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UNIT 26: World History and Identity

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PERSPECTIVES ON THE PAST

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Transcript of Audio Clip

William McNeill, Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago, J.R. McNeill, Georgetown University, and Heidi Roupp, World History Connected

HEIDI ROUPP: Since writing your path-breaking world history The Rise of the West how have you changed your interpretation of world history?

WILLIAM MCNEILL: I think the principal change is that over the decades as I worked on the subject, I felt less and less satisfied in having world history built around a series of contemporary interacting civilizations, civilizations as the actors around which the stories were built. And more and more it seemed to me that the links between the separate civilizations were more powerful and more influential and shaped the total, transformation of human experience in a way that treating one civilization separately from another did not permit.

HEIDI ROUPP: Now how do you think the field has changed since The Rise of the West?

J.R. MCNEILL: The biggest transformation in the 40 years since The Rise of the West is one that The Rise of the West helped to advance and that is a re-orientation of attention within world history to the theme of interaction among societies, among cultures, among civilizations which is now ever more so the main thrust of world history writing, world history research, and world history teaching.

WILLIAM MCNEILL: And contemporary experience.

HEIDI ROUPP: And world history. And contemporary experience.

J.R. MCNEILL: And contemporary experience.

HEIDI ROUPP: Well, John, how is globalization important in this mix?

J.R. MCNEILL: Well, in several ways I suppose. First of all, as everybody knows, we live in an age of globalization and that means that the interactions amongst peoples, cultures, societies are happening faster than previously and, in greater quantities so that the importance of understanding other folks and how to deal with other folks is at a premium in this day and age. We've had true globalization involving all the main inhabited parts of the world for 500 years. So it's an ongoing process and by no means is this the climax of it.

WILLIAM MCNEILL: And it's becoming more powerful every day and has not just across the past 500 years but across the whole history of humankind. Communication has been intensifying, accelerating, its carrying capacity has been expanding, not uninterruptedly, sporadically from the time people first learned to speak.

J.R. MCNEILL: Probably the single greatest contribution that a good understanding and presentation of world history could make is to reduce some of the sharp edges in the ethnic and ethno religious identities. And these are often dearly felt and cause all manner of frictions within multiethnic societies and between societies. But an appreciation of the extent to which we were all a product of a common heritage can, I think, blunt some of the sharpness of ethno religious difference. And if it could, that would be a worthy outcome.



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