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Winter 1997
The Landscape of Destiny
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The time is now ripe for a fresh look at these questions, due to new information from scientific disciplines seemingly remote from human history. Those disciplines include, above all, genetics, molecular biology and biogeography as applied to crops and their wild ancestors; the same disciplines plus behavioral ecology, as applied to domestic animals and their wild ancestors; molecular biology of human germs and related germs of animals; epidemiology of human diseases; human genetics; linguistics; archaeological studies on all continents and major islands; and studies of the histories of technology, writing and political organization.

Perhaps the biggest challenge ahead of us is to establish human history as a historical science, on par with recognized historical sciences such as evolutionary biology, geology and climatology. The study of human history does pose real difficulties, but those recognized historical sciences encounter some of the same challenges. Hence, the methods developed in some of these other fields may also prove useful in the field of human history.

History, I am convinced, is not "just one damn fact after another," as a cynic put it. There really are broad patterns to history, and the search for their explanation -- for the answer to Yali's question -- is as productive as it is fascinating.

Excerpt from Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond. Copyright (c) 1997 by Jared Diamond. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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