When Does History Begin? by Daniel Lord Smail

Daniel Lord Smail, the author of the recent UC Press book, On Deep History and the Brain, recently wrote an original essay for Powells.com that introduces the subject of his book.  He begins:

Back when I was in grade school — I was born in 1961 — it was pretty
clear that history began in 1492. We did cover the Native American
peoples in our social studies classes, and since I grew up in Wisconsin
this meant the Chippewa. But the Chippewa nation didn’t exactly have a
history. All they had was a collection of timeless customs,
encapsulated in the frozen dioramas we went to see in the State
Historical Society Museum in Madison. We never had to memorize any
dates associated with the Chippewa. In this sense, Wisconsin came into
the stream of history only when the first French traders arrived and
set things on the move, in the same way that Christopher Columbus
magically brought history to North America as a whole. A thick curtain
shrouded all that lay before. There was something back there, but it
wasn’t connected to the time stream of what we called “history.” It
never would have occurred to any of us to ask what the Chippewa were
doing in Wisconsin at the same time that the Romans were doing things
in Rome.

He then poses the question:

So when does history begin?

To find out Smail’s take, read the full article at the Powells.com website.

One thought on “When Does History Begin? by Daniel Lord Smail

  1. Thanks for an interesting book. That said, you may find further interest in the observation that ideas such as ‘gaps in history’, prehistory, ‘Lamarckian evolution’, ‘post-Darwinian history’ and all such ‘chunkiness’ can be accounted for thru the ‘evolution’ of a property underlying the evolution of all organisms -the idea/fact of _relationals_(*) and its role in general as reflecting ‘successively higher-order response to successively higher-order relationals’ in evolutionary process:

    As ‘successively higher-order life-forms’ evolved, necessarily evolved into them (generally speaking) also was ‘capability for successively higher-order response’ to the relationals in their environments -higher-order interaction among these life-forms effectively _facilitating_ their existence and further evolution -‘a wave-front of life-forms evolution and a machine that goes by itself’, so to speak.

    ‘The human phenomenon and things human’, then, reflects the additional evolution of the uniquely pro-hominid property of _deliberative capability_ -the evolution of capability for successively higher-order and _abstractive_ response out of and into successively higher-order relationals.

    What we have come to know about ‘the human phenomenon and things human’ so far, then, has evolved and developed out of the _neonate ignorance_ intrinsic of all evolution. The ‘chunkiness’ of mankind’s knowledge and history so far, consequently, reflects how that knowledge and history developed -inherently, in advance of knowledge about any connectedness by relationals, evolutionary process, neonate ignorance and deliberative capability. One could go further in this respect and observe that the reason our various ‘soft’ sciences/disciplines and belief systems have so much trouble ‘talking to each other’ so to speak, is that virtually all have come into existence and evolved more or less linguistically isolated from each other by the language peculiarities and ambiguities inherent their evolution out of ‘primitive neonate ignorance’.


    Perry Bezanis
    San Pedro CA
    310 833 8231

    ps – Further extension of this material may be read at-


    * – _relational_ (noun): a second-or-higher-order property which qualifies in a generally comparative way the relationship of a primitive or primary property (e.g. ‘quale’) common to two (or more) ‘elements’ of the configuration space: (eg) left-right/up-down/front-back-ness of one thing with respect to another: difference/sameness, more/less-ness, absence (vs presence) of material/body, force, color, speed, sound, taste, smell, texture, dry/wetness and, at ‘higher levels of vertebrate development’, temperament in ‘anger’, ‘attention’ etc.

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