Introduction and overview

David Christian*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


As Merry Wiesner-Hanks writes in her series preface, the Cambridge World History is authoritative and comprehensive, but not exhaustive. World history must limit its ambitions precisely because its scope is so vast, so an exhaustive history of humanity, like a map the same size as the landscape it charts, would be of little use because it would have avoided the hard work of distillation. This is why world historians have to be good at selecting. The chapters in Volume I are indeed authoritative; they cover a great deal of territory (literally and metaphorically); but they are not exhaustive. Like all the best scholarship in world history, they try to convey both the detailed texture of human history and its major themes and trajectories. Volume I is introductory in two distinct senses. Part i is about world history as a sub-discipline of history, while Part II is about the earliest phases of world history. Part I introduces approaches, methods, and themes that have shaped and defined scholarship in world history. It ranges over world history as a whole, but does not visit every village and province. For readers new to the field, these chapters can illustrate the diversity of approaches that historians have brought to the project of world history. For world historians, they will offer recapitulations of important themes and approaches, and introductions to some less familiar aspects of world history. Many of the themes and topics introduced here are taken up with greater chronological and geographic specificity in the chapters in the second part, and also in later volumes in the series. Part II surveys the earliest phases of human history during the Paleolithic era: the vast period extending back hundreds of thousands of years, in which our human and hominin ancestors laid the foundations for human history. As is appropriate in a volume intended mainly for those interested in the human past, it concentrates on the most recent phases of hominin evolution, the rise of our own strange species, Homo sapiens, and the very earliest human societies.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge World History
Subtitle of host publicationVolume I : Introducing World History, to 10,000 BCE
EditorsDavid Christian
Place of PublicationCambridge, UK
PublisherCambridge University Press (CUP)
Number of pages38
ISBN (Electronic)9781139194662
ISBN (Print)9780521763332
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


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