Centres and Margins: The Fall of Universal History and the Rise of Multicultural World History

  • Ricardo Duchesne
Part of the Palgrave Advances book series (PAD)


The liberal idea that human history could be comprehended as a rational process, having an intelligible order, which could be described in terms of successive stages of cognitive/technical and moral knowledge, commanded wide credence in the West from the Enlightenment onwards until the 1960s. While there were many interpretations about the forces which governed the process of history, and the kind of stages one would expect to find, not many world historians doubted that it was their business to construct a universal scheme into which all of human history could be fitted. This directional view, it is true, sometimes came together with odious assumptions of racial hierarchy. ‘We are fully authorized to say’, wrote William Swinton in his Outline of the World’s History, published in 1874, ‘that the Aryans are peculiarly the race of progress.’ Similarly, Philip Myers, in a popular high school textbook he wrote in 1889, offered a narrative of progress with racial references to the ‘the White, or Caucasian race’ as ‘by far the most perfect type, physically, intellectually, and morally’.1 Myers did remove these racist remarks from later editions, but the liberal idea that civilization was moving in a desirable direction continued to be heavily infused with imperious attitudes toward cultures and peoples believed to be outside the mainstream of cultural progression.


Western Civilization Human History World History European History Liberal Idea 
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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ricardo Duchesne

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