From the Preface to the 1997 edition:
The phrase "the people without history" is not my own; it goes back to the nineteenth century. Marx and Engels used it to signal their lack of sympathy with some national seperatist movements in eastern Europe. I meant it to be ironic, but that irony was lost on some readers.
My intent was to challenge those who think that Europeans were the only one who made history. I took A.D. 1400 as the initial dateline for this presentation precisely because I hoped to make clear that European expansion everywhere encountered human societies and cultures characterized by long and complex histories. I argued that these developments were not isolated from each other but were interlocked and that this interconnectedness also held for the world the Europeans built.
The history of European expansion interdigitates with the histories of the people it encompassed, and their histories in turn articulate with the history of Europe. Since much of this history involved the rise and spread of capitalism, the term "Europe" can also be read as shorthand for that mode of production. It incubated in the European peninsula of the Eurasian landmass, then expanded its sway in widening circles over all the continents.
My objective in writing this book was not to present a record of world history that would encompass the globe nor to develop a history of capitalist expansion as such. The idea was to show that human and societies and cultures would not be properly understood until we learned to visualize them in their mutual interrelationships and interdependencies in space and time.
Eric R. Wolf. 1982, 1997. Europe and the People Without History. Los Angeles: University of California Press.