A People's Read-a-long! So far I'm thoroughly enjoying this read-a-long. It's incredibly easy to keep track of reading one chapter a week. I may not post every week, but I wanted to share my initial thoughts and a couple of my favorite passages from Chapter 1 this week.
My thoughts: It's rare to find a non-fiction book without an introduction, and consequently, chapter 1 read like a combination of an introduction and a first chapter. Zinn provided context for his view of understanding history as he told the story of the first chapter: Columbus, the Indians and Human Progress. I appreciate Zinn's view of reading and understanding history as a modern person: "My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality."
I'm fascinated by how different societies, past and present, viewed gender. In chapter 1, I learned Iroquois societies were matrilineal. Furthermore, Zinn quotes historian Gary Nash, "no laws and ordinances, sheriffs and constables, judges and juries, or courts or jails—the apparatus of authority in European societies—were to be found in the northeast woodlands prior to European arrival." A French Jesuit priest who observed the Iroquois in the 1650's noted: "No poorhouses are needed among them, because they are neither mendicants nor paupers. . . . Their kindness, humanity and courtesy not only makes them liberal with what they have, but causes them to possess hardly anything except in common." Learning these things about Iroquois society initially made me horrified at the actions of Columbus. As I began to challenge myself to think like Zinn, however, and placed myself in the viewpoint of both groups at that time, I was struck how scared Columbus must have been to encounter a society so totally different than his own. I can marvel now, but wouldn't I have been frightened by our differences if I were with Columbus?
I also was fascinated by the reactions of those at Vera Cruz when a Spanish armada arrived. When "a bearded white man came ashore, with strange beasts (horses), clad in iron, it was thought he was the legendary Aztec man-god who had died three hundred years before, with the promise to return--the mysterious Quetzalocoatl. And so they welcomed him, with munificent hospitality." It's a chilling story of looking at history from both sides, gathering perspectives, and ultimately, I think, understanding tragedy. I consider myself somewhat of a history buff, but after reading Samuel Eliot Morison, a Harvard historian and Columbus scholar, "retraced Columbus's route across the Atlantic." It's a fascinating prospect of experiential learning and understanding. Would the inverse be possible? Could we retrace the steps of those whom Columbus destroyed upon arriving?
The verdict: I'm thoroughly enjoying A People's History of the United States and am eager to read chapter 2.
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