Keeping Together in Time

Harvard University Press
Free sample

Could something as simple and seemingly natural as falling into step have marked us for evolutionary success? In Keeping Together in Time one of the most widely read and respected historians in America pursues the possibility that coordinated rhythmic movement--and the shared feelings it evokes--has been a powerful force in holding human groups together. As he has done for historical phenomena as diverse as warfare, plague, and the pursuit of power, William McNeill brings a dazzling breadth and depth of knowledge to his study of dance and drill in human history. From the records of distant and ancient peoples to the latest findings of the life sciences, he discovers evidence that rhythmic movement has played a profound role in creating and sustaining human communities. The behavior of chimpanzees, festival village dances, the close-order drill of early modern Europe, the ecstatic dance-trances of shamans and dervishes, the goose-stepping Nazi formations, the morning exercises of factory workers in Japan--all these and many more figure in the bold picture McNeill draws. A sense of community is the key, and shared movement, whether dance or military drill, is its mainspring. McNeill focuses on the visceral and emotional sensations such movement arouses, particularly the euphoric fellow-feeling he calls "muscular bonding." These sensations, he suggests, endow groups with a capacity for cooperation, which in turn improves their chance of survival.

A tour de force of imagination and scholarship, Keeping Together in Time reveals the muscular, rhythmic dimension of human solidarity. Its lessons will serve us well as we contemplate the future of the human community and of our various local communities.



Table of Contents:
Muscular Bonding
Human Evolution
Small Communities
Religious Ceremonies
Politics and War
Conclusion

Notes
Index

Reviews of this book:
"In his imaginative and provocative book...William H. McNeill develops an unconventional notion that, he observes, is 'simplicity itself.' He maintains that people who move together to the same beat tend to bond and thus that communal dance and drill alter human feelings." DD--John Mueller, New York Times Book Review

"Every now and then, a slender, graceful, unassuming little volume modestly proposes a radical rethinking of human history. Such a book is Keeping Together in Time...Important, witty, and thoroughly approachable, [it] could, perhaps, only be written by a scholar in retirement with a lifetime's interdisciplinary reading to ponder, the imagination to conceive unanswerable questions, and the courage, in this age of over-speculation, to speculate in areas where certainty is impossible. Its vision of dance as a shaper of evolution, a perpetually sustainable and sustaining resource, would crown anyone's career." DD--Penelope Reed Doob, Toronto Globe and Mail

"McNeill is one of our greatest living historians...As usual with McNeill, Keeping Together in Time contains a wonderfully broad survey of practices in other times and places. There are the Greeks, who invented the flute-accompanied phalanx, and the Romans, who invented calling cadence while marching. There are the Shakers, who combined worship and dancing, and the Mormons, who carefully separated the functions but who prospered at least as much on the strength of their dancing as their Sunday morning worship." DD--David Warsh, Boston Sunday Globe

"[A] wide-ranging and thought-provoking book...A mind-stretching exploration of the thesis that `keeping together in time'--army drill, village dances, and the like--consolidates group solidarity by making us feel good about ourselves and the group and thus was critical for social cohesion and group survival in the past." DD--Virginia Quarterly Review

"[This book is] nothing less than a survey of the historical impact of shared rhythmic motion from the paleolithic to the present, an impact that [McNeill] finds surprisingly significant...McNeill moves beyond Durkheim in noting that in complex societies divided by social class muscular bonding may be the medium through which discontented and oppressed groups can gain the solidarity necessary for challenging the existing social order." DD--Robert N. Bellah, Commonweal

"The title of this fascinating essay contains a pun that sums up its thesis" keeping together in time, or coordinated rhythmic movement and the shared feelings it evokes, has kept human groups together throughout history. Most of McNeill's pioneering study is devoted to the history of communal dancing...[This] volume will appeal equally to scholars and to the general reader." DD--Doyne Dawson, Military History

"As with so many themes [like this one], whether in science or in symphonies, one wonders (in retrospect) why it has not been invented before...[T]he book is fascinating." DD--K. Kortmulder, Acta Biotheoretica (The Netherlands)

"This scholarly and creative exploration of the largely unresearched phenomenon of shared euphoria aroused by unison movement moves across the disciplines of dance, history, sociology, and psychology...Highly recommended." DD--Choice

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About the author

William Hardy McNeill was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on October 31, 1917. He received a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from the University of Chicago. He was drafted in 1941 and served with the Army in Hawaii and the Caribbean and as assistant military attaché to the Greek and Yugoslavian governments-in-exile in Cairo, Egypt. After the war, he received a doctorate from Cornell University. He was a history professor at the University of Chicago from 1947 until he retired in 1987. He wrote more than 20 books during his lifetime including Plagues and Peoples; The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000; Arnold J. Toynbee: A Life, Hutchins' University: A Memoir of the University of Chicago, 1929-1950; and Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History. The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community won the 1963 National Book Award for history and the Gordon J. Laing Prize of the University of Chicago. He was the co-author of The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History with his son John Robert McNeill. He also wrote a memoir entitled The Pursuit of Truth: A Historian's Memoir. He was one of the editors of the Readings in World History Series published by Oxford University Press. He died on July 8, 2016 at the age of 98.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Harvard University Press
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Published on
Jun 30, 2009
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Pages
216
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ISBN
9780674040878
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Military / Wars & Conflicts (Other)
History / World
Performing Arts / Dance / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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William H. McNeillÕs seminal book The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (1963) received the National Book Award in 1964 and was later named one of the 100 best nonfiction books of the twentieth century by the Modern Library. From his post at the University of Chicago, McNeill became one of the first contemporary North American historians to write world history, seeking a broader interpretation of human affairs than prevailed in his youth. This candid, intellectual memoir from one of the most famous and influential historians of our era, The Pursuit of Truth charts the development of McNeillÕs thinking and writing over seven decades. At the core of his worldview is the belief that historical truth does not derive exclusively from criticizing, paraphrasing, and summarizing written documents, nor is history merely a record of how human intentions and plans succeeded or failed. Instead, McNeill believes that human lives are immersed in vast overarching processes of change. Ecological circumstances frame and limit human action, while in turn humans have been able to alter their environment more and more radically as technological skill and knowledge increased. McNeill believes that the human adventure on earth is unique, and that it rests on an unmatched system of communication. The web of human communication, whether spoken, written, or digital, has fostered both voluntary and involuntary cooperation and sustained behavioral changes, permitting a single species to spread over an entire planet and to alter terrestrial flows of energy and ideas to an extraordinary degree. Over the course of his career as a historian, teacher, and mentor, McNeill expounded the range of history and integrated it into an evolutionary worldview uniting physical, biological, and intellectual processes. Accordingly, The Pursuit of Truth explores the personal and professional life of a man who affected the way a core academic discipline has been taught and understood in America.
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