, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 138-176
Date: 04 Apr 2009

The World without Us

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The greatest publicist of the Enlightenment, Voltaire, even while he advocated the widening of historical inquiry to embrace social and economic activities and their effects, strongly believed that the only objects worthy of historical study were the peaks, not the valleys, of the achievements of mankind.

Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity

Early World Historians and the Idea of Progress

The liberal idea that human history could be comprehended as a rational process having an intelligible order, which could be described in terms of successive stages of cognitive/technical and moral knowledge, commanded wide credence in the West from the Enlightenment until the 1960s. While there were many interpretations about the forces that governed the process of history and the kind of stages one would expect to find, not many world historians doubted that it was their business to construct a universal scheme into which all of human history could be fitted. This directional view of world hi