A Conversation with Arnold Toynbee

May 12 2013

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“Professor Arnold Toynbee believes that his book will become outmoded, but that his notions are keys to opening up a vista of human affairs.”

Films Media Group offers streaming and/or a DVD of A Conversation with Arnold Toynbee from NBC’s Wisdom series, which were half-hour interviews with good and great broadcast allegedly between 1957 and ’65, though this one is said to have been conducted in 1955. No exact date is given, unless it appears in the end credits. Available in US only. Academic institutions get three-year streaming rights for $129.95. An individual can buy the DVD for the same price.

The first two minutes can be seen gratis as a preview, recorded in the spartan enough study of his flat at 45 Pembroke Square, Kensington.

“Professor Arnold Toynbee – eminent British historian and author of the ten-volume work A Study of History – talks with Harvard teaching fellow Christopher Wright in this NBC interview from 1955. Toynbee describes about how it took 27 years to complete his series and why he chose to study history on the level of civilizations rather than of single nations. Pointing out that his mother was also a historian, he discusses the path that led him to that field as well, then articulates his feeling that history is meaningless if not utilized for present-day insight; that one can discover patterns in the past without making heavy-handed predictions about the future; that there are about 20 large historical units, such as Western history, Greek history, Indian history, and others; and that the great religions of the world represent the ultimate structure of history. (29 minutes)”

Toynbee knew Wright, but Wright isn’t mentioned in his books or correspondence, or by McNeill.

“Airing on NBC from 1957 to 1965, the Wisdom series featured interviews with luminaries in science, the arts, and politics. These interviews were often conducted by a journalist or colleague well-known to the guest and usually took place in familiar surroundings such as the subject’s home or workplace. While each program forms a picturesque snapshot of the cultural conventions of the day, it frequently transcends its mid-20th-century broadcast style as it presents challenging and in-depth perspectives from a great mind. Guests include Igor Stravinsky, Robert Frost, Somerset Maugham, Eamon de Valera, Alfred P. Sloan, Robert Moses, Edward Steichen, Margaret Mead, Frank Lloyd Wright, Pearl Buck, Eleanor Roosevelt, Marcel Duchamp, Arnold Toynbee, and Carl Sandburg. 14-part series, 29 minutes each.” Links are to the rest of the series.

People who give many interviews develop an account of themselves which doesn’t change much. There are no surprises here, as there are not in most of his post-Study journalism.

“1. Professor Arnold Toynbee: Historian (02:03)
Available for Free Preview

The 10-volume set ‘A Study of History’ is Toynbee’s life’s work. Arnold Toynbee’s roots are in London although he harbors fond feelings for Yorkshire.

2. Professor Arnold Toynbee’s Passion for History (03:46)

‘A Study of History’ takes 27 years to complete. Toynbee’s mother was an influence on his desire to study history.

3. Toynbee’s Early Works (02:17)

In 1903 Professor Arnold Toynbee creates a drawing book fashioned in the form of a Greek Historian. Toynbee discusses his [1911-12] trip to Greece.

4. War Changes Toynbee’s Direction (03:11)

Sick with dysentery, Toynbee’s hospital stay during [surely before] the war changes his focus of history [it was the war itself that did that]. Toynbee soon [in the Greco-Turkish War] becomes a correspondent.

5. Importance of History (03:46)

Professor Arnold Toynbee does not believe a committee can write a book. He articulates his feeling that history is meaningless if not utilized for present-day insight. One can discover patterns in the past without making heavy-handed predictions about the future

6. Toynbee’s Theory of History (01:59)

Professor Arnold Toynbee feels that working with individual nations in history is too singular. He studies civilizations, origins, and believes that the great religions of the world represent the ultimate structure of history.

7. Characterizing Civilizations (03:13)

Professor Arnold Toynbee believes that one must look at other nations [not only one’s own] to understand an individual civilization. He discuses why he believes civilizations decline.

8. Challenge of Our Time (03:00)

Professor Arnold Toynbee believes we have the power to save ourselves. He discusses the affect of atomic weapons on the imagination. All individuals make history.

9. Religion in History (02:35)

Professor Arnold Toynbee believes that any challenge puts you face to face with religion. Religion is the mystery behind phenomena.

10. History Moves and Changes (02:41)

Professor Arnold Toynbee believes that his book will become outmoded, but that his notions are keys to opening up a vista of human affairs. He discusses other works and his faith in the future.

11. Credits: A Conversation with Arnold Toynbee – From NBC’s Wisdom Series (00:27)”

Can anyone identify all the monuments at the beginning? The Buddha at the top here? Is the print as one approaches his study Canaletto or later? (Toynbee was Canaletto-conscious. Did Canaletto put birds in his skies?) The other prints? Are the volumes on his desk the Study?

Other posts that link or linked to recordings or film footage of Toynbee are here.

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