Monday, June 20, 2011

My 36 World Changing Events

Last week I presented The World Was Never the Same: Events That Changed History by Professor J. Rufus Fears of the University of Oklahoma. In the first lecture the Professor admits that any list of 36 great events will be selective and reflect the biases of the person making the list. For example I find the list long on events in the liberal arts and short on science, mathematics and engineering. So as I've listened the lecture series I've been thinking about my own list of 36 events.

Rather than picking JFK's assassination, I'd use the launch of Sputnik for the birth of the Space Age (of which Kennedy played a role).

Dante and Michelangelo get pulled from the list - great poet and artist but world changing? No. Consider Newton instead. He was born in a world of superstition, ruled by mysterious unknown forces, but when he his works mathematically explained light, the tides, motion, gravity, and so much more.

Professor Fear's list is long on WWII but what about the Information Age?. What event captures the rise of computers and modern Internet for the masses?  How about the creation of Radio?

There is also much emphasis on Super Powers - Britain, America, Soviet Union, Communist China. I'd love to the last two under the birth of Communism but China is likely to play a large role in the future so it deserves to be recognized.

As much as I admire Dr. King and what he accomplished in America, I'd replace him with Henry Ford for the role that the assembly line, mass production, and unionization has changed the world. By adding Ford we can also recognize how the automobile has changed lives and landscapes.

So here is my modified list - biased by scientific events:
  1. Discovery of Agriculture (10,000 BC) - growing crops made civilization possible resulting in Egypt, China, Sumer, Babylon, etc.
  2. The Law of Moses (1220 BC) - the Hebrew people will persist for over 3000 years
  3. The Eightfold Path of Buddha (526 BC) - influencing billions
  4. The Teachings Confucius (553-479 BC) - guiding China for 2000 years
  5. Solon creates Democracy (594 BC) - Solon would also influence George Washington 2000 years later as a wise leader with absolute power who gave it up voluntarily. George could have been King of America but refused.
  6. The Greek Academy & the Death of Socrates (399 BC) - an example for the ages of refusing to bow to authorities and staying true to one's principles. The writings of Socrates's student Plato profoundly influenced Christian theology some 500 years later and up to the present. Plato's student Aristotle would teach Alexander the Great and shape scientific teachings for over a thousand years.  
  7. Caesar crosses the Rubicon (49 BC) - Democracy dies until resurrected 1800 years later in America.
  8. Galen of Pergamon studies medicine (129 – 217 AD) - not as well know as Hippocrates, the father of Medicine, but Galen preserved and advanced Hippocrates's teachings. It was Galen's writings that dominated Western medical science for nearly two millennia. His anatomical reports and dissections remained uncontested until 1543.
  9. Constantine Victorious  - and Rome converts to Christianity (312 AD)
  10. Byzantine Emperor Justinian I compiles a thousand years of Roman jurisprudence to create the Justinian Code of Roman Law. This was effective in the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire and also served as a basis for legal practice in the Catholic Church and Holy Roman Empire. It continues to influence the legal codes of continental Europe and former European colonies including all of Latin America.
  11. Muhammad moves to Median (622 AD) - birth of Islam
  12. Gutenberg prints the Bible (1452) - the printing press allows anyone to read the Bible, and gives birth to an explosion of knowledge propagation and mass influence.
  13. Fall of Constantinople (1453) - the final end of the Roman empire, control shifts to the Muslims who block the Silk route to China prompting Columbus to find a route by sea. Greek scholars flee the fall and restore the Greek language to Europe (which was dominated by Latin) accelerating a Renaissance of new scholarship.
  14. Columbus Discovers a New World (1492) - a new age of discovery and conquest
  15. The Protestant Reformation (1517) - The simmering conflict between the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church over worldly power explodes into schism and warfare over sparks lit by reformers like Erasmus & Martin Luther. Christianity is forever changed as it splints in to fragmented sects.
  16. The Defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588) - Britannia Rules the Waves and builds a global Empire on which the Sun Never Sets.
  17. The Battle of Vienna (1683) - the turning point where Islamic conquest of Europe is halted.
  18. Newton prints Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687) -  and science is never the same
  19. Boston Tea Party (1773) - No taxation without representation. An idea and a revolt that eventually gives rise to America. The Tea Party continues to inspire today with a new Tea Party political movement.
  20. James Watt makes a practical steam engine in 1763 - Thomas Newcomen invented the Steam Engine in 1712 but Watt made it fuel efficient which helped start the Industrial Revolution that changed almost every aspect of daily life in some way.
  21. Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (1804) - in a nod to liberal arts, I tried to think of someone who had a lasting impact on music. Beethoven was the transition from the Classical age to the Romance age of music. He broke many of the rigid restrictions of music composition and wrote and played with passion. Over time artists would continue to "break the rules" writing ever more abstract works in music and the arts.
  22. Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution (1831) - changes biology, theology, history, social science, economics, etc.
  23. Thomas A. Edison invents the phonograph (1877) - Before the phonograph we had only the written page to describe the delivery of a great speech or amazing musical performance. But now we can listen for themselves and those recorded can live on forever. I did not pick the invention of photography because painted portraits saved likenesses for history. Today we combine the audio and visual in film so that great performers like Charlie Chaplin will never die.
  24. Louis Pasteur and the Germ theory of medicine (1885) - ending thousands of years of Hipprocrates' and Galen's theory of humors.
  25. Marconi patents the Radio (1895) - it would take many more years for the radio to become a household item but this was the birth of long-distance mass communication. FDR would master this new technology with his fireside chats in delivering his messages to an entire nation during WWII. Radio would be "upgraded" to TV with images. The Internet is both a step forward and back -support for all media types but "wires" required. When wireless Internet becomes universal it will be the next true advance in mass communication.
  26. Sigmund Freud invents psychoanalysis (1899) - many may debunk him but his theory of unconscious urges changed forever how we look at ourselves.
  27. The Wright Brothers achieve Flight (1903)
  28. The Ford Model-T Assembly Line (1908) - before the 20th century, most manufactured products were made individually by hand. The assembly line began a new age of cheap mass production which changed the standard of living for the world.
  29. The death of an Archduke begins WWI (1914) and an age of Empires comes to an end as Woodrow Wilson make the world safe for Democracy.
  30. The Birth of the Soviet Union and Communism (1917)
  31. Einstein's Theory of Relativity (1905), Heisenberg's uncertainty principle (1927), and Gödel's incompleteness theorems (1931) each destroy a notion of Universal Absolutes established by Newton. Science "proves" that there is no absolute right or wrong. Everything is relative to one's point of view resulting perhaps in a world without moral absolutes?
  32. Einstein postulates that light itself consists of localized particles, quanta (1905). Einstein's quantum theory was nearly universally rejected by all physicists, including Max Planck and Niels Bohr. But he was right and atomic theory would change the world with bombs, power plants, and nuclear medicine. It was this discovery for which Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize.
  33. The Stock Market Crash (1929) - a Great Depression changes the world, giving rise to Hitler in Germany (1933) and Franklin Roosevelt in the US (1933) and eventually WWII.
  34. Mao Zedong and the birth of Communist China (1934)
  35. Sputnik launched (1957) - birth of the Space Age, with travel to the moon, weather satellites, spy satellites, GPS, etc.
  36. September 11, 2001 - Islam rises again to challenge the modern world
Bottom Line

What have I missed? The list is very Euro-centric.

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