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The History of Civilizations – The past explains the present.

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1 The History of Civilizations – The past explains the present.
By Fernand Braudel

2 Question Under Discussion….
A fairly unusual one. “Can the history of Civilization help us to understand the present time and thus, necessarily the future – for today can hardly be understood except in relation to tomorrow?” May sound complex but my aim is to unravel this.

3 A background to the text…
The way to study history is to view it as a long duration. History means an understanding of both past and present. Complexities in defining the term ‘Civilization’. Since history has expanded toward social & economic, history of civilizations no longer plays such an aggressive role.

4 Civilization & Culture: The origins and fortunes of these words.
Two words which cover so huge an area: ‘Civilization’ & ‘Culture’. Civilization and Culture, both born in France at about the same time. Toward 1850, civilization and culture moved from singular to plural. Arrival of anthropologists & ethnographers led to danger for term civilization.

5 Attempts at a definition…
Historians who have concerned themselves with civilization have left us in great uncertainty as to what they actually mean by it! No authors have felt the need to provide an actual definition of what civilization truly means. I will present to you various attempts…

6 Guizot: “Can be seen as our starting point”
Civilization = a two-fold progress, ‘social’ & ‘intellectual’. In an ideal world, a harmony between the two. Civilization as embodied in ‘a people’. - “A great theory with a small result one might say”.

7 Burckhardt: “Quite a different world from Guizot’s”.
West not examined in its full extent, nor with regard to the entirety of its past. Highly luminous moment – ‘The Renaissance’. Triad that explains all of man’s past can be related: State, Religion and Culture.

8 Spengler: “Every culture is a unique experience”.
Even if one culture derives from another, it eventually asserts itself in its full originality. Method for the historian of civilizations is straightforward, distinguishing and studying originalities. Civilization defined as the ‘unavoidable end’. All civilizations/cultures can be reduced to destiny of spiritual values.

9 Toynbee: “Civilization is a voyage not a port”.
Civilization = smallest unit of historical study, when trying to comprehend the history of one’s own country. Religion as most important concern of the human race. Only 21/22 civilizations worthy of a name. Five still with us today. Dares to compare things that happened centuries apart.

10 Alfred Weber: Yes, the Sociologist brother of the great Max Weber!
Opens his explanations to various disciplines. Admirably demonstrates the establishment of the first crop of civilizations. A ‘Spirit of the age’ implicit in his thinking. - Doubts whether Weber has formulated a satisfactory definition of a civilization.

11 Bagby: An original position, uniting history and anthropology.
Can be no science of history unless the domain of history is simplified. Man must be compared with man, our investigation must move from one civilization to another. Hierarchy of civilizations. - Doesn’t attempt a serious definition anymore than any of the previous authors.

12 History at the crossroads…
History of civilizations is at a crossroads. Must fully understand all the discoveries made by different social sciences. Presents a plan that could be used if he found himself writing “an endless work on civilization and civilizations”. 1. Make a break with certain habits of mind. 2. Seek a definition of civilization. 3. Summon all specialists in human sciences. 4. No conclusion but suggest specific tasks.

13 Necessary Sacrifices.. Renounce certain ways of speaking.
Renounce the linear. Renounce any cyclical explanations of the destiny of civilizations/cultures. Reject the restricted lists of civilizations which have been suggested to us.

14 Criteria to be retained 1 …
Cultural areas: A civilization is a space. Add some sort of temporal permanence. “Totality”. Mauss: Owes much more to geography than usually stated.

15 Criteria to be retained 2…
Borrowings: Micro-elements are constantly on the move. Civilizations are simultaneously exporting & borrowing in turn. Some cultural elements are contagious.

16 Criteria to be retained 3…
Refusals: Not every exchange proceeds straightforwardly. Every refusal is of singular importance. In summary… In the definition we have borrowed, there are three factors at play; Cultural area, Borrowings and Refusals. Each opening up its own possibilities.

17 Toward a dialogue between history & the human sciences…
A historian cannot manage alone. Geography – location is not just an accident. Demography – Growth, migration etc. Sociology/Economics – Relations, social structures, classes etc. Concern to build models. Nothing to assure us that all civilizations follow identical cause & effect throughout history.

18 History – Face to face with the present…
Feels unable to come to any bold conclusion. But states that “History is called upon to demonstrate its usefulness regarding the present”.

19 The Longevity of civilizations…
Any society is deeply involved in a civilization. Societies lead us into a huge historical movement. Civilizations are realities of the ‘Long Duration’.

20 The permanence of unity & diversity throughout the world…
Technical progress has multiplied the means available to man. Civilization is not equally distributed. World is being violently propelled toward unity, while at the same time remains fundamentally diverse.

21 Revolutions which define the present age…
Toward 1750, world with all its many civilizations underwent a series of upheavals. Man is changing his appearance. Beyond Civilizations Huge diffusion at work. Revenge of singular on the plural.

22 Concluding comments… Toward a Modern Humanism
Need for a new, third word? Georges Friedmann – ‘Modern Humanism’. Man, civilization must overcome the demand of the machine. Accepting/hoping that the doors of the present should be wide open to the future. Present cannot be the boundary.

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