Jonathan Daly illuminates Western Civ in two new books
Jonathan Daly, Professor of History, has recently published two books, both of which focus on the question of why the West has had such material success during the past 400 years. In addressing the question, Prof. Daly has waded into one of the biggest historiographical minefields out there, and he was recently asked in two separate venues to discuss his findings.
Regarding his book The Rise of Western Power: A Comparative History of Western Civilization, Daly discussed in an extensive interview how the book emerged from his experiences in the classroom:
You could say I started compiling data over twenty years ago, when I began regularly teaching the Western Civilization (and later a world history) course at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I wondered how we got to our modern Western societies with lightning-fast technological development, extensive civil rights, limited government, broad political participation, and blistering economic growth. Having read countless detailed monographs, primary sources, and interpretations of the “Rise of the West,” I concluded that what distinguished Europe from other developed cultures was almost continuous change in every aspect of life. It was as if European societies refused to accept the status quo, constantly sought improvement. That was the mechanism, but what was the motive force? When a couple of friends shared their knowledge of evolutionary biology, I found the answer: just as in every member of a species a random genetic variation may emerge, so every member of a human society may attempt a random innovation. Throughout history human innovation has run up against institutional barriers, but less so in Western societies. Happily the barriers have been falling around the world in recent decades.
Read more, including his one-sentence description of the book, here.
It gradually dawned on me that the biggest question of modern history is how Europe, which for centuries—even millennia—had lagged far behind the great civilizations of Asia, came to dominate the world. I had taught a Western civilization course for around 10 years when I grew frustrated with the standard textbooks, which only narrate this development but never explain it. Obviously their authors are accomplished historians, undoubtedly with their own views about the “great Western transformation” and probably with detailed knowledge of the debates surrounding this development. I thought it was a disservice to my students to leave them in the dark. So I created a course in which I had them read a couple dozen contributions to these debates. After several years of teaching the course, I decided it was time to give students at other institutions a chance to learn about the ongoing scholarly conversation.
Read more here.