Monday, December 12, 2011

What is your Columbian Orator?

Two years ago, historian Howard Zinn died of a heart attack at the age of 87. I was surprised how emotionally affected I was by his passing -- I certainly didn't know him, but saw him speak on several occasions, most notably at Northwestern University, days before the Iraq War.

I believe Zinn's death had such an impact on me because his writings and life were so formative in how I began to finally think for myself. Although most of us are familiar with Zinn's seminal A People's History of the United States, the book I always reference is the lesser-known Declarations of Independence, which has been since renamed.

This work always reminds me of a passage from Frederick Douglass' Narrative, in which he had secretly obtained a book, The Columbian Orator while in the depths of despair about being a slave for life. He wrote: "Every opportunity I got, I used to read this book....[It] gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance"(23-24). That's what Declarations was for me: an affirmation of my deepest-held beliefs, and a model for expressing them openly. Zinn had subtitled his book, "Cross-examining American Ideology", and challenged every one of the assumptions listed below.

‘Be realistic; this is the way things are; there’s no point thinking about how things should be.’

‘People who teach or write or report the news should be objective; they should not try to advance their own opinions.’

‘There are unjust wars, but also just wars.’

‘If you work hard enough, you’ll make a good living. If you are poor, you only have yourself to blame.’

‘Freedom of speech is desirable, but not when it threatens national security.’

‘Racial equality is desirable, but we’ve gone far enough in that direction.’

‘Our Constitution is the greatest guarantee of liberty and justice.’

‘The United States must intervene from time to time in various parts of the world with military power...[to] promote democracy.’

‘If you want to get things changed, the only way is to go through the proper channels.’

‘There is much injustice in the world but there is nothing that ordinary people, without wealth or power, can do about it.’

What/Who is your Columbian Orator?


Jon said...

It is funny that this post is about one of my personal heroes, Howard Zinn, as everyday since I can remember I have talked with my family about the difference between the way that he INTERPRETS history and the way that it is commonly TOLD. In that regard, he would be my ideal Columbian Orator as anytime I start to doubt my own beliefs I refer to the fourth belief that he challenged, as there is no objective way to "report" or to "retell history". He was a great man, and an inspiring historian. Even at fourteen, watching such a beautiful person leave us caused a deep emotional stir. He was a true An American hero and deserves a place in all of our bookshelves, and our thoughts.

BMurdoch said...

Although I'm sure my mother would love it if I said The Bible was my Columbian Orator, but alas, it is not the case. It was very hard for me to decide what/who is my Columbian Orator, but I've decided that she is Andrea Gibson: a feminist poet. I find absolute truth in nearly all of her poems, and completely affirm my beliefs towards politics, women's rights, love, war, and nearly everything else. Especially so in her poem Every Month where she says, "Because God knows, the holy have done more damage to this world than the devil every could". Yes, my Columbian Orator is a little more abstract than Howard Zinn, but she expresses the most raw emotion that reminds me of my dearest beliefs. I am a fairly tell-it-like-it-is kind of gal, and Andrea does the same. She laws everything out raw, and reminds me of how cruel war can be, how much love should be cherished, and how much credit women should get. (Yes, I'm kind of feminist- get over it.)

AbbeyR said...

I laughed when I read your post Bridget. Although Andria Gibson is not my ultimate favorite Columbian Orator, I completely agree with your reasoning. I don't know who my Columbian Orator is, I believe it is someone who writes about women's rights, love, and war. I think that all the struggles women went through in the past isn't dicussed enough throughout the world. My Columbian Orator would be a person who spoke about the hardships women encountered and the effects of love and war.

Naomi said...

The Columbian Orator was a collection of literature meant to teach people. Therefore, I believe my Columbian Orator would be any of the people who have taught me the most. I think that people learn more from their mistakes than from doing things right. My Columbian Orator would be any of the worst people of all time, like Hitler for example. Except for a few radicals, everyone would agree with me that Hitler, simply put, is an awful, cruel person. However, I have learned a lot from how he treated people. Among many things, I learned to always speak up, because of Hitler. After hearing all these stories about people's voices being silenced, I know not to let my own be quieted. He also taught me that identity is not a reason to hate someone. Some Arabs were involved in terrorist attacks against the U.S., but that does not mean that I have the right to hate all Arabs.

Jasmine T. said...

Great comment Bridget. But i think that my Columbian Orator would have to be the book "Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass" by Lewis Carrol. I realize that it seems really silly and juvenile but after reading it again and again I see something new each time. It talks about imagination and not devolving into the "one perspective" thinking that grownups have. It reminds me to look at things in different ways and allow my imagination to be free. Aside from being an enjoyable book "Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass" inspires me to be creative, imaginative, and open to different understandings.

aidanl. said...

Since this entry was posted so many weeks ago, I have been trying to honestly determine an answer to the question it poses: Who is your Columbian Orator? I knew that someone or something had created my recently evolved beliefs. Some of my core beliefs and values include the following:

Forget about the implications and consequences for your beliefs. If you believe something is right, then damn the torpedos.
Don't do anything you don't believe in.
Dont Let other people's opinions of your lifestyle or beliefs influence you.
Try to find beauty in everything.

What/who taught me to think this way, I have been wondering since early December. The answer has been quite literally staring me in the face. Yesterday, as I sat at my desk, frustrated by my math homework, I slammed my desk in anger causing a book to fall off my stereo on to my desk. The book was entitled "In to the Wild". I immediately knew after just one glance exactly who had brought about this way of thinking. Would I abandon all my possessions and loved ones to go see the world? Probably not, however, Chris McCandless' blind following of his heart, his refusal to conform to what was expected and his ability to find beauty in the simplest things has come to define my beliefs and philosophies. I am so thankful that this class has given me the opportunity to study his life.

Kathleen F. said...

Like Aidan, I'm responding to this post a bit late in the game but it's a really overwhelming question. There hasn't been one book that has really shaped who I am but what I keep coming back to is my dad. I don't know if it's because I'm his daughter or something but I think he is one of the smartest people I know. He explains his opinions in a way that makes perfect sense to me and stands by them. I listen to his advice because I respect him and consider him wise beyond his years.

A piece of advice he gave me freshman year was something along the lines of: "Everyone in high school is so focused on themselves and hoping no one thinks they're being weird, so people hardly notice when you do something weird and if they do, they won't remember it"

That was so freeing for me because I used to get so nervous and shy around other people. This gave me the confidence boost to really be myself around everyone and not hold back because someone might think I'm weird. That particular bit of advice may not be totally true (because people still seem to remember some of the weird things I've done...) but what was most important is that it released me from my insecurities and has given me the confidence to be comfortable in myself ever since.

My dad is definitely one of the most influential figures in my life, guiding and informing my opinions as I grow but giving me the room I need to discover things on my own and sculpt my own opinions.

Elijah Rising said...
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