Two Rebel Historians: Thucydides, Howard Zinn and Telling Truth for Social Good

Abraham A. Callahan has shared his paper “Two Rebel Historians: Thucydides, Howard Zinn and Telling Truth for Social Good ” with HowardZinn.org. Written as an honors thesis in the Department of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin, Callahan compares the history writing of Thucydides and Howard Zinn. Callahan argues,

In order for historians to positively influence their readers, they must remove ideologies that distort a clear vision of human history. Thucydides and Howard Zinn sought to do this after being disillusioned by how their respective societies abused history. Thucydides thought that Herodotus’ supernaturalism kept readers from understanding their roles in society. Zinn, similarly, argued that the exceptionalism of American history textbooks prevented readers from participating in society. Both demythologized their writings of history by eliminating those ideologies that prevented the positive influence they thought society desperately needed.

Thucydides and Zinn expected criticism for their histories because they thought that the unpleasant truths of human history would prove of most use to their readers. The following are the main questions of this study: Who are these men? How did they come to produce histories that were antithetical to the mainstream histories of their respective societies? And, lastly, how do their histories try to positively influence the lives of their readers?

Before continuing, it is crucial to examine the purpose and function of history in human society by asking some fundamental questions: What is history? Why do people use or even need it? What events make history? Who should write it? What are the criteria that determine a particular history’s trustworthiness?

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