David Greenberg Defends His Review Essay on Howard Zinn

For those of you who are following this, last week The New Republic posted David Greenberg’s critical review of Martin Duberman’s Howard Zinn: A Life on the Left.

Jesse Lemisch, Staughton Lynd, and Robert Cohen quickly responded to the piece at History News Network (HNN).  Lemisch and Lynd chided Greenberg for getting his facts wrong.  Cohen called attention to the impact of Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

Now Greenberg defends his review and responds to his critics.  Here is his response to Lemisch, published at the HNN website:

I’ve known Lemisch slightly over the years, always on pleasant terms, and so his raving tone is particularly disappointing. His prefatory note begins in error and gets loopier as it goes on, speaking ominously of “rumblings among historians” and “one or two errors” (was it one or two? what are they?) that then “mysteriously vanished.” Nowhere in the piece did I attack him or Lynd. I did, regrettably, mix them up at one point in my review — purely a mental tic, like writing Upton Sinclair when you meant Sinclair Lewis. When a reader told me of the error, I asked The New Republic to fix it online and note it in print. This “Orwellian” conspiracy is, in journalistic circles, referred to as a “correction.”

Lemisch also absurdly reads petulance into my peppy Facebook notice sharing a link to the piece with friends (a group that includes, or included, Lemisch). I never “complained” that the magazine’s print version appeared before the online version. This, too, is common practice in journalism, not the work of any shadowy forces. He also misreads my discussion of Eugene Genovese: though I endorse Genovese’s insistence on writing history based on evidence rather than ideological preconceptions, my portrait of his behavior at the 1969 AHA convention (drawn from Peter Novick’s That Noble Dream, among other sources) was hardly meant to reflect well on him, as any clear-eyed reader could see. That Lemisch divines all kinds of dark motives into simple words and deeds should cast doubt on his warped interpretation of my review.

Read the entire piece here.

I guess Martin Duberman is up next.

One thought on “David Greenberg Defends His Review Essay on Howard Zinn

  1. This is what happens if you get out of line with the academic left establishment. Word up.

    Indeed, Duberman's assessment of the book is much closer to mine than it is to Cohen's preferred historical authorities, Alice Walker and Bruce Springsteen….

    His reliance on Walker and Springsteen to sing Zinn's praises would seem only to prove the weakness of his argument. Accomplished artists they may be, but does he really want to outsource his judgment to them when it comes to assessing the merits of historical scholarship?

    Anyway, Springsteen wrote most of his best stuff before A People's History came out. If it transformed him — and I doubt it did — it wasn't for the better.

    Sorry for giggling, John.

    Finally, my Facebook page is closed to the public. I allow only friends to read what I post. It appears that someone who is a Facebook friend of mine — I don't know who — took advantage of this confidence to enable the publication of something I posted for private consumption only. Without asking me. That's a pretty sleazy thing to do, however innocuous the posting.

    Punks. I'm disgusted at the ad hom low blows and bullying. And I won't say the right wouldn't pull the same crap with roles reversed: people are people.

    But the academy is what it is right now, and I think it's up to you conscientious guys on the left to defend people like Greenberg from these tactics. There's some synchronicity going on across the blogosphere, and it's a fine time for the academy to allow some reform.


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