The American Historical Association on Friday released a statement criticizing the way Mitch Daniels (when he governor of Indiana, prior to becoming president of Purdue University) exchanged e-mail messages with staff members criticizing the work of the late Howard Zinn. "Whatever the strengths or weaknesses of Howard Zinn’s text, and whatever the criticisms that have been made of it, we believe that the open discussion of controversial books benefits students, historians, and the general public alike. Attempts to single out particular texts for suppression from a school or university curriculum have no place in a democratic society," said the statement.
Daniels defended himself last week in part by citing the work of historians far to his left who have also criticized Zinn. But some of those who Daniels cited (and who are no longer part of the statement posted on the Daniels website at Purdue) have since objected to his use of their statements about Zinn. Michael Kazin, a professor of history at Georgetown University whose criticism was cited by Daniels, published as statement on the Academe blog of the American Association of University Professors. "I don’t think much of Zinn’s interpretation of U.S. history, it’s true. But it’s an interpretation, which like any serious work of history, chooses to emphasize certain themes and details in order to make a larger argument. I would be unhappy if Zinn’s book were the only or even the main text in a high-school or college history class (as I understand is sometimes the case). But chapters of it can be quite useful if contrasted with alternative interpretations," Kazin wrote. "When Daniels accuses Zinn of being a 'biased writer,' he just shows how little he understands about how history is now and has always been written. Every historian has a point of view about whichever portion of the past they choose to study. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be writing about it in the first place."
Sam Wineburg, a professor of education at Stanford University whose criticism of Zinn was also cited by Daniels, issued a series of comments on Twitter: "Mitch Daniels uses my work to defend his shameless attempts to censor free speech. Shame!" and "Mr. Daniels, free societies openly teach ideas we disagree with. We do not censor objectionable speech. Study your Orwell" and "I have criticized Zinn but will defend to my death the right to teach him. Shame on Mitch Daniels."
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