On Frontpagemag.com today there is a lead story on the alleged transgressions of historians who presented at the H.A.W. February conference at the University of Texas at Austin. One of Mr Horowitz’s staff writers, Jacob Laksin, who was not in attendance at the three-day scholarly event, summarised it as basically an ahistorical exercise in Bush bashing and antiwar screeds against American imperialism. The title of the article emblazened over the picture of Howard Zinn and Andrea Smith is, “Historians v. History.”
I would argue that H.A.W., and I was one of the presenters at the conference, is the apotheosis of how a professional historian should approach the discipline of history. Analyse it, question it, ruminate about the orthodox, non-revisionist interpretations that created a stagnant discipline for so long. In keeping with this absurd title of “Historians v. History,” as if professional historians who are engaged citizens seeking peace and social justice cannot interpret history accurately, is the risible charge that Dr Zinn is anti-American. He is referred to as an “America-loathing Marxist.” Indeed, I won’t use labels to describe those on the right but it appears to me that some partisans of the right, including Jacob Laksin, believe they have a monopoly on virtue and on patriotism.
Dr Zinn has done more for America that most Americans and certainly most movement conservatives can claim. His revisionist, progressive view of history has enabled historians and students to reexamine the contours of American history in a new and refreshing manner. I think Mr Laksin should ponder what is the purpose of education and what is the role of academicians? It is to break new ground, to be skeptical of “assumed truths”, to forsake “balance and neutrality” when truth demands it and to fearlessly question the canon. Certainly academicians, as Dr Zinn clearly demonstrated in the three courses I had with him, are obligated to respect student opinions, should not have a political agenda that silences student voices and should not present material as if there is only one possible interpretation. However this demand by some for balance and neutrality in the classroom would seem to deter the pursuit of truth, create a stagnant classroom environment and frankly result in mere summaries of knowledge without much analysis of its meaning.
Historians who attended the H.A.W. conference are to be praised for their courage, professionalism and dedication to their discipline. It was the most impressive conference I have attended and I hope to attend additional ones.
Call it “Historians v. History” Mr Laksin or whomever chose the title of your article. I would call it “Historians Using History to Better America.”