[Howard Zinn raw #25]

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Interview with Howard Zinn in his office at Boston University.

0:03 Howard Zinn says he moved to Boston in 1963 and was working on writing two books on the South when he was offered a job at Boston University, where he started working in the fall of 1964. He says before the arrival of John Silber, it was a benign, pleasant place to work. He recounts a story he was told when he was deciding on whether or not to take the position at Boston University and inquired about academic freedom: During the McCarthy era, a professor had refused to talk to the House Un-American Activities Committee, the university president backed him up, and a week later the man defected to the Soviet Union.

04:27 Zinn explains that his rejection of neutrality in his approach to teaching was influenced by his experiences outside academia. “I did not simply come out of an academic neutrality into the classroom. I came already with strong views.” He says that once he started teaching at Spelman College and getting involved in the Civil Rights movement, there was no way to really maintain a pretense of neutrality. “We were in a crisis in the South, we were in a conflict. We needed every bit of energy we could get. And I saw the college campus as a place where there’s a huge amount of intellectual energy and human energy and I didn’t want it to be wasted. So from that point on, I began to see the resources of a university, of a college – the human resources, the intellectual resources – as something that should not be wasted in merely academic pursuits, as energy and talent that should be utilized for social change.”

6:07 Zinn says that his attitude toward teaching was ingrained by the time he arrived at Boston College; he made it a point in his classes to lay out very clearly that he had a perspective and was not going to feign neutrality or objectivity. “So once I had cleared the air that way, it liberated me, it made me free, then, to express my point of view in class as strongly as I could, making it clear at the same time that my word wasn’t law, that students had a right to disagree with me, that we wanted a real free marketplace of ideas in class, even though there wasn’t a free marketplace of ideas in the world outside.

8:11 Zinn lays out some of the thinking and research and experiences that went into writing The Politics of History.



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