This section is from the book "Principles Of Sociology With Educational Applications", by Frederick R. Clow. Also available from Amazon: Principles of sociology with educational applications.
Persons whose recollection goes back only to the Spanish-American War have some of this realization from their own experience. In that short space of time the factor of communication has become different through the coming of the automobile, moving pictures, and wireless telegraphy. The content of the social mind has changed; fads and fashions have come and gone. Some institutions have gone out of existence and new ones have come in their stead. Education has changed. When the Maine went to the bottom of Havana harbor a school that had manual training was a rarity, industrial education was a curiosity, and vocational guidance had not been heard of. If we go into a library and look over the successive issues of some yearbook for the last ten years, or the bound volumes of some periodical, we begin to think that everything has changed. Even the English constitution has changed. A good way to realize the rate at which things are changing is to try to find some institution which has not changed.1
1 The foregoing paragraph was written in the spring of 1914. Now, June, 1919, we look back on stupendous changes within the interval of time that has elapsed: the Hapsburgs, Romanoffs, and Hohenzollerns dethroned and their empires dismembered; millions of soldiers transported from the United States to European soil; railroads, shipping, and wires brought under government operation over a large part of the world, and the distribution of food brought under government control, making even socialists open their eyes with wonder. Even the changes that were only temporary war measures have left enduring results. Events before 1914 already seem to belong to to some ancien regime, while 1919 is generally expected to be the beginning of an epoch of constructive achievement that will surpass anything the world has ever seen before.
The aged persons among us tell of a time when slavery existed in half of the states; when there were few factories; when cities were few and small; when kerosene and electric lights and telephones were unknown; when clothes were practically all made either in the home or to order by neighbors; when the average family got a large part of its food from its own garden, fowls, and cow.
If we go back two hundred years, we get into another world. There were no railroads, no steam engines, and scarcely any machinery. Spinning and weaving were done by hand. Houses were heated by fireplaces, if at all. Newspapers and books cost so much that few people had them. The mass of the people could not read and write, and had no voice in government. Three hundred years farther back there were no eyeglasses or other optical instruments; there was no printing; firearms were just coming into use. Natural science, which contributes so much to-day to our understanding and use of the world in which we live, virtually did not exist. Even the few people of wealth knew little of their own past or of what was going on in the social world outside of their own county. The clergy of western Europe, organized into a sort of international monarchy, had almost a monopoly of such learning as there was. Feudalism was breaking up in England, but it prevailed elsewhere in western Europe. Two thousand years ago there was a fringe of civilization around the Mediterranean Sea. Even here, however, literary education was possible for only a small ruling caste who lived on the labor of slaves or by the organized plunder carried on by the Roman government. Nowhere was there as much thought for the health and comfort of the mass of people as is common to-day for horses and cattle.
Eight thousand years take us back of civilization itself. There was no alphabet, no method of making complicated computations or accurate records. Consequently only crude organization of society was possible. Along the Nile valley there may have been industrial and political organization enough to support small towns. Civilization began there, in the first place, because the climate permits human existence the year round without elaborate shelter or clothing; secondly, because there is a fertile soil which does not become exhausted under cultivation; thirdly, - and this distinguishes it from other tropical river valleys, - because deserts and seas protect this favored region from barbarian invaders, thus giving the agriculturists time to develop the arts of peace, such as measuring and keeping records. With the coming of written language to preserve knowledge of names and dates, history begins.