In Poor Richard’s Almanack (1738), Benjamin Franklin offered this aphorism about plagiarism: “There is much difference between imitating a good man and counterfeiting him.” Mary Grabar, Resident Fellow, The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI), exposes the counterfeiters. In the September 5th issue of Gloria Greenfield’s online journal for Doc Emet Productions, she examines the plague of what she calls “The Howard Zinn School of History Writing.” The numbers of this school, she says, appear to be increasing. Included in this ilk is a former president of Hamilton College, who is himself a historian.
The “school” features a multitude of sins with plagiarism being one of them. Zinn and those like Zinn lift pages of quotes without attribution. They have no footnotes. They misquote repeatedly. They use ellipses cavalierly. They intentionally fabricate to fit their historical writing to a crude, juvenile Marxist framework. In fact, Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is so sloppily written that it deserves the characterization as fiction.
The strident Zinn defenders continue their offensive to this day. Dr. Grabar published a best-selling book Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America (2019). No left-wing media outlets gave her the time of day. The non-profit Zinn Education Project went on the attack. It tried to denigrate Dr. Grabar’s book for offering “no evidence” to support her conclusions about Zinn. In contrast to Zinn, however, she meticulously documents her findings with more than “900 end notes.”
Left-wing historians generally preferred not to notice Zinn’s sins, or they defended Zinn. What is worse, according to Dr. Grabar, Zinn’s book quickly turned under leftist massaging into a “classic” history and went mainstream. In 2012, Sam Wineburg, the founder of Stanford History Education Group, observed that Zinn’s A People’s History “appeared on university reading lists in ‘economics, political science, anthropology, cultural studies, women’s studies, ethnic studies, Chicano studies, and African American studies, in addition to history. It was ‘a perennial favorite in courses for future teachers, and in some . . . the only history book on the syllabus.’”
Historians and those engaged in historical writing must do better. The honest practice of history takes discipline. Alas, “liberal and left-wing historians” seem to have abandoned that practice. They “have proven themselves,” maintains Dr. Grabar, “to be corrupt partisans willing to abandon fundamental standards in order to shoulder aside those who do not share their worldviews.”