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?