University President in Indiana Tried to Censor Howard Zinn's 'People's History of the United States'

Human Rights

In his groundbreaking work A People's History of the United States, anti-war activist and historian Howard Zinn’s reframed the glorified slant on U.S. history provided by most textbooks and accounts. His works sparked a generation of historical reflection and brought to light the untold, often unflattering truths about our national past. When Zinn passed away in 2010, his New York Times obituary quoted a book review by historian Eric Foner: “Historians may well view [A People's History of the United States] as a step toward a coherent new version of American history.”

But not everyone is a fan of Zinn's work. Indiana’s former governor Mitch Daniels — currently the president of Purdue University — attempted to censor Zinn’s legacy while in office, according an article published by the Associated Press last week. Via a Freedom of Information Act request, AP obtained emails in which Daniels asked classrooms in the state to ban Zinn’s works and “clean up” its college curriculum.

In the e-mail records AP released, Daniels requested that public schools refrain from using Zinn’s work in their curriculum. He also tried to initate a statewide investigation aimed at identifying similar works and disqualifying them from being considered “credit-worthy.”

In one email with the subject line "Howard Zinn," the republican governor wrote: “This terrible anti-American academic finally passed away.”

He continued on to say that A People’s History of the United States is, “a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page.”

He went on to pressure his recipients to fall in line with his personal vendetta against Zinn, saying, “Can someone assure me that it is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before anymore young people are force fed a totally false version of our history?”

AP’s article also revealed emails from 2009 that show Daniels’ attempts to cut funding for a program run by an Indiana University professor who was a prominent critic of Daniels.

Daniels has responded by calling the AP story “utter distortion.” Purdue's Public Radio station WBAA reported, “Daniels says the state has a right to review K-12 curriculum, and he defends his decision to keep Zinn’s book A People’s History of the United States out of Hoosier public school classrooms.”

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