"The People Speak" Offers Unique Perspective on History

I still remember the day a parent came up to me at the Reference desk at a public library where I occasionally worked and asked me where she could find an older history textbook that had “just the real facts” and not any of this asking students about their feelings about what happened in history, or that politically correct stuff that her daughter’s school textbook had. While I tried to determine more specifically what her needs were (like a good librarian does), I also mentioned that, while dates and locations and names are often factual, all of history is in some way biased, as it is seen and written about through the lenses of different people with different values and perspectives.

Often the voices of history we hear are those with the power to make their voices heard. Historian Howard Zinn is famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) for highlighting the voices and views of the "ordinary" and oppressed.

Now Zinn's work has sparked a special that will be shown on the History Channel on December 13. The People Speak uses the voices of soldiers and slaves, immigrants, women, young people and others -- through their letters, diaries and speeches -- to paint a different picture of history. Celebrity actors read these real-life excerpts while Zinn serves as narrator.

You can see video excerpts online now.

The People Speak serves as a counterpoint to traditional historical resources and offers students a chance to compare different perspectives and to think more critically about what ends up becoming "just the facts" of history and why.

~ Marsha

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