I enjoyed reading the McNeill’s concise overview of World History over Thanksgiving break. It is a nice addition to the other types of histories we have read thus far and a good example of the recent attempts within the discipline to “develop a more adequate conceptualization of human history as a whole” (McNeill and McNeill, Webs, 11). Another strong point in the text is that the McNeill’s were able to avoid using only a Eurocentric perspective in the text. Instead, they were able to analyze various histories, using different elements like political and religious structures, and put them in the overarching “web” structure they used to frame the book.
In the interview with Yerxa, J.R. McNeill says “we mean attempts to tell the whole story of the human experience….” (pg. 13). While I think the text is rich, comprehensive, and well-written, it is only an attempt to comprise all of history into one volume. As such, I wonder which suggestions made in the text will be realized and which will fail. For example, I was struck by the section about urbanization and city growth towards the end of the text. The McNeill’s say “demographers expect it (population growth) will slow to zero by 2050 or 2070 (page 279). Juxtaposed with the recent news that China has is reforming its one-child policy (http://www.economist.com/blogs/analects/2013/11/one-child-policy), I wondered if demographers will soon release new expectations of population growth. I might be wrong on this, but my assertion is that China will successfully contrive citizens to restructure family sizes. And, the PRC is not doing this because they suddenly realized the One Child Policy was wrong. Rather, there are deeper, political reasons. Perhaps, the PRC realizes having the world’s largest population is economically, politically, and militarily beneficial and does not wan to lose that position to India.
I like how the McNeill’s ended the text with an open ended wondering of what is to come due to urban growth. “The acute challenges of our time…..adjustment to life in the big city” hints that world history will continue to be an interlocking web of human interaction. (page 318). But, just as in the past rural world, the web of human interaction will continue to include “chance encounters, kinship, friendship, common worship, rivalry, enmity, economic exchange, ecological exchange, political cooperation, even military competition.” (Page 3).