Sam Wineberg’s Critique of Howard Zinn

Photo Source Jared and Corin | CC BY 2.0

One of Howard Zinn’s harshest, and most influential, critics is Sam Wineburg, the Margaret Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford University, and Director of the Stanford History Education Group. In the Winter 2012-2013 issue of American Educator, Professor Wineburg published an eight-page essay entitled “Undue Certainty: Where Howard Zinn’s A People’s History Falls Short.” My new book, Zinnophobia: The Battle over History in Education, Politics, and Scholarship (Zero Books, 2018), contains a lengthy, point-by-point rebuttal to the criticisms he advances in that essay. But now it has come to my attention that Wineburg includes a shortened and revised version of his anti-Zinn article (available at slate.com) in his new book, Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone). In response, I offer a brief account, largely adapted from my book, of a few of his many errors.

One of Wineburg’s main criticisms of Zinn’s history is that it is dogmatic. This is the point of the title (“Undue Certainty”) of his original article, and of the sub-title of the newer version, published at Slate, which claims that Zinn’s text is “closed-minded.” We are told that Zinn “speaks with thunderous certainty,” and that his narrative is “strident, immodest, and unyielding.”

What evidence does Wineburg produce in support of these charges? For Wineburg certainly claims to be motivated by a great concern for evidentiary…

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