History by Committee

History of Mankind, I: Prehistory and the Beginnings of Civilization of the Scientific and Cultural Development of Mankind)

by Jacquetta Hawkes, by Sir Leonard Woolley
Harper & Row (Published for the International Commission for a History, volume I, 873 pp., $12.50

History of Mankind, II: The Ancient World of the Scientific and Cultural Development of Mankind)

by Luigi Pareti, by Paolo Brezzi, by Luciano Petech
Harper & Row (Published for the International Commission for a History, volume II, 1048 pp., $15.50

Taken by themselves, as products of individual writers, these first two volumes of the History of Mankind sponsored by UNESCO would hardly be worth reviewing. What makes them an object of curiosity is the immense machinery set up ad hoc by UNESCO through an International Commission to help and guide its authors: this includes hundreds of advisers and the publication of a special periodical, the Journal of World History, to “provide the International Commission with material for the final compilation of the History.” I am not implying that the two volumes are incompetently written. The very names of the five authors—two English for the first volume and three Italians for the second—are a guarantee that these books do not sink below the level of decency; but they are indifferent specimens of a wellknown species. Nowadays the shops are full of books which claim to give an idea of the historical development of mankind—either in the compact form of a Universal History or in a series of monographs on individual nations, periods, aspects of human activity. Three varieties of such books seem to me to have a genuine claim to the attention of the discriminating reader. There are the straightforward handbooks which provide competent information about sources and modern research. Here the French are supreme with their collections, Clio, Nouvelle Clio, Mana, Themis, etc. I am never wrong when I send my pupils for first information to A. Piganiol, Histoire de Rome or to E. Drioton and J. Vandier, L’Egypte, in the collection Clio. Then there are the series of histories put together under the editorship of a distinguished historian by what one may loosely call the members of his school. Here again the best contemporary examples are French, because the French are perhaps the only ones still to have real historical schools which extend their influence far beyond France. An example is the series Destins du monde founded by L. Febvre and now edited by Fernand Braudel. If the volume on Medieval Europe in this series is written by an eminent Italian historian who teaches at Yale, R.S. Lopez, this is because he is closely connected with the Febvre-Braudel group. Skillful and imaginative writing is the distinctive feature of this type of series, and each writer is too good an historian not to stick to the field in which he commands the primary evidence. A promising attempt to produce an Anglo-Saxon counterpart to this French initiative seems to be the new History of Human Society edited by J.H. Plumb, of which I have seen the volume Prehistoric Societies by G. Clark and S. Piggott . Finally, there are the “dogmatic” Universal Histories, of which the most conspicuous contemporary representative is the Moscow Vsemirnaia Istoria. We are in for very dull and very unimaginative writing firmly controlled by the Party editors. (The best contributors to the Vsemirnaia Istoria write much better when they produce independent monographs.) But a precise point of view is systematically presented throughout …

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