Today, Boston University hosts the Howard Zinn Memorial Lecture Series, and New York University (Zinn’s undergraduate alma mater) proudly houses his academic papers. In 2004 Zinn was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Havana, an occasion he took to excoriate the lack of academic freedom in America. As recently as 2007, “A People’s History” was even required reading at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy for a class on “Leaders in America.”
Thanks in part to an endorsement from the character played by Matt Damon in 1997’s “Good Will Hunting,” Zinn’s magnum opus has also turned into a multimedia juggernaut. Actor Ben Affleck (like Mr. Damon, a family friend of Zinn’s), and musicians Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Eddie Vedder and John Legend all have publicly praised Zinn. A History Channel documentary produced by Mr. Damon, “The People Speak,” featured Hollywood A-listers Morgan Freeman, Viggo Mortensen, Kerry Washington and others reading from Zinn’s books. There are “People’s Histories” on topics including the American Revolution, Civil War, Vietnam and even science. Zinn die-hards can purchase a graphic novel, “A People’s History of American Empire,” while kids can pick up a two-volume set, “A Young People’s History of the United States” (wall chart sold separately).
In 2005, as a guest on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” Zinn delivered his standard wholesale condemnation of America. Surprised by the unrelenting attack, host Jon Stewart gave the historian an opportunity to soften his criticism. “We have made some improvements,” the comedian asked, “in our barbarity over three hundred years, I would say, no?” Zinn denied there was any improvement.