The Mcneills: A Very Short Summary

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To the McNeills, what drives history are the intricate overlapping webs of interaction, which have drawn humans together since the birth of history. As these small webs are nourished, they thicken and intertwine, moulding hunter-gatherers into agricultural societies and forging towering empires into the world of today. The McNeills’ overview of history ultimately retells the story of the past through a dynamic medium with the growth of the world web as its motor. Their greatest strengths, and what truly strengthens their recording of history, is their ability to bypass the trap of focussing on the great men of political history and instead view the past through a variety of lens — chiefly social history. They facilitate this assessment by providing …show more content…
They subvert the supposed great men ideology and thus avoid the dangers of political history, specifically those that Arnold addresses in History: A Very Short Introduction. The McNeills instead choose to focus on the lifestyles and customs of common people, themselves, and in turn, the webs that their interactions weaved. Arnold defines social history as “A lively, argumentative and powerful field, combining the insights of Marxism, anthropology, sociology, and annaliste mentalité to produce an understanding of the everyday lives of past peoples, and how these lives combine to affect ‘what really happened’” (HAVSI 116). Indeed, the McNeills use social history more than any other lens of history and quite effectively as well. This is apparent as early as the introduction, in which they strongly emphasizes the importance of the “Chance encounters, kinship, friendship, common worship, rivalry, enmity, economic exchange, ecological exchange, political cooperation, even military competition” (HW 3) of populations, for these encounters forged the current webs of history. Their introduction also consciously omits any mention of specific great men or great empires, setting the tone for their social history driven chronicle. In the first chapter, the McNeills discuss the implications of pre-agricultural human society. This specific stretch of time if often marginalized and obligatorily tacked on in the majority of world histories. However, the McNeills go into great detail analyzing this time period, from discussing the fishing techniques used along the Pacific Coast , to the evolution of hunting tools in Eurasia and Africa. This is not due to them meandering, rather them truly emphasizing the importance of humanities earliest structure and customs. They facilitate these accounts with archaeological evidence and anthropological arguments, two immensely important disciplines for gauging history

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