Friday, October 24, 2008

The Book of History

More than a few years ago I purchased a complete set of the Book of History. I fancied myself a history guy, and thought they would be kinda cool to have. Two moves later, and they are still in my possession, all 18 volumes.

In the hopes of ridding myself of these weighty tomes via craigslist, I brought one inside and took some photos. And skimmed the first volume to see what it was about. What an odd set of books. There is zero information about its publication: no date, no company, no copyright. There is a list of authors, though, and tonight I Googled the most prominent, Viscount Bryce.

Turns out the books were written between 1915 and 1921. And they're quite progressive for their time, as you can see: "It is very possible that they are mentally inferior to the whites; but not so inferior as is commonly believed." The black races are potentially not that inferior to white races. Virtually open-minded these men were.

Okay, kidding aside, I wonder just how progressive this thinking was. Relating it to football (like I tend to do on occasion):
It may have been possible to have seen the first black footballer playing for England back in the 1920's with London-born Jack Leslie, a prolific striker for Plymouth Argyle between 1920 & 1935, scoring over 400 goals. Leslie had been informed by his manager Bob Jack that he had been selected to play for England. He later received communication cancelling his call up to the England team stating that they didn't realise he was ‘a man of colour’. Jack Leslie later remarked in 1982 to Brian Woolnough: “They must have forgotten I was a coloured boy.”
Racism was fairly common at the time in England. Even considering the possibility that "the black races" weren't inferior to white folk must have been fairly forward thinking. It's so difficult to judge historical attitudes.

Bartolomé de las Casas is often cited as a person who knew better at the time. He was a Spanish priest who, after witnessing the crazy exploitation of Native Americans by the Spanish, became a staunch defender of the rights of natives. He famously defended their... (have to publish to get around my failing autosave; watch for part II).

I just realized this topic is way too huge. Suffice it to say that de las Casas might not have been the paragon of virtue that he is at times made out to be. I have read that he did not feel as strongly about African slaves as he did Native Americans, though I really do need to back up this rumour with fact if I'm going to continue spreading it.

No comments: