Who's Who

From the Editor - May 2009

Editor Paul Lay introduces the May 2009 issue of History Today magazine.

When the historian Eric Hobsbawm looked back on his long career at the turn of the new millennium, he pondered the question of what he would specialise in if he were starting out again as a history undergraduate. The man who has done more than most to assure the ubiquity of modern history declared that he would wish to investigate the opportunities to explore mankind’s distant past made possible by advances in genetics. There are a small number of historians now exploring those possibilities, of whom Harvard University’s Daniel Lord Smail is one.

In this month’s article, ‘Beyond the Great Divide’, he calls for the reunion of history with archaeology, the potential consequences of which are vast and barely imaginable. Until the middle of the 19th century, the dominant view of history in the West located the origins of man within a Biblical timeframe; 4004 bc became the preferred date of the Creation, following the research of the 17th-century churchman James Usher. The discovery of ‘deep time’ in the mid-19th century by scientists such as Charles Darwin and Charles Lyell put paid to this and the scientific world has had little trouble with the concept ever since.

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