Like Manning Clark, Blainey sees history as a story of progress in which Western civilisation develops from a kind of primal baseline. But the dynamic force which drives events in Blainey’s history is more tangible-more material-than in Clark’s. As Blainey himself explains, he regards technology and economics as being far more important agents of change than politics. He locates the origins of modem industrial culture in the Middle East, at that moment when hunter-gatherers first settled in villages and began systematic farming. This neolithic revolution, says Blainey, was more significant to human development than the beginning of the industrial revolution: ‘It led to the collection of taxes, the rise of powerful rulers and priests, to the creation of armies larger than any previously known.’ As this revolution gradually spread into Europe, America and Asia, new societies ‘blossomed and bloomed’ because an increasing proportion of their populations was freed from food production to pursue other activities. They were free to write, think, scheme and invent things.
First a confession. I’ve never been excited by the idea of reading a book of documents. Such collections come in useful if you’re a teacher or a historian (exactly what did Menzies say in his ‘melancholy duty’ speech at the outbreak of the Second World War?). But the material always seems to me decontextualised, reduced to a display of meaningless, numbered fragments, remnants from an unknowable void. And I can’t help wondering what’s been left out or how I’m being manipulated. A traditional history text proclaims its arguments. But in a book of documents the organising intelligence is all but silent. And so I’ve developed this prejudice: I think of books of documents as both dodgy and dull.
Donald Horne, pleasantly surprised that he is now a university professor, looks back at the journalist and aspiring novelist that he was in the 1950s. This is to be the third (and final) instalment in the saga of the education of Donald.