A Look at Contingency (and Patterns of History)
“Free Agency” doesn’t occur in a vacuum as we all well know. But what, besides the large-scale dynamic of world history itself and smaller-scale individual actions actually goes into it?
David Christian’s paper “Contingency, Pattern and the S-curve in Human History” delves into some of these dynamics. Starting out with a consideration of “contingency” in the subject of history, Christian begins to show how both the natural sciences and history address the concept; but too often due to historians’ unease with the idea of determinism, there’s a reluctance to study the determinable patterns of historical change.
But in nature, such pattern and contingency is interwoven. Hence, proceeding from one of Immanuel Kant’s driving theses in Idea for a Universal History, Christian draws out the necessity of understanding these dynamical patterns in history.
Concentrating on the principle of the S-Curve of population change, it’s shown how humankind varied on the usual workings of this process as it occurs in the biological realm. In three basic sweeps, moving from the “Paleolithic regime,” the “Agrarian,” and the “Modern,” Christian demonstrates how humans (advancing from a unique starting point of “symbolic language/collective learning” in their evolutionary background) utilized technology, social understanding, their material culture, etc. to transform their world and build society as we know it today.
And from there, we see many of these mediate modalities of historical change operating in human events.
David Christian’s paper here is a great read. Be sure to take a look!
Here’s the bibliographic record in case you want to reference it
Christian, David. Contingency, Pattern and the S-curve in Human History, Forum on Big History. Vol. 6, No. 8, October 2009.