Saturday, October 23, 2010

Developments in World History: A Roundup on Western Dominance, Lactose Tolerance, and Writing

Randall Stephens

Several provocative "big questions" essays recently appeared in full, on-line. These span over world history, east to west, and cover prehistory as well. I wonder how many other historians who read Ian Morris's, "Latitudes not Attitudes: How Geography Explains History," History Today, 20 October 2010, are wondering, as I am: Don't ideas matter?! Anyhow, his essay and these other two got the rusty gears in my head a'turnin'. (Hat tip to Arts & Letters Daily for the great culling work it does. Click image to enlarge this map of Asia in the 15th century.)

Ian Morris, "Latitudes not Attitudes: How Geography Explains History," History Today, 20 October 2010.

Explaining why the West rules calls for a different kind of history than usual, one stepping back from the details to see broader patterns, playing out over millennia on a global scale. . . .

You may have noticed that all the historical examples I have mentioned – Italy, Greece, Israel, India, China – lie in a narrow band of latitudes, roughly 20-35° north, stretching across the Old World. This is no accident.>>>

Matthias Schulz, "How Middle Eastern Milk Drinkers Conquered Europe," Speigel Online, 15 October 2010.

* At around 7000 BC, a mass migration of farmers began from the Middle East to Europe.
* These ancient farmers brought along domesticated cattle and pigs.
* There was no interbreeding between the intruders and the original population.

Mutated for Milk

The new settlers also had something of a miracle food at their disposal. They produced fresh milk, which, as a result of a genetic mutation, they were soon able to drink in large quantities. The result was that the population of farmers grew and grew.>>>

Geraldin Fabrikant, "Hunting for the Dawn of Writing, When Prehistory Became History," New York Times, 19 October 2010.

The new exhibition by the institute, part of the University of Chicago, is the first in the United States in 26 years to focus on comparative writing. It relies on advances in archaeologists’ knowledge to shed new light on the invention of scripted language and its subsequent evolution. . . .

To Christopher E. Woods, associate professor of Sumerology at the University of Chicago and the curator of the show, it was important to include examples from all four cultures because the goal of the exhibition was “to present and describe the four times in history when writing was invented from scratch.”>>>

1 comment:

M said...

***The past shows that, while geography shapes the development of societies,***

Yes, and different geographical and cultural environments selected for different traits.

I wonder if Morris has read UC Davis economist Greg Clark's material?

"In my recent book, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World I argue two things. First that all societies remained in a state I label the “Malthusian economy” up until the onset of the Industrial Revolution around 1800. In that state crucially the economic laws governing all human societies before 1800 were those that govern all animal societies. Second that was thus subject to natural selection throughout the Malthusian era, even after the arrival of settled agrarian societies with the Neolithic Revolution.

The Darwinian struggle that shaped human nature did not end with the Neolithic Revolution but continued right up until the Industrial Revolution. But the arrival of settled agriculture and stable property rights set natural selection on a very different course. It created an accelerated period of evolution, rewarding with reproductive success a new repertoire of human behaviors – patience, self-control, passivity, and hard work – which consequently spread widely.

And we see in England, from at least 1250, that the kind of people who succeeded in the economic system – who accumulated assets, got skills, got literacy – increased their representation in each generation. Through the long agrarian passage leading up to the Industrial Revolution man was becoming biologically more adapted to the modern economic world. Modern people are thus in part a creation of the market economies that emerged with the Neolithic Revolution. Just as people shaped economies, the pre-industrial economy shaped people. This has left the people of long settled agrarian societies substantially different now from our hunter gatherer ancestors, in terms of culture, and likely also in terms of biology. We are also presumably equivalently different from groups like Australian Aboriginals that never experience the Neolithic Revolution before the arrival of the English settlers in 1788."

The Domestication of Man: The Social Implications of Darwin