World History Blog

World History gone wrong on the BBC

October 17, 2012 Posted by Peter Britton World History gone wrong on the BBC

This is where blog entries become irritating, for both readers and authors! I'm well into trying to develop my thoughts on timelines of world history, when something comes up and blows me right off course!

I looked at the first programme in the BBC's new series on World History last night, on BBC iplayer. The presenter is Andrew Marr, who I really like; so I was looking forward to it. But I was very disappointed.

Andrew Marr was not well served by his advisors. They just didn't seem to understand the dynamics of history.

For example, on the origins of agriculture, they said that, "13,000 years ago, planting seeds really was a gamble", and it showed a woman keeping watch over some seeds to see what happened to them. However, anthropologists have shown how much hunter-gatherers (see our essay on hunter-gatherers) understand about their environments. They would have known exactly what would happen if you put some seeds in the ground. The agricultural revolution was almost certain not the result of a leap of faith or imagination, but an oh-so-gradual shift in lifestyles.

The programme used the same sort of approach for the rise of civilization, which apparently was all to do with managing floods. Apart from the fact that archaeologists and world historians have more or less given up that idea long ago (although, to my mind, a little too hastily), the Chinese myth of an engineer persuading lots of clans to pool their resources to create a vast flood management system and hey-presto, you've got a state - well, it really is a myth! For all sorts of reasons it couldn't have really happened that way - at least, not for the hundreds of miles distance that the Yellow River travels through its flood plain. I know the programme said it WAS a myth - but then spent about 5 or 10 minutes dwelling on it, without saying how it could have happened in reality. There was no attempt to draw on all the thinking and research that has gone into this issue. (For another reconstruction, see our essay, the Origins of Civilization, on exactly the same issue but focussing on Mesopotamia, which most archaeologists agree was the first civilization and which wasn't even mentioned in the programme).

Finally, writing almost certainly was not invented in Egypt, as the programme casually claimed, but in Mesopotamia.

I'll try and look at the second programme tonight - I really do hope it's a lot better.

Anyhow, so far as the blog's concerned, back to timelines of world history tomorrow!

by Peter Britton

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Tyree Stevenson says:

Great Website

on Thursday 28 January 2016


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