thumbnail of World of the Paperback; William H. McNeill's "The Rise of the West"
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
The world of the paperback the University of Chicago invites you to join us for the series of 15 minute programs dedicated to the discussion of literary topics and the review of significant paper bound books each weekly program will bring to the microphone a different author authority or educator with his particular viewpoint towards the topic for discussion. The book selected for today's discussion is the rise of the West. Our guest is the author of the work William H McNeil professor and chairman of the Department of History at the University of Chicago. Here is your discussion host from the University of Chicago Robert C. Albrecht McNeil the rise of the West is a very very big book even in paperback almost 900 pages. But perhaps even more remarkable is a large number of maps and photographs that appear on the maps and photographs. The decorations are they really part of the text. Well in the strict sense I suppose they're not part of the text but they were certainly designed or intended to be part of the unified whole. I had the ambition
to. Use the photographs which are reproductions of art objects almost always as illustrative of changes in social context from which they may have come. One of the really quite surprising to me and very exciting things that came as I worked on the book was an awareness that use of visual art as an historical source as a litmus paper for stylistic affinities is really very sensitive and very effective. One of the facts about historical sources when they are when you restrict yourself to literary sources is that you tend to segment humanity into a series of linguistic communities in the fact that you have to learn another language and one often very different from that you're familiar with before you can learn to say take Chinese literature seriously he has meant to that in the past as soon
as high culture got frozen into a series of literary languages a series of rather sharp borders. But the visual arts do not suffer or do not are not so restricted have to suffer again. They are not so restricted. And a man can see a statue from China today and whether it comes from Tang China or from some more recent period. And no matter what associations and ideas and aims they are the creator of that statue may have read into it perfect and perfectly naive and untutored. I can look at it and see something in whatever he makes of it may be quite different than normally I should think would be quite different from what the maker or the persons who lived at the time it was first made would make. But it is still it still can communicate in a way that words could not. Some of the things you've just been saying suggest that you look to look if you look upon history as history of the world not as a group of civilizations unrelated but in some sort of continuity.
Yes yes this is the central thesis of my book. The efforts immediately preceding to write histories of the world had tended. I don't know that exception had tended to emphasize the separateness of a series of civilizations whatever number you might may choose. And this is plausible and indeed almost the necessary conclusion that one draws. If you use little resources for your history. But if you are willing to expand the source material to art and to archaeology and think of technology as well as visual arts because technology also is very percolates easily from one community to another. And then the links that exist I believe to exist between civilizations and peoples even over rather long distances in very primitive times become next to undeniable they become undeniable I would say one of the very interesting examples of this if you want this sort of extreme case is the
issue which I do not regard as closed at all of whether or not there were historical relationships between the Amerindian civilizations in the New World and the old the old world civilizations are either Europe. The West or the east. Now there are in Mexico and Peru a number of metallurgical objects. Copper bronze and so on that very closely resemble objects from Southeast Asia. This was first pointed out by a German by a hyena gelding and I find it extremely difficult to believe that the resemblances could be so close without some historical continuity some carrier across the ocean. But we do not have any literary record of this and it is a matter of judgement and taste and I do not think it's firmly established as a extreme case of looking for looking with visual arts that look into the visual arts as a source for historical
assertions about interrelationships of peoples. Well if it is the case that visual arts are less time to civilization than language less tied to a language group to a locality they move more easily. Well then or you can think. Look at international style today and I get architectures right around the world. This is an example where you talk Portuguese or one of the African languages you are your modern architecture is almost you almost are replaceable in Africa in Chicago and Los Angeles in Timbuktu. And is technology even less time. Well English depends on the level of the technology. Simple technology technology which rests upon handicraft skills is relatively easy to move from one part of the world to another. If you have technology that rests upon a whole chain of other technologies and of course this is always to some some degree. But the more recent development of technology is much more difficult to set up at a say in time the energy plant in Timbuktu. That is to build another building with glass and steel.
Is the International School of Architecture the results of the international art architecture the buildings that they've done. Is this unique. Virtually in the history of the world it is well I was not aware of anything that has gone that rapidly. You see an art style in times past spread much more slowly one can observe one of the classic instances of this is the migration a Greek text or a Greco influence type of Arc of sculpture from the original Aegean homeland first into the Near East. That is what is today. Syria and Mesopotamia and Iran. And there it became tied to Buddhism that is the Buddhists of the northwest frontier of India developed an iconography which was borrowed from AS Thats not too strong borrowed from the Greek habit of carving statues of their gods and certain details such as the way they treated the hair of the top knot on the top of Apollo's head which then
is translated into a top knot on top of Buddha's head. They are accepted into Buddhist iconography and then they move on across Asia and arrive in China by about probably one hundred fifty two hundred eighty notes from say 600 B.C. when this Greek style really emerges or perhaps uses say 500 B.C. in the Aegean to 180 700 years 600 years and it can be seen geographically step by step. When this was worked out the early decades of the century by a man named fouché and others. It's a classic example of artistic migration. If land you see it moves from several different languages ends up in Japan. And as it moves the Greek ness of the style is attenuated so that a Chinese but it is not really very Greek. And yet the continuity can be demonstrated step by step as it moves across it's undergoing a transmutation and yet there is a historical
continuity from the Begun statues of ancient Greece to the Buddhist statues of China. Continuity seems to be one of your key one of the key motifs in in your book which is which you subtitled A History of the human community. Though the main title is The Rise of the West. This is an answer to Spangler's decline. Well that's of course one of the reasons I chose the title. The other is that in a certain shorthand way it does describe the upshot of the history of the world if by west one means the style of life the style of civilization which originated in Western Europe and has now spread around the world come to dominate the cultures of other parts of the world. One of the things that seems to me very shortsighted of westerners today is to suppose that when colonial empires let us say are dismantled that thereby
somehow the West is sinking. What is happening is that various techniques and ideas of political social organization and ideas of what is right and what is wrong. Freedom liberty democratic government and so on have been transported to Africa into Asia by Westerners or by students who come to the west to study and then they use these ideas to overthrow political jurisdiction. But actually our Westernizing themselves as fast as they can far more rapidly than a colonial regime could do. So that this is what I mean by the rise of the West we were headlong Westernizing all around the world. One might read this to imply something about your view at least of the East. This is perhaps well Aisha's but I don't want to set a sort of antagonism or duality in east and west it seems to me there's a cultural pluralism at all times in the past there's been one or more centers of primary disturbance of the ecological cultural balance ecumenical cultural balance and at the
moment it's the West and the West on a much larger scale and with improved means of communication is against anything known before. It does seem to have broken down the autonomy of other cultural heritage. And this is a new regimen for the world. And you can describe it by calling it the rise of the West and that's what I had in mind in that title. From what period do you date the recent rise of the West is 880 15:00 is the West really responsible for the thing which is sometimes called the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century or is assembling here her voice in the West do it in Britain as a matter of fact you can be quite exact it occurred not only in Britain but in the midlands of Britain. There have been of course movements in that direction elsewhere and you have what some people think of as abortive industrialization in China but the 11th century tantalum centuries. And but the Industrial
Revolution is the creation of the English midlands and if you entrepreneur probably you know a couple hundred men is what made the Industrial Revolution take the path and which it did take. Has this led us closer than we've ever been before to a kind of world civilization. And turns of to the only thing you can possibly compare it was the old stone age when you had over infinitely long periods of time the diffusion of. There are only two types of really two types of old stone age tools. The world is divided between. I don't remember the technical terms so you had really two great culture areas and apparently I mean this must be said with some reservations as archaeological up to exploration is after all limited and the only unification of the world a comparison that is ever present as the old stone age. You don't see a series of compact or compartmentalise civilizations confronting one another on was that isn't true. But I do think how do they relate to civilizations are a civilization is a
meaningful concept and that human beings do associate in two styles of life is what I call them which fade out toward the edges and fade out down the social scale a newborn baby doesn't belong to any civilization and after about 20 if you are going to be civilized you are in a particular style. And the think of it as lines of flow was analogous to fields of force in some. Often there is a rather intense and identifiable geographical center. A few urban communities perhaps. And then it peters out it weakens in varying degrees as you move further and further away and presently another style of life will its radiating force will come and it will be a zone of trance of meeting and it's in the zones of meeting that the most fruitful interactions are likely to take place. But this isn't a universal rule either. It depends on patterns of communication and the receptivity and resistance to foreign ways that vary from time to time.
World of the Paperback
William H. McNeill's "The Rise of the West"
Producing Organization
University of Chicago
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-bv79x26j).
Episode Description
This program features William H. McNeill discussing his book "The Rise of the West."
Other Description
This series is dedicated to the discussion of literary topics and of the publication of significant paperbound books.
Broadcast Date
Talk Show
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Guest: McNeill, William Hardy, 1917-
Host: Albrecht, Robert C.
Producing Organization: University of Chicago
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-23-11 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:14:24
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “World of the Paperback; William H. McNeill's "The Rise of the West",” 1966-08-19, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 6, 2021,
MLA: “World of the Paperback; William H. McNeill's "The Rise of the West".” 1966-08-19. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 6, 2021. <>.
APA: World of the Paperback; William H. McNeill's "The Rise of the West". Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from