The Historical Process: The Views of Jared Diamond, William McNeill, and Hans Zinsser

The Historical Process: The Views of Jared Diamond, William McNeill, and Hans Zinsser

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When pressed with explaining the progression of human society to its current state and, more broadly, the historical process in general, one has several possible options. Three of the most compelling views, however, can be attributed to Jared Diamond, William McNeill, and Hans Zinsser. Although each offers a distinct model of how to understand chance and how history explains evolution, they all take radically different approaches. Diamond proposes that everything is explicable by a few simple laws and principles, and even goes so far as to suggest that there are no alternatives in history. McNeill argues that although there are loose, regulated principles at work, they do not dictate or explain everything; instead, he suggests that they create broad general patterns but adds that while there is pattern, there is also a fair amount of chance. Zinsser suggests simply that historians have largely disregarded disease as an agent of change. While all seem to be sound, when examining these three views on a more fundamental level, while focusing specifically on the role disease has played throughout history, it is evident that Zinsser’s stands as the most well-reasoned.
To understand why, let us first examine Diamond’s theory. Diamond, a professor of geography and physiology, offers the most deterministic point of view. He is of the opinion that history and its outcome can be easily explained by applying a few laws and principles, and accordingly that history has no alternatives. And as per Diamond’s postulation, it is indeed easy to retrospectively explain historical outcomes with these laws and principles, as evidenced by Diamond in his 1997 expository book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. In it, Diamond...


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...t eliminates the need for an explanation of the cause.
In their attempts to explain the historical process, Diamond and McNeill both take similar approaches by proposing that everything is explicable when one applies some simple laws and principles. McNeill supplements this notion with the idea that sometimes, however, things happen by chance and may not be explained by the overarching patterns that seem to govern everything else. Zinsser, on the other hand, simply submits that there are tremendous alternatives at any given point throughout history without trying to explain each one. Both Diamond and McNeill’s models fall prey to their own over-ambition since neither can completely explain every event they claim they can. Of the three, Zinsser’s model, due largely to its nondeterministic nature, clearly serves as the most reasonable view of the historical process.

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