MacroHistories

Like microhistory and like science, macrohistory – or big history as some call it – does not pretend complete knowledge. It is not like theology. It cannot be consistently microscopic. But neither is it necessarily based on big generalizations. "Mesohistory" has been suggested as a third category of history, a category that offers a mix of specificity and generality. But generalities are static abstractions for catagorizing, and events take place in an historical context. Historical generalities, or analogies, transcend context and are not history. This site strives to describe what happened.

Macrohistory draws from detail, but its breadth demands more work in selecting and describing pertinent connections. All of us have a mental picture that spans the ages, a picture however vague that fits with our religious beliefs or skepticisms. The purpose of this history site is to make these pictures more clear.

We make comparisons frequently, but in writing history we can leave it the reader rather than suppose the reader is dumb and that we can do it better.

Only a few works in macrohistory are described with any detail below – a page written years ago. The book I just finished reading, in May 2015, is titled Big History: from the Big Bang to the Present. It was published in 2007. The author is Cynthia Stokes Brown. It's only 248 pages of text. Like any work that covers vast historical ground in so few pages it was a challenge for the author to rise consistently above a major fault in this kind of work: shallow summary. Writing history is hard work, but Brown was offered good detail in a large part of her book. In her introduction she writes that, "Every author who writes a big history does so with some unique emphasis, some unique voice." She adds that she tried "to stick to the information and theories well-acccepted in the scientific community, staying as unopinionated as is humanly possible."

Brown tells us that there are "only a handful of practioners worldwide who actually teach overt big history courses at universities."

Returning to the definition of macrohistory, I'm including big history as a part of it.

We should read works with more focus and detail than macrohistories offer. Macrohistories are built on such works.

Selected Macrohistories

The Decline of the West, by Oswald Spengler, 1932, described in my section, "Inside a Few Heads."

A Study of History, by Arnold J. Toynbee, 1934-54, also described in "Inside a Few Heads."

The Story of Civilization, by Will Durant, 1935-75, a commentary.

The Relentless Revolution: a History of Capitalism, by Joyce Appleby, a book summary.

The Western Tradition, by Eugen Weber, description.

The American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900, by H.W. Brands, a description and a list of his books.

Simon Schama and Niall Ferguson

Simon Schama and Niall Ferguson have different views on the history of civilization. Both are British with positions at universities in the United States – Schama at Columbia, Ferguson at Harvard. Wikipedia writes:

In 1995 Schama wrote and presented a series called Landscape and Memory to accompany his book of the same name. The year 2000 saw Schama return to the UK, having been commissioned by the BBC to produce a series of television documentary programmes on British history as part of their Millennium celebrations, under the title A History of Britain.

Schama has been described as left-of-center and Ferguson as a conservative. Ferguson was an advisor to the McCain for President campaign and does not speak as well of President Obama as does Schama. Among Ferguson's books are The Pity of War: Explaining World War One, two volumes on the Rothschild family, published in the late 1990s. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World was published in 2008, and in 2011 there is Civilization: The West and the Rest which asks why, beginning around 1500, a few Europeans were to dominate the rest of the world? A television six-part documentary series is associated with the book, with Ferguson doing the narrating. A critique on Ferguson with a minor reference to Schama.

Paul M. Kennedy's books

The Parliament of Man: The Past, Present, and Future of the United Nations (2006)

From War to Peace: Altered Strategic Landscapes in the Twentieth Century (2000)

Preparing for the Twenty-first Century (1993)

Grand Strategies in War and Peace (editor) (1991)

The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, 1860-1914 (2nd edition, 1988)

The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (1987)

The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery (1986) (2nd edition, 2006)

Strategy and Diplomacy 1870-1945 (1983)

The Realities Behind Diplomacy: Background Influences on British External Policy 1865-1980 (1981)

The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism 1860-1914 (1980)

The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery (1976, paperback reissue 2001, 2004)

The Samoan Tangle: A Study in Anglo-German-American Relations 1878-1900 (1974)

Conquest: The Pacific War 1943-45 (1973)

Pacific Onslaught 1941-43 (1972)

More economic-political macrohistories

A History of Capitalism: 1500 to 2000, by Michel Beaud, 2001, a brief description.

A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World, by William J. Bernstein, 2008, a very brief description.

False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World, by Alan Beattie, 2009, a detailed description.

A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, by Gregory Clark, 2007, description and comments.

The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy, by Kenneth Pomeranz, 2000, description and comments.

The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, by Paul Kennedy, 1989, description and comment.

Other gigantic world histories worthy of comment

The Seekers, by Daniel J. Boorstin, 1998, outlined in detail.

A World History, fourth edition, by William H. McNeill, 1999, a short description.

A Chronicle of World History, by Frank P. King, 2002, a very short description.

Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, by David Christian, 2004 a brief outline.

Ideas: a History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud, by Peter Watson, 2005, an outline with comments.

Military histories

War Made New: Technology, Warfare and the Course of History, 1500 to Today, by Max Boot, 2007, detailed description.

War and History, Ancient and Modern by Victor Davis Hanson, 2010, a negative book summary.

A Military History of China, edited by David Graff and Robin Higham, 2002, a very short description and comment.

A few more macrohistories

The American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1965-1900, by H.W. Brands, a description of his prodigeous work.

Telling the Truth about History, by Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt & Margaret Jacob, 1995, described in detail.

China, a Macro History, by Ray Huang, 1997, a short description and comment.

A History of Japanese Religion, edited by Kazuo Kasahara, 2001, a very short description and comment.

The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter, 2010, a book summary.

Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults, and Millennial Beliefs through the Ages, by Eugen Weber, 2000, Google Books, online.