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Book description

Volume 1 of the Cambridge World History is an introduction to both the discipline of world history and the earliest phases of world history up to 10,000 BCE. In Part I leading scholars outline the approaches, methods, and themes that have shaped and defined world history scholarship across the world and right up to the present day. Chapters examine the historiographical development of the field globally, periodisation, divergence and convergence, belief and knowledge, technology and innovation, family, gender, anthropology, migration, and fire. Part II surveys the vast Palaeolithic era, which laid the foundations for human history, concentrating on the most recent phases of hominin evolution, the rise of Homo sapiens and the very earliest human societies through to the end of the last ice age. Anthropologists, archaeologists, historical linguists and historians examine climate and tools, language, and culture, as well as offering regional perspectives from across the world.

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  • 11 - What does anthropology contribute to world history?
    pp 261-276
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    This introduction chapter summarizes the other chapters in the two parts of the book. It describes some of the main themes of each chapter and makes comparisons among them. As a sub-discipline of the modern history discipline, world history is surprisingly new. World historians have worked particularly hard to escape the Eurocentrism of so much earlier historical scholarship. The Paleolithic history of the African species is coming into sharper focus, and that makes it more important to integrate Paleolithic history more fully within modern world history scholarship, teaching, and research. The migratory pulses were also shaped by the ancestors' technological creativity and by the slow accumulation of new techniques and new ecological and social understanding, so that, despite the checks and reversals, the ancestors eventually occupied environments ranging from tropical forests to the tundras of Siberia and North America. These Paleolithic movements laid the foundations for everything that would follow in the Holocene history of the species.
  • 13 - Before the farmers: culture and climate, from the emergence ofHomo sapiensto about ten thousand years ago
    pp 313-338
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    Geography is the primary organising principle of meaning in Australian Indigenous histories, meaning that it is quite possible for figures from different times to connect with one another as if they were contemporaries. In his Histories, Herodotus delimited the military and political history of the Greeks in part by discrimination from barbarian 'others', and thus established the link between world history writing and actual and desired world order. The growth of intellectual, economic and socio-political networks of exchange in the paleolithic and agrarian eras prompted the defence, augmentation and revision of universal and later world historical views. From the eighteenth century, existing ideas about universal history came to be seen as increasingly out of step with the specialised national research that accompanied the professionalisation of history teaching, research and writing. A more optimistic assessment of 'modern' or 'Western' civilisation was also offered in the works of modernisation scholars. Postcolonial scholars also adapted dependency and world system theory.
  • 14 - Early humans: tools, language, and culture
    pp 339-361
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    Given the state of the art of scholarship dealing with the evolution of world history, this chapter provides a balanced perspective between elite and other interpretations of the global past. Christian universal histories were repeatedly written in a spirit that sought to divide divine truth from heretical viewpoints. Starting from the late fifteenth century, the European conquests began having massive impacts on entire world regions, particularly the Americas and the coastal regions of Sub-Saharan Africa. The growing knowledge about different world regions fed into the epistemological crises of European historiography. During the early modern period, many societies experienced their own "culture wars" or "history wars", for example between religious and proto-secular narratives. The Eurocentric orientation of historiographical cultures in general and world history in particular continued during much of the twentieth century. Despite its limited impacts, university-based historical scholarship has a strong influence on general education systems as well as, to a certain extent, on the media.
  • 15 - Africa from 48,000 to 9500BCE
    pp 362-393
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    This chapter sets world historical study within a larger history of periodization, showing the relation between its methodological difficulties and its immense historiographical significance. It starts with the systemization of disciplinary practice in Ranke, who inherited from the eighteenth century a paradox concerning global time. Starting with Heidegger through postmodernism and to the present, the critique of historical thought has sought a basis in distinct horizons of meaning, and therefore rupture. The limits of both return to us today the antinomy of history. The nineteenth-century institutionalization of historical thought included as a matter of course Ranke's critique of philosophical generalization. For nearly a century, world history has commonly examined its topics with methods derived from evolutionary theory. Postcolonial history jolted powerfully at the discipline's nationalist, Eurocentric, and teleological defaults. As universal chronology, historiography dislodges the idealization of "primordial" community. Contrary to Heidegger's characterization, however, historiography also simultaneously localizes and differentiates.
  • 16 - Migration and innovation in Palaeolithic Europe
    pp 394-413
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    World historians recognize the need for a framework that encompasses the full range of human history, embraces all types of people, and acknowledges that globalization is not a passing fad but a significant outcome of deep historical forces. In aid of that enterprise this chapter looks at history in terms of two dominant historical trends: divergence and convergence. From the beginning most of history was a story of divergence: humans' biological and cultural differentiation as they evolved and dispersed across the planet. For the past millennium, history has been dominated by convergent forces, of which globalization is the latest phase. During this era the Great Convergence, human interaction, trade, and intercommunication have increased at a rapid rate. The long millennia during which biological and cultural diversification were dominant can be called the Age of Divergence. Pairing divergence and convergence as coequal themes makes it easier to talk about diversity as a norm, not an exception.
  • 17 - Asian Palaeolithic dispersals
    pp 414-432
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    This chapter describes the origins of the modern, Western study of language, belief, and knowledge. "Europe" refers to the continent, itself with fuzzy boundaries, but when appearing in the world history of knowledge "European" usually refers also to the places most colonized by Europeans in the last two centuries, and to those places' peoples and their ideas. The chapter discusses how historians and others have treated four key moments in the history of knowledge and belief, and specifically at what role the Wider World plays in their scholarship. The four inflection points are familiar: hominization, the Axial Age of religious development, the European Scientific Revolution, and recent and continuing secularization. The secularization thesis was formed in a European scholarly milieu, based on ideas about contemporary and past Christianity, and only then expanded to the Wider World. The Wider World reinforces the secularization thesis, begs questions of the Scientific Revolution, and delights in the level playing field of the Axial Age.

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