Full text: Problems in eugenics

238Section III.Whetham. 
as the central plateau of Arabia, the north of Africa, the Steppes of Russia 
and Central Asia, which appear to have no striking sequence of events 
in their internal history, and yet have much influenced other lands. History 
for them is the tale, often a transient one, either of a few sporadic out­ 
bursts of their inhabitants over surrounding countries, altering the relation­ 
ships of the adjacent populations, or of the passing sway and temporary 
settlement among them of men from some civilisation, external and foreign 
to their own. A very small part of the earth’s surface has contributed 
an overwhelming share to the making of history, as now known to us. 
The cause of this limitation must be sought principally in the study 
of geographical conditions, and it is not unlikely that the phenomenon 
could be analysed into a mere matter of mountain or plain, of extended 
pasture land or indented coast line, of rainfall and water supply. As 
long as men are engaged in a losing, or at best, a drawn battle with 
Nature, we have little record of the struggle. Districts which will only 
support a nomad population do not advance far in the scale of civilization. 
But selection there is severe and ruthless, and, when such a population 
breaks out from its bounds, it has all the qualities of hardihood, the 
instincts of self-preservation, the intolerance of alien or weaker stocks, 
which have been necessary to maintain its existence. It is in the regions 
where Nature is most tractable, most kindly, yields best to appropriate 
treatment that history begins in the triumphs of man’s ingenuity over 
the natural obstacles with which he finds himself surrounded, and in 
the contests of men for the favoured spots of the earth. 
It is probable that some, at least, of the great movements of population 
in the past have been caused by a gradual alteration of climate, a secular 
variation in rainfall, which, at times, have slowly changed vast tracts of 
country from a history-making area to a region of wandering tribes, whose 
past, present and future merge into centuries of unrecorded existence. 
Such an alteration would mean the exodus of a large proportion of the 
population to find a settlement in more fertile lands. 
Again, the stages of man’s gradual mastery over his environment must 
be considered among the factors that change the character of history. 
The cultivation of cereals, requiring tracts of moist or irrigated country, 
the domestication of the horse, cow, and camel, the invention alike of the 
rowing boat, the sailing ship, and the steam engine, are all epochs in 
history. But none of these inventions remains long the exclusive property 
of the people who may claim the original achievement. Such advances 
are almost at once at the disposal of anyone who can profit by them. 
They become part of the heritage of mankind, and are perhaps more of 
the nature of a change in the setting of the drama, a shift in the stage 
properties, than a piece of the history itself. 
If we consider history in its usual and more limited sense, we find 
we are dealing with societies in a state of change. Something, usually some

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