What happened in history?
DOI link for What happened in history?
What happened in history? book
Soon before and then in the middle of the Second World War, Gordon Childe published two books, Man makes himself and What happened in history (Childe 1936; 1942). These were in many ways remarkable, on the one hand for their scope and bold generalisations, and on the other for the employment of archaeological evidence to support an optimistic view of human development, which was not otherwise suggested by the conditions of the time. Of the two works, Man makes himself has perhaps the more sophisticated and detailed arguments, but it uses the same general thrust as What happened in history. The story in both is of progress and evolution, through a subtle combination of economic, technological, ideological and conceptual factors. Whereas the former work concentrates on the Neolithic revolution, the urban revolution and then the revolution in human knowledge, the main themes of the later work, perhaps because things in the contemporary world had become even worse, are couched in an older style, of development from savagery to barbarism and eventually to civilisation. This language now seems rather quaint, as few if any specialists today would think in terms of ‘Neolithic barbarism’ (Childe 1942, chapter 3) or the ‘higher barbarism of the Copper Age’ (Childe 1942, chapter 4). And, obviously, rather different evidence could be brought to bear compared to that available in the 1930s. This is not to deride Childe in any way, as it is part of his enduring appeal that his general arguments have seemed to last so well. Perhaps, for all the accumulation of new data since his day, this is not in fact so surprising, since his main successors were ‘processualists’, and in turn their successors or protagonists, ‘post-processualists’, have often been little interested in the same sort of long-term perspectives.