The Frederic Ewen Academic Freedom Center at New York University’s Tamiment Library in collaboration with The Nation presents a day-long symposium, “Howard Zinn: A Lifetime of Teaching, Writing and Activism,” on Thursday, April 24, 2014, beginning at 9am, in Vanderbilt Hall, 40 Washington Square South, between MacDougal and Sullivan Streets, NYC. (Subways A,C,D,E, and F lines).

Zinn Conference 2014

The Tamiment Library is home to the Howard Zinn Papers, containing personal correspondence, school and military records, datebooks, biographical articles and interviews. Acquired in 2010-2011, the Zinn papers also contain posters, photographs, annotated books, publications of many kinds, and audio and video materials documenting lectures, interviews, discussions, readings, and other public events in which Zinn took part.

Timothy Naftali, head of Tamiment Library and director of the Ewen Center, says, “Howard Zinn’s papers provide an irreplaceable window onto the ideas, controversies and personal interactions that made Zinn such an influential figure on the American scene. The symposium marks the recent opening of the papers by taking a fresh look at this multifaceted life and career.”

The daylong symposium comprises four panels of experts, each discussing a different aspect of Zinn’s work. The Symposium was organized by Naftali together with NYU’s Marilyn Young and Robert Cohen, and is made possible in part by a generous grant from the Kurz Family Foundation.

The first panel, “Zinn at Tamiment,” led by Robert Cohen, Professor of History and Social Studies, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, illustrates the value of the Zinn papers by highlighting new work done by NYU students with commentary by Frances Fox Piven.

“Zinn as Historian,” led by Timothy Naftali, historian and head of the Tamiment Library and featuring historian Michael Kazin , examines Zinn’s contributions to scholarship and to public understanding of US history, including a discussion of his seminal book, A People’s History of the United States.

“Zinn as Activist,” led by Marilyn Young, Professor of History, NYU and featuring Alice Walker, author, activist, and former student of Zinn’s, examines his political activism in, among others, the civil rights and anti-war movements.

The last panel of the day, “Teaching Zinn,” moderated by Carl Mirra, and featuring Julian Hipkins, U.S. history teacher at Capital City Public Charter School, Washington, DC, will look at how Zinn’s writings and activism are used in curricula across the country.

Symposium Agenda: “Howard Zinn: A Lifetime of Teaching, Writing and Activism”

All Symposium events take place in Vanderbilt Hall, 40 Washington Square South, NYC

  • 9:00-9:30 a.m. Continental Breakfast, Greenberg Lounge
  • 9:30-9:45 a.m. Welcome from NYU
  • 9:45 -10:30 a.m. “Zinn at Tamiment” Greenberg Lounge
    • Jan Hilley-- Civil Liberties/Academic Freedom Project Archivist, NYU
    • Kristin Maria Catrone—Steinhardt ’14
    • Rustin Finkler—Steinhardt ’14
    • Frances Fox Piven-- Commentator--Professor of political science and sociology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY)
    • Robert Cohen—Moderator--professor of history and social studies in NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
  • 10:30-10:45 a.m. Coffee Break
  • 11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Panel: “Zinn as Historian” Greenberg Lounge
    • Wesley Hogan--Director of the Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University and author of Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC's Dream for a New America (2009).
    • Michael Kazin-- Professor of History, Georgetown University. He is co-editor of Dissent and an expert in U.S. politics and social movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. His most recent book is American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation (2011)
    • Robyn Spencer-- Assistant Professor of History, Lehman College of CUNY. Her academic interests include: civil rights and Black Power; African American women; post-1945 social movements; urban history; and gender.
    • Moderator: Timothy Naftali, Director of the Frederic Ewen Academic Freedom Center and Head, Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at NYU. The former Director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum who received national attention for creating a new Watergate gallery, Naftali is an historian who writes about leaders, power, secrecy, and international affairs. The author or co-author of several books, including “One Hell of a Gamble”: Khrushchev, Castro and Kennedy, 1958-1964 and Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism, Naftali is currently working on a history of gay Washington with James Kirchick.
  • 1:45-3:15: Panel: “Zinn as Activist” Tishman Auditorium
    • Martin Duberman-- professor emeritus of history at Herbert Lehman College and the CUNY Graduate Center, where he founded the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies. Historian, playwright and gay-rights activist, he has written more than twenty books, including ones on James Russell Lowell (a National Book Award finalist), Charles Francis Adams, Sr. (Bancroft Prize winner), Paul Robeson, Stonewall, Howard Zinn, and the memoir Cures: A Gay Man's Odyssey.
    • Irene Gendzier--Professor of Political Science, Boston University. Her books include: Notes From the Minefield: United States Intervention in Lebanon and the Middle East, 1945-1958 (1998); Development Against Democracy (1995); and Frantz Fanon: A Critical Study Pantheon (1985)
    • Alice Walker-- Author and activist whose critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple (1982) won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
    • Moderator: Marilyn Young-- Professor of History, NYU. Author of numerous articles and several books including: The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990, (1991), recently translated into Greek and Italian; Transforming Russia and China: Revolutionary Struggle in the 20th Century (with William Rosenberg), (1980); and Rhetoric of Empire: American China Policy, 1895-1901 (1969)
  • 3:15-3:45: Coffee Break
  • 4:00-5:30 p.m. Panel: “Teaching Zinn” Greenberg Lounge
    • Introduction by Alice Walker
    • Julian Hipkins III-- U.S. history teacher at Capital City Public Charter School, Washington, DC and National History Day board member.  Hipkins has won numerous awards for his teaching, including District of Columbia History Teacher of the Year Award for 2012.
    • Katy Swalwell— Assistant professor in University of Maryland’s College of Education, contributor to Rethinking Schools, and author of Educating Activist Allies: Social justice education with the suburban and urban elite. (2013).  
    • Deborah Menkart-- Executive director of Teaching for Change, co-director of the Zinn Education Project, and co-editor of a number of publications including Putting the Movement Back Into Civil Rights Teaching (2004).
    • Moderator: Carl Mirra--Associate Professor in Education, Adelphi University. With research interests in peace education; civil rights and education reform; ideology of U.S. foreign policy; and historiography/movements of the 1960s, Mirra has written several books, including The Admirable Radical: Staughton Lynd and Cold War Dissent, 1945-1970 (2010) with a foreword by Howard Zinn.
  • 5:30-6:00 Reception--Greenberg Lounge

About Howard Zinn1:
Howard Zinn grew up in Brooklyn in a working-class, immigrant household. At 18 he became a shipyard worker and three years later joined the Air Force, flying bomber missions during World War II. He is the author of A People’s History of the United States (1980), a best seller that inspired a generation of high school and college students to rethink American history.

He earned a B.A. at New York University and master’s and doctoral degrees at Columbia University. In 1956 he went to Spelman College, a historically black women’s college, as chairman of the history department and as an advisor to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Among his students were Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund; Alice Walker, the author; and the singer and composer Bernice Johnson Reagon. He was fired from Spelman, but returned in 2005 to give the commencement address.

Zinn moved to Boston University (BU) in 1964, and produced the antiwar books Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal (1967) and Disobedience and Democracy (1968). Zinn led antiwar protests, went to Vietnam with Daniel Berrigan, and testified in Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers trial. His politically engaged life brought him into many arenas: imprisonment for civil disobedience, fights for open debate in universities, and activist work from the Vietnam era to the present. Zinn retired from BU in 1988.

Zinn also wrote three plays: “Daughter of Venus,” “Marx in Soho” and “Emma,” about the life of the anarchist Emma Goldman. All three have been produced. His last article was a rather bleak assessment of President Obama for The Nation. “I’ve been searching hard for a highlight,” he wrote.

Few historians have been as successful as Zinn in influencing popular culture. He received an admiring mention in the movie “Good Will Hunting;” Matt Damon appeared in a History Channel documentary about him; and Bruce Springsteen said the starkest of his many albums, “Nebraska,” drew inspiration in part from Zinn’s writings.

About Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University:
Established at NYU in 1963, Tamiment Library is a leading national center for studying the history of radical politics: socialism, communism, anarchism, utopian experiments, the cultural left, the New Left, and the struggle for civil rights and civil liberties. It is the repository of the Archives of Irish America, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, and a growing Asian American labor collection.

In 1977 the Robert F. Wagner Archives was established as a joint program of the New York City Central Labor Council and the Tamiment Library. The Wagner is the designated repository for the records of the Council's more than 200 member unions. Its extraordinary research collection documents the history of organized labor in New York and the workers who built the City.

NYU Libraries comprises nine libraries in Manhattan and one each in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai. Its flagship, the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library on Washington Square, houses more than four million volumes and received three million visits last year. Around the world the Libraries offers access to more than 900,000 electronic journals, books, and databases; its website received 3.5 million visits last year. For more information about the NYU Libraries, please visit


1 Adapted from NY Times, “Howard Zinn, Historian, Is Dead at 87,” by Michael Powell, 1/28/2010


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