Friday, July 8, 2011

The Absence of Crime Coverage in the Columbia History of the World

The Columbia History of the World was a landmark book. Published by Harper & Row in 1972, the book presents a sweeping survey of notable events from the dawn of time to what it calls "the brooding present."

I was given a copy of the book in 1991 by Don McCloskey, after serving as a teaching assistant in his Western Civilization survey course at the University of Iowa. (Don subsequently became Deirdre and published a book about gender crossing, but that is another story.)

This morning I glanced through the Columbia history, looking to see whether it tackles issues of incarceration and punishment. The answer, interestingly, is no.

In nearly 1200 pages of text, there is virtually no discussion of how societies have dealt with crime. Clearly the contributors (edited by John A. Garraty and Peter Gay) wanted to stay on the high road. And so, in an extensive 63-page index, there are 11 references to the Italian humanist Petrarch, but none for prison, punishment or incarceration.

There is, of course, considerable coverage of slavery. How could there not be, given the importance of the theme of history in world history?

To be sure, you can't take on every topic in a sprawling survey such as this. But still, how could crime and punishment be so overlooked?

1 comment:

  1. Oh there is a good reason alright - it was because it didn't fit with the left-wing ideology that Garrity was famous for. Napoleon said "History is a collection of lies we all agree too" and Garrity made sure he put his version in. Why so much about slavery - because it was and remains a Democratic touchstone issue that defines their liberal bonafides. Garrity also waxed long and poetically about the "noble savage" theory and glossed over Lincoln's well acknowledged ill-temper.