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A People’s History of the United States: Week One

September 21, 2017 (Week One)

“An interesting mix, capable of beautiful dreams and terrible nightmares.”
-- Carl Sagan

We opened up the program this week by reviewing responses to our first take-home question: What Is America? Most of the participants prepared two to three words, and we listed them on a whiteboard. Here are some of the responses:

  • Beautiful
  • Multicultural
  • Racist
  • A Melting Pot
  • Divided
  • Egotistical
  • Hopeful
  • Powerful
  • Scared
  • Brave

We discussed how the United States of America can be all of those things -- and more -- at the same time. We discussed the power of Culture and how it affects how we view events. We discussed how so much of history is a mesh of good and bad things happening simultaneously. We used the examples of how the USA could put a person on the moon without the use of what we would consider "computers" while at the same time committing atrocities in Viet Nam, along with a few other examples.

We then handed out the books; every participant received a new, hardback copy of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, and previewed the first chapter. We discussed how Columbus was a "round-earther" at a time when the flat-earthers were dominant and explored concepts like colonialism and economic colonialism, the cultural need for holidays, what nations generally do with an infusion of wealth, and why the "new world" became an obsession of Europe.

Assigned Reading & Question: I asked the group to read “Chapter 1: Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress”, for next week, and to come prepared to discuss their thoughts on the following question: Should we celebrate Christopher Columbus?

-- Adrian