain an "unbiased" view and only state facts.
-Is Zinn's main point to make others aware of facts, or was it to swing the opinion of his readers while maintaining a sense of neutrality, unlike "historians"?
-How does Zinn really feel about the so-called progress and advancement that may have taken place as a result of the actions of Eurpoean conquerors?
I find that Howard Zinn's writing might have been more polarizing had he not made it a point to claim no bias, and had he not ripped many historians for thier writings of history, namely Samuel Elliot Morison and his writings about Columbus. Zinn states that we must not condemn Columbus' actions for the sake of making moral judgement, but that is exactly what he underhandedly does throughout his whole writing, while never outwrite states his opinion.

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