MAILED: Sept. 25, 2000
Teacher, activist and scholar Howard Zinn considered "The People's Historian" for his radical presentation of history from the viewpoint of the poor and oppressed instead of the world's conquerors will speak at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Tuesday, Oct. 10.
The Forum will present Zinn's lecture, titled "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train," at 7:30 p.m. in Zorn Arena. A question-and-answer session and a reception will follow the formal presentation.
A historian long admired as an important political and moral voice, Howard Zinn has placed himself at the center of the most important historical moments of the last 30 years.
The son of European immigrants who met as factory workers in New York, Zinn grew up in the slums of Brooklyn. At the age of 18 he was a shipyard worker; at 21 he became an Air Force bombardier during World War II. Both experiences helped shape a radical impulse, an opposition to war, and a passion for history.
After Zinn received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University, he taught at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga., and worked with young civil rights activists, including Julian Bond, Marian Wright Edelman and Alice Walker. Zinn led anti-war protests, went to Vietnam with Daniel Berrigan, and testified for his friend Daniel Ellsberg at the Pentagon Papers trial. Zinn's politically engaged life has brought him into many arenas, including imprisonment for civil disobedience, fights for open debate in universities, and activist work from the Vietnam era to the present.
"What can I say that will in any way convey the love, respect and admiration I feel for this unassuming hero who was my teacher and mentor," wrote novelist Alice Walker, "this radical historian and people-loving 'troublemaker,' this man who stood with us and suffered with us? Howard Zinn was the best teacher I ever had and the funniest."
Zinn's greatest work, "A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present," has been used in college and university classrooms for 20 years. Library Journal called it a "brilliant and moving history of the American people from the point of view of those who have been exploited politically and economically and whose plight has been largely omitted from most histories."
A television series based on "A People's History of the United States" is in the preliminary stages. It is a dream project of actor-screenwriter Matt Damon, who grew up living next door to Zinn and worked a brief mention of the book into his debut film, "Good Will Hunting."
The stories of the people and events that inspire Zinn's faith in the possibility of historic change are woven through his talks as he discusses the need for a critical understanding of history and the daily events that shape everyone's lives. His Forum presentation draws its title from a point he often made to his students at Boston University, where he served as professor of political science from 1964 to 1988.
"The world is already moving in certain directions, many of them horrifying," Zinn told his students. "Children are going hungry; people are dying in wars. To be neutral in such a situation is to collaborate with what is going on."
A Fulbright Distinguished Professor at the University of Bologna in 1995, Zinn has been honored with the Thomas Merton Award (1991), for advancing the nonviolent struggle for justice and peace; the Lannon Foundation award for nonfiction (1998); and the Eugene V. Debs Award (1998), for keeping alive the spirit of progressivism, humanitarianism and social criticism.
Zinn's numerous writings include essays in some 20 books and articles in Harper's, The Nation, The American Scholar, The New Republic, The New York Times and The Progressive, among other magazines and newspapers. His most recent works include his autobiography, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times" (1994); "The Zinn Reader" (1997); and the 1999 play "Marx in Soho: A Play on History."
Admission is $7 for the public; $5 for those ages 62 and older and UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff; or $3 for those ages 17 and younger and UW-Eau Claire students. Tickets are available at the University Service Center in Davies Center and will be sold at the door.
Patrons also may charge their tickets to MasterCard or Visa when they order by phone. Call the University Service Center, (715) 836-3727 or, outside the immediate Eau Claire area, call toll-free (800) 949-UWEC. A $3 handling fee will be added to all telephone charge orders.
During his visit to UW-Eau Claire Zinn also will participate in the second annual Human Rights Awareness Conference, produced by UW-Eau Claire students working through the UW-Eau Claire Student Senate in cooperation with the Activities and Programs office. On Tuesday, Oct. 10, Zinn will lead a dialogue on diversity at 4:30 p.m. in Schofield Auditorium. On Wednesday, Oct. 11, he will review the conference at an 8 a.m. discussion in Schofield Auditorium. Admission to both of these events is free and open to all.
The Forum is made possible by student funds allocated by the UW-Eau Claire Student Senate.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Sept. 25, 2000