1) Date/Duration of chapter:
Chapter 1 is an examination of the encounters between Europeans and Indians during the fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Most of the discussion is about Christopher Columbus and the Spanish who encountered Indians in the Caribbean beginning in the late fifteenth century. Zinn wrote about issues such as how history has been presented over the years. Additionally, he discussed how Columbus’ treatment of the Arawak is not unique. The history is comparable to Andrew Jackson and the Cherokees, Hernando Cortes and the Aztecs, the English colonists in America and the Powhatans, etc. Zinn’s style of history telling was represented in texts about the conquest of Cuba and the Philippines, the experiences of black soldiers in Luzon, farmers in the Gilded Age, and socialists during World War I.
2) Discuss two important people or events in the chapter.
The representation of Columbus by Zinn was far different from the one that was traditional fifty plus yearsago. Columbus was proclaimed a hero for discovering the Americas and proving the world was round. Zinn’s recital explained that Columbus was in error about where he had arrived, thinking he was in Asia when he was in fact in the Bahamas. Columbus did not prove the world was round because most knowledgeable people, especially sailors, knew this fact by the fifteen century. Zinn emphasized the genocide Columbus committed and the cruelty of him and his crews. Columbus enslaved, murdered, and tortured the Arawak Indians and others where ever he found them. He forced everyone to search for gold where there was none.
Bartolome de Las Casas was a young Spanish priest who was soon disgusted by legacy of Columbus and his crew. Las Casas criticized the genocide and the treatment of the Indians by the Spanish and Italians in the Bahamas. He began translating Columbus’ journals and as a result, the full story of the brutal treatment and enslavement of a peaceful people has been known for centuries. Columbus was not ashamed of his behavior toward the Indians, but Las Casas was horrified.
3) List and explain three things that are important not interesting in the chapter.
Western Civilization has been characterized by genocide as an unfortunate reality of progress. For many years standard histories were patriotic and victorious in form. There have always been dissenters who sought to point out that progress does not excuse genocide and barbarous behavior (Bartolome de Las Casas is an example of one). However, in the last 50 years the dissenters have become the majority and history texts ceased to be published in terms of conquering heroes. Genocide and cultural extermination is not an excuse for what leaders have done in the past any more than it is an excuse for what they do today. Columbus and his successors did not arrive in the Americas to find a handful of Indians waiting around in the middle of nowhere. The Americas and other regions where Europeans encountered Indians was not an unoccupied wasteland. Indians lived in areas that were as crowded as much of Europe. The people had cultures, social networks, and family relations as multifaceted as their European counterparts did. Indians did not communicate with only sign language and grunts. Many Indian civilizations had written languages, legal and governmental systems, art, history, music, dance, and cultures as elaborate as European ones.
Zinn explained how modern historians (those historians trained in the 1960s and who published in the 1980s such as Zinn) took a different side and a different viewpoint from many of the previous historians. Books published from the vantage point of, for example, the Arawak’s, began gaining popularity in the 1960s – 1980s. As Zinn pointed out, when he reviewed the 1954 biography about Christopher Columbus it was no secret that Columbus had committed atrocities or that he had been lost instead of finding Asia. However, while these crimes against humanity were noted in the books of the 1950s, they did not take center stage as they have since the 1980s. The point historians were trying to make by the 1980s, when this book was published, was not to mourn for the victims but rather to work to present the intricacies of the era.
Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1980. Print.Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States, 1492-Present. Pymble, NSW: HarperCollins e-books, 2009. Internet resource.