Rapping History

Scrap over history website is a microcosm of the battle of history itself

March 16th, 2011
Click for book by historian Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn, author. "This great book should really be read by everyone," says the website "History is a Weapon."

With great passion, a website calling itself “History Is a Weapon” is embroiled in legal trouble concerning the online publishing of its favorite book, which is one of the two books upon which this website, Rapping History, is founded.

The book is A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, and its publisher, Harper Collins, is rattling its sabre at the owners of the website for publishing copyrighted material.

With a pen somewhat poisoned, a writer at History is a Weapon, who is not named, complains to HarperCollins that the internet is not a bookstore, but “more like an ecosystem,” and that publishing the book online can only help sales. In fact, the letter says, Amazon ranks the book 169th of all books, which is not a small accomplishment.

History Is A Weapon describes itself as a “left counter-hegemonic education project,” and it sports historical writers such as Frederick Douglass and Theodore Roosevelt, and newer ones, such as Malcolm X, Fidel Castro, and Angela Davis. It is a popular website, judging from the ten thousand links coming from other websites, according to Google.

The website claims that their action is justified. “Howard Zinn gave us explicit permission before we did it,” it complains. “We asked him. At the time, we didn’t realize that we were going to put the whole book up, but he gave pretty much blanket permission to one of our participants.”

The website quotes HarperCollins as saying in a threatening letter, “neither HarperCollins, the Author, the Author’s agent, nor any provision of law, has authorized the publication and display of the Work on the Web Site.”

The whole squabble is a microcosm of one of the driving themes of Zinn’s book itself: money-hungry profiteers squelching the rights of ordinary people. The public simply wants access to helpful information, the website argues. What’s ironic is that the author himself has no rights to allow others to publish his own work. History simply repeats itself.

Storytellers spin the past

March 15th, 2011
Statue of King George III, in London

King George III — our enemy in the Revolutionary War. A bad guy? The Brits don't think so, judging from this statue in London.

“History isn’t what happened, but a story of what happened.”

This simple but profound statement, if properly understood, would make many a student take delight in learning history in high school or college. The line above comes from a website that publishes one of the books upon which this website is based: A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn.

But alas, many students stare at the clock during history class, and while teachers  may struggle to make the class relevant, there is really one key ingredient that makes history worthwhile. That is the experience of life, maturity, that allows a person to look at the events of the world and see that they are colored by how they are told to think of them.

In other words, when we are told that black slaves suffered enormous indignities while being carted from Africa to the seaports of the Caribbean, we sympathize with them, and even feel indignant toward their persecutors. But at the time it was happening, many people in the United States did not feel this way. Slaves were just seen as property, as inferior, and therefor as less human and thus less deserving than the privileged races.

The experience of life teaches us that there are gatekeepers of history, those who talk about — well, let’s be honest — they spin the past. They tell us in such subtle ways: here are the good guys and here are the bad guys. The gatekeepers are the storytellers, the molders of the mind. Today the gatekeepers are the media, such as television newscasters and newspaper writers. They are also academia, government, and other influencers of society. Let’s hope that the gatekeepers are good trail guides of our past.

New Website Presents Dual Summary of American History

February 24th, 2011

Signing of the Declaration of Independence, by Armand Dumaresq

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit, author of Rapping History


While liberal and conservative views of history may clash, now you can learn both views of history on a new website that gives a balanced perspective in poetic and musical forms.

The website, RappingHistory.org, is a new online resource available free of charge to anyone interested in American history. The site presents a dual summary of our nation’s past, referencing two popular history books — the liberal “People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn, and the conservative “Patriot’s History of the United States” by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen — in a series of poetic segments set to a variety of musical forms.

“The primary goal is to make history more appealing to young people, and perhaps even entertaining,” stated its creator, Paul Buchheit, a Chicago teacher.

“Great care has been taken to faithfully represent the viewpoints of the respective authors,” Buchheit said. “The poetic passages are precisely structured in metered form, generally iambic hexameter.”

The musical selections, which have been added to represent the various time periods, are largely derived from public domain collections at the Internet Archives, and include classical and modern pieces, spirituals, and obscure recordings.

Students and classes are welcome to contribute musical interpretations to the site. Any original performance in any musical genre will be considered (see, for example, #1 and #3 and #5 on the left side of RappingHistory.org). Contributors will be acknowledged on the site.

For more information contact Paul Buchheit at paul@rappinghistory.org.