Myths of the West 2
In The Colonizer’s Model of the World, JM Blaut writes about the concept of Tunnel History. This is the type of history most of the people in Europe and the European world were taught in school up to about World War II, and, according to Blaut, remains the basis of our understanding of history today.
History and historical geography as it was taught, written or thought by Europeans down to the time of World War II, and still (as we will see) in most respects today, lies, as it were, in a tunnel of time. The walls of this tunnel are, figuratively, the spatial boundaries of Greater Europe. History is a matter of looking back or down in this European tunnel of time and trying to decide what happened where, when, and why. “Why” of course calls for connections among historical events, but only among the events that lie in the European tunnel. Outside its walls everything seems to be rockbound, timeless, changeless tradition. [Blaut,5]
Blaut defines Greater Europe as comprising,
…the geographical continent of Europe itself, plus (for ancient times only) an enlargement of it to the southeast, the “Bible Lands”—from North Africa to Mesopotamia—plus (for modern times only) the countries of European settlement overseas.” [Blaut,3]
In fact a British Columbia elementary school textbook edition from 1944, Canadian Geography for Juniors says this about Mesopotamia and south-western Asia, which, according to Blaut, stood in for Europe in ancient times.
While the rest of the world, with the exception of Egypt, was dressing in skins or going naked, drinking one another’s blood, and living little better than beasts, highly-civilized empires, whose buildings, ornaments, and monuments, as they are dug from the desert sands, are still the wonders of the world, occupied the lands of Western and Central Asia. [CGfJ,249]
Blaut’s Tunnel of History headed west after ancient times. So too does civilization, according to Canadian Geography for Juniors:
Above all, the climate of Europe is nearly everywhere suitable to the white man. For many centuries its people have led the world in intelligence, wealth, and civilization. The greatest scholars, the most celebrated artists, the most brilliant writers, the keenest thinkers — in fact most of the world’s leaders during the last two thousand years have been nourished in this little, irregular continent. [CGfJ,187]
Blaut points out that in Tunnel History, history continues in Europe and in places of European settlement overseas.
Canadian Geography for Juniors discusses how it works:
When these Europeans came to America they found many inhabitants to whom they gave, incorrectly, the name “Indians.” These people were alike in colour, but differed greatly in language, in customs, and in civilization. Some, particularly in North America, were mere savages. In parts of South America, on the other hand, lived a people in many respects more advanced than the white men who conquered them. The remains of their temples, their dwellings, their ornaments, and their tools show ability which even to-day we cannot equal.
The people of to-day. Spain conquered these wonderful people, killed their leaders, stole their golden treasures, and reduced them to slavery. To-day their descendents, though little better than primitive savages, form a considerable part of South America’s total population of sixty millions.
The Indian is found in every country. Sometimes, as in Ecuador and Peru, he far exceeds the white man in numbers. On the other hand, in such progressive countries as Chile and Argentina less than five per cent. of the people are native. But wherever he is found the Indian is an unskilled, and usually lazy, man. His house is a cabin, or, in the hotter districts, even less; his clothing is as little as possible, and his food is often secured from the trees growing wild, at his door. [CGfJ,168]
The formula presented in the text is clear. Civilization is a European product, and the presence of other people actually slows it down.
An exception, imported for naked propaganda purposes, is Spain. To contrast Spanish imperial brutality with the much better brand of British colonialism, some Aboriginal people are momentarily accorded civilized status, just long enough to be the victims of brutal destruction by the Spanish, after which they revert to “primitive savages” unskilled, lazy, almost naked, a drag on progress for any country unhappy enough to have too many of them.
…large areas are still unexplored, other large areas are thinly settled, and only a small part along the eastern coast has made any considerable progress. What is the reason?
There are two answers: one is Climate, the other is People. You know already that the basin of the Amazon River is hot and wet for most of the year; such a climate is unhealthy, and people of the white race will not live in it. The population of Brazil numbers over thirty millions. One-half are white — chiefly Portuguese — the remainder are Indian, negro, or of mixed race. Are such people likely to be progressive? [CGfJ,180]
The text is indeed classic Tunnel History as described by Blaut. And the racial underpinning of Tunnel History is also made clear.
J.M. Blaut, The Colonizer’s Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History, Guilford Press, NY, 1993.
George A. Cornish, Canadian Geography for Juniors, British Columbia Edition, Revised, J.M. Dent and Sons, Toronto, 1944. “This volume with its companion, the Canadian School Geography, contains a complete course for the elementary schools of Canada. While the latter volume should be used in grades seven and eight, the present volume is suitable for grades five and six.”