the heroic vision


IN HIS 2003 book, Human Accomplishment: Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 BC to 1950, Charles Murray argued that the great artistic and scientific accomplishments were overwhelmingly European. ”What the human species is today,” he wrote, “it owes in astonishing degree to what was accomplished in just half a dozen centuries by the peoples of one small portion of the northwestern Eurasian land mass.” This claim, which goes against the modern grain of the world history community – indeed, against fashionable belief; The New York Times unsurprisingly called it “more bluster than rigor” and “unconvincing” 1 – was nonetheless the first attempt to quantify “as facts” the creative genius of individuals in terms of cultural origin and geographic distribution. Murray did this by calculating the amount of space allocated to these individuals in reference works, encyclopedias, and dictionaries. Based on this metric, he concluded that “whether measured in people or events, 97 percent of accomplishment in the sciences occurred in Europe and North America” from 800 BC to 1950. Murray’s inventories of the arts also confirmed the overpowering role of Europe, particularly after 1400.

more from Ricardo Duchesne at The Fortnightly Review here.