Harvard University professor of history Daniel Lord Smail has challenged the idea that history begins only with the advent of writing. In his 2008 book, On Deep History and the Brain (University of California Press), he lays out his arguments about how history and biology have worked together over the long arc of time. Smail asks "When does history begin?" and "What characterizes it?" He follows up on the work of evolutionary biologists and the macro history of Jared Diamond, with a new way of understanding the past.
"The ancient world is unimaginable without archeological evidence;" Smail observes, "the Middle Ages very nearly so; and the effort to reconstitute the lives of peoples without writing has been one of the signal achievements of the twentieth century." In light of that Smail asks: "So what does it matter that the evidence for the deep past comes not from written documents but from the other things that teach--from artifacts, fossils, vegetable remains, phonemes, and various forms of modern DNA?" (On Deep History, 6)
But, as Heather asked earlier on a different topic, is it history? How can we undertsand preliterate humans and societies in a historical sense? Can historians add to our understanding of pre-historic humans in ways that anthropologists and archeologists cannot? Historians inside and outside of the guild will have to figure those questions out for themselves.
What follows are some recent macro-historical, deep history, evolutionary history essays, and tidbits from the web:
Drake Bennett, "How Animals Made Us Human," Boston Globe, September 12, 2010.
. . . . What explains [our] yen to have animals in our lives? An anthropologist named Pat Shipman believes she’s found the answer: Animals make us human. She means this not in a metaphorical way — that animals teach us about loyalty or nurturing or the fragility of life or anything like that — but that the unique ability to observe and control the behavior of other animals is what allowed one particular set of Pleistocene era primates to evolve into modern man.>>>
Cynthia Haven, "Stanford historian tells why the West rules - for now," Stanford University News, September 14, 2010.
. . . . Stanford Classics and History Professor Ian Morris puts forth some bold answers in his ambitious new 750-page book, Why the West Rules – For Now (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). And that places Looty in a longer story going back to the last ice age.
Morris' book argues that history is a slow, complicated tango between geography and social development.>>>
How could a civilization that mastered the planet suddenly Collapse? Inspired by the New York Times best-selling book "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed", NGC time travels 200 years into the future to see what the world would look like after civilization as we know it collapsed. Guided by author Jared Diamond, we'll piece together the remarkable story of what on earth triggered our decline.
Collapse: Based on the Book by Jared Diamond, National Geographic Channel.
How could a civilization that mastered the planet suddenly Collapse? Inspired by the New York Times best-selling book "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed", NGC time travels 200 years into the future to see what the world would look like after civilization as we know it collapsed. Guided by author Jared Diamond, we'll piece together the remarkable story of what on earth triggered our decline.>>>
Mary Gray, "Are You Descended from Neanderthals?" New Zealand Herald, September 2, 2010.
. . . . With the expansion of human populations and climate change, Neanderthal populations are thought to have shrunk toward Europe and Spain. Europeans and Neanderthals had potentially longer to interbreed compared to other human populations, but there is no evidence for this - so far. Did waves of human migration from the Middle East replace ancient Neanderthal-human Europeans or did the first human inhabitants of Europe and Neanderthals keep to themselves? >>>