Books: Non-Fiction

Doing History from the Bottom Up: On E. P. Thompson, Howard Zinn, and Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below

Time Periods: 20th Century, 21st Century
Themes: Education

There has been vigorous debate among historians concerning Howard Zinn’s A People’s History. Most of the critiques were launched after his death, when he could no longer respond. Apart from swordplay with such critics, those of us who continue to practice history from below need to clarify what we are doing so as to focus our efforts and assist each other more effectively.

Let me begin by offering three proposed perspectives.

1. History from below is not, or should not be, mere description of hitherto invisible poor and oppressed people: it should challenge mainstream versions of the past.

2. The United States was founded on crimes against humanity directed at Native Americans and enslaved African Americans.

3. Participants in making history should be regarded not only as sources of facts but as colleagues in interpreting what happened.

— from the preface by Staughton Lynd

In the 1960s historians on both sides of the Atlantic began to challenge the assumptions of their colleagues and push for an understanding of history “from below.” In this collection, Staughton Lynd, himself one of the pioneers of this approach, laments the passing of fellow luminaries David Montgomery, E. P. Thompson, Alfred Young, and Howard Zinn, and makes the case that contemporary academics and activists alike should take more seriously the stories and perspectives of Native Americans, the enslaved, rank-and-file workers, and other still-too-frequently marginalized voices. [Publisher’s description.]

ISBN: 9781608463886 | Haymarket Books

Read a sample chapter from the book, presented as a speech at the Howard Zinn Read-In, October 2013.

About the Author

Staughton Lynd was a conscientious objector, peace activist and civil rights activist, tax resister, historian, professor, author, and lawyer. Lynd taught U.S. history at Spelman College and at Yale University. Lynd served as director of Freedom Schools in the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964, and wrote and edited numerous books. Read more.

Staughton Lynd’s Book Discussion | Dec. 5, 2014









View Lynd’s talk at C-SPAN TV.