Throughout the course of history, the world has witnessed a multitude of catastrophic events. Dating right back to the horrors of the atlantic slave trade during the eighteenth century to the terror attacks of September 11 2001, these historical events have shaped and continue to mould our worldview. Indeed, some of these historical events have decidedly altered cultures around the globe, effectively bringing a whole new way of thinking into being. In some cases, the question begs as to whether we will ever learn from that which has gone before, as we continue to repeat the actions taken by our predecessors. Are those who cannot remember the past doomed to repeat it, as the Spanish writer George Santayana once proclaimed?
In a letter to a friend, Plato once wrote that ‘it is only the dead who have seen the end of war.’ The course of history has witnessed massive bloodshed and loss of life at the hands of warfare. It continues to do so, as the world stands by and watches continued armed conflict in Egypt, Afghanistan, Chechnya and the Ukraine to name but a few countries. Here, the focus is on man-made calamities throughout history.
Whether or not we were living at the time of the atrocities featured on this list, these events are etched into the minds of individuals globally. They have influenced the scale of time and continue to be taught in classrooms around the world. William Faulkner reminds us that, ‘the past is never dead. It’s not even past’ in his 1950 novel Requiem for a Nun. It bodes well to remember his words in this historical moment more than ever.
So while Great men lived their lives and made ours not so greats with the cramming up required to pass that history test, history is much beyond the battles and wars we’ve read about. History is history because it’s responsible for having changed the most basics of living of mankind. Can you imagine a day without using the telephone? Does not the discovery of that too have its grounds in deep rooted history? Matters so trivial are everyday affairs, imagine India minus the Muslim Sultanate, the tourism industry would have been in for a doom for India would have no monuments to boast of. Come to think of Britain without the Britannia or China without the Great wall of China. Further still imagine an Egypt without the mummies and the Pyramids, not so much a destination for your next vacation, is it?
That said about Architectural and Monarchical history, it is really the turning of eras that has changed the World. And a few discoveries, a group of voyages, and the battles we’ve all hated to rote learn all our lives, you know how important they really were? Imagine a world without America! Don’t give me that look please! Yeah, sure we can do without it more than we can do without China but who’s going to invest it China if not for America’s economy, which by the way is in more debt than you can probably imagine. So that’s how history works, it’s the story that changed the world but I am rather offended why it was almost always his story and not her story. No pun on the naming game, history has always been more about patriarchal norms and dominance of men. Alright now Mr. History? How about subtracting from you the episodes of absolute rule of Britannia? Now you know why they say there’s a woman behind every successful man?
Below are some of the world events:
The American Revolution
To many, this event was too localized to be considered part of a list that involves all of history. Yet, the shockwaves from this one event are still felt today. The American Revolution (1775-1783) took many ideas from the early civilizations of Greece and Rome and combined them with the Christian Bible to revolt against an authority that was unbending. They believed that every man (though at the time even that statement was narrowly defined) was equal and should be treated fairly. Only when the men and women of the new world rose up together was there a solid foundation for the beginning of a nation that in our modern world influences much around the globe. When an election is held in the United States, the world watches. The influence that America now has gives credence to the American Revolution being one of the greatest events in our history.
The Reformation (1517-1648) was one of the greatest events in European history. Prior to this period, the Roman Catholic Church had close to absolute control over the people and governments of the Christian world. It was when many of the learned men of the time began to question the practices of the church in comparison to the Bible that trouble arose. The intent of the Reformation was to reform the Catholic Church and bring it back to its biblical roots. The end result was a rending of the church into two factions: Catholics and Protestants.
The Reformation was led to by the publishing of Martin Luther’s 95 thesis and was originally an exercise to question absolute authority and practises of the Roman Catholic Church. People in the 16th century were more literate than their ancestors and they reasoned more than they felt, and this made the Protestant Reformation a major European Movement. The world sprang up with Protestant churches while the reformers moved to the New World or America, but what was most important was the decentralization of power of the Roman Catholic Church and its Clerics and the idea to question ancient beliefs and lead life with a scientific approach. Industrial Revolution was never a possibility without the Reformation.
The Reformation brought the religious texts into the hands of the masses and began the decline of the Catholic power. Both the wars it caused and the actions of the famous historical figures it involved still continue to shape the world today. Thinking of this only as a European event could be erroneous. Because of the Reformation, much of the New World, known as the Americas, was shaped, missionaries increased in number throughout the world, and thinkers who rose up from the Renaissance could proclaim their discoveries and beliefs with less fear of persecution. The Reformation gave us free thought while holding us down to the basics of life.
The Life of Jesus of Nazareth
And you think Christianity didn’t the World? Where do you believe the concept of devil came from? Hell, Heaven and Purgatory besides Satan are concepts given to the world by Christianity. Would you believe that Christianity had its roots in the early Jewish Culture and Paganism? That said, how it changed our world is that Christianity made men literate, it is often correctly said that no man of words could not know Christianity. Schools, welfare centres and Healthcare were first managed by the missionaries of the Church and if not for the authoritative church, the world would have lost on science, art and multiple revolutions. Now you know why the Bible is the best book ever written and the Roman Catholic Church is still the authority you’d not look beyond?
Whether you are a Christian or not, you cannot honestly say that the life of Jesus of Nazareth did not dramatically impact history. If you follow the dating system that we use today, you acknowledge his impact. This article is published in 2010 A.D. because approximately 2010 years ago, Jesus lived in Israel. At the time of his life, it might not have seen so dramatic to the world at large. He never traveled more than a few days' journey from his hometown. It was only after he left earth that his teachings spread beyond his homeland and began to cause trouble for the ruling power of the time: Rome. When Roman rulers began to persecute the followers of Jesus, Christians, his life really began to ripple out around the globe. Over time, Christianity was accepted by the Roman rulers, which allowed it to spread even further. Today, Christianity is one of the largest religions of the world. Jesus set off an atomic religious bomb that is still felt today.
The Tearing Down of Berlin Wall
Tearing down a wall might not seem like much, but when you realize what all else came down with that wall, you begin to see it in a whole new light. At the end of World War II, there was relief at the downfall of a disturbed man who wanted to dominate the earth. However, there was also suspicion between countries and a desire to control as much land as possible. The nations that defeated Hitler and his friends began to quarrel amongst themselves. Should the defeated lands be democratic in nature or communist? The end result was a lesson from King Solomon: split the spoils down the middle. Germany was the embodiment of the war, and therefore, it became the most disputed area. In the end, it was split in half with one part under a communist government and the other under a more democratic style. Through the middle of Berlin, a large wall was built to separate the capital city and symbolize the wall that separated the communist world from everyone else. When the wall came down in 1989, it signified the end of communist rule and birth of the voice of the people.
The World War II
This is one of the few wars that literally involved most of the world. The scarring from this six-year fight is still seen today in the demolished buildings and the tattooed numbers on the arms of POWs. There was no one main objective or enemy. There was no main front. It was composed of the European, African, and Asian segments of the war. It ripped through every economic level, race, religion, and culture. Country after country fell into other hands. Men, women, and children were killed by the millions. Many lost their loved ones and had to seek new lands to call home as there was so much devastation. World War II also led to the creation of the United Nations, a homeland for the Jews, and the beginning of the Cold War. The world had changed and was never to return to the innocence it once claimed. It was the unmasking of an underlying evil that took an ugly shape in the Cold War. Only as the truth of the massacres, plots, and campaigns have revealed themselves has the world truly begun to heal.
The World War I
World War One (1914-1918) was once called the Great War. No one during that time could imagine anything worse. That is until they faced themselves with WWII and even more bloodshed. But WWI was not pushed aside. In fact, historian, George Kennan, said that all roads lead to WWI. In truth, Kennan was right on the money. WWII’s causes can be traced right back to WWI where so much was left undone and so much resentment and hatred brewed below the surface. It was the humiliation of Germany at the end of WWI that began the movement toward WWII. The hatred toward the world that many Germans felt led to the election of Hitler, the creation of concentration camps, and the fall of France, Poland, and many other countries. An unsatisfied closure to the Great War caused it to be the silence before the storm.
The Gutenberg's Printing Press
There is almost no other event that could be called as influential as the printing press that Gutenberg invented around 1440. Before this monumental creation, books were copied by hand. Laboriously, monks and other men of learning would spend hours and hours through the bright sunlight and the weak light of an oil lamp to make copies of religious texts, literature, and official documents. It could take years just to copy one book. When Gutenberg devised a printing press that could print copy after copy in just a small fraction of the time, the whole world changed dramatically. All of a sudden, everyone could have their own copies of the religious scriptures. They could read them for themselves. Political pamphlets could be made by the thousands and influence the masses like never before. Learning was not limited to a select few. It was available for all. Books were not just for the rich. They could be made for those of lower classes. Gutenberg’s press changed the political world, the religious world, and the everyday life of man. No more would we lean on a select few to direct us. We could take it for ourselves.
The Life of Muhammad
The Birth of Prophet Muhammad is not as important for being his birthdate as it is for giving birth to Islam as a religion. Muhammad was the founder and promulgator of one of the most influential religions in the world and believe it or not Islam is much beyond the terror it believes to have perpetrated. It was once the prophecy of love and it has acted like a bridge of knowledge leading to many discoveries of art and science. From pinhole camera to Mariner’s compass, from Islamic architecture to Urdu literature. Setting stage for Italian Renaissance and ultimately the Crusades. Islam is much beyond Al-Qaeda.
Just like the life of Jesus, whether you are a follower of Muhammad (570-630) or not, you cannot deny the impact his life has had on history. Before Muhammad rose up as the founder of Islam, the Middle East was full of small tribes that warred against each other continuously. Muhammad brought those tribes together and gave them a purpose and a reason to join forces. Though blood was still shed, it was not against each other. It was against those that threatened the new religion or fought against it.
After Muhammad brought together the Middle East, the region experienced the Islamic Golden Age from 786 to 1258 AD. This time is analogous to Europe's Renaissance (though during this time, Europe was still in the Dark Ages). The region's culture flourished and made many advances in fields including mathematics and science. The world benefited from Muslims' discovery of the immune system, preservation of Roman and Greek texts, and invention of the number zero, the decimal system, and algebra. Even coffee was discovered during the Islamic Golden Age! The stability Muhammad brought to the region was one of the reasons that the culture was able to make such advances.
Since the birth of Islam, it has become one of the largest religions of the world. It covers the globe, and through many of its sects, it has influenced the world. The terrorist branches have reached out and impacted the daily lives of every person through their traveling procedures or just the way they go to work with extra security. Muhammad changed the shape of the Middle East that is still changing today.
The Pax Romana
This is the period of relative peace in the Roman Empire for about two hundred years. What was so special about this besides the fact that it was peace for an empire that loved to fight and in which bloodshed was part of the daily life was what the peace brought forth. During that time, many innovations were developed that are still used today. Roads of amazing engineering were built and linked the far areas of the vast empire like none other before them. A postal system was refined and utilized like never before. An explosion in the field of engineering gave us the arch, plumbing, and so many more cultural advances that were the basis of many of the things that we use each and every day of our lives. This period of peace allowed the warring empire to settle down and adjust to its new size and all its new family members. It developed a legal system like none other. It created a culture that is envied today in many aspects. This peace helped lay down the foundations of our world today.
You know what Renaissance gave to the world? Picasso, Michelangelo and Da Vinci and you’d still ask how it changed the world. Renaissance was no event but an age that triggered the cultural rebirth of Europe after it was struck by the destruction caused by the Black Death. Columbus and Vasco da Gama changed the World maps intended to look with new civilizations to offer. Books were printed and no more the educated were from the church, the common man had just as much to read as the priests and monks. It was not a cultural change but a breakthrough that made the conservative orthodox Europe adapt to the more logical ways of the world. And since there was no looking back in being the most culturally and architecturally rich continent in the World.
Nothing can compare to the age of the Renaissance. Ignorance was being pushed aside and the world was beginning to see the mathematics of a falling apple, the sparkle of a dew drop, and the wonder of a distant star. It was during this time that great men and women questioned tradition and standing beliefs. People learned that there was still a lot to learn in this great world. The earth was not the center of the universe. There were planets besides our own. There was a world of mathematics that had functioned just under the surface where no man had yet looked. There was beauty in colors that art began to acknowledge and share with the whole world. The Renaissance gave us new light, pushing aside the Dark Ages when man was directed by superstition and fear. The Renaissance gave the unexplainable a face and a name. There would be no more fear. Curiosity was encouraged despite opposition from those that longed to remain in the past. The Renaissance was an awakening to the world and was the beginning of all our curiosity today.
The 9/11- World Trade Centre Attacks
I’m sure you know of how four planes were hijacked by terrorists bringing about enormous destruction in New York on September 11, 2001. What you might be wondering is how it changed the World! It triggered the Global War on terrorism which you’d be surprised to know is one with most diversified nations participating. All those Antiterrorism laws we are now proud of were lead by these attacks and the general stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists and a major hatred towards the religion in United States in particular is still evident. Invasion of Afghanistan by USA to depose the Taliban and the Iraq war in 2003 are too believed to have been triggered by these attacks. They changed how the world reacted to terrorism, and the financial losses incurred due to closed stock markets for six days changed how the world economy functioned.
The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria- 1914
Now you wonder if that ever meant anything at all. It did, the First World War. It was only when Austria- Hungary declared war on Serbia post the assassination that the circumstances so invited the First World War and the world changed. It was the first time that wars witnessed modern lethal weapons including chemical weapons and tanks killing almost 9 million people. Entire Empires collapsed in countries like Russia and Austria. It lead to formation of the League of Nations, also giving rise to Russian revolution and ultimately the Second World War.
Invasion of Poland by Germany- 1939
Another event that made no change in the world? Read your history again because if not for this, Hiroshima would have been spared the atom bomb. With the UK and France declaring war on Germany post invasion of Poland by Hitler, what followed was the world war II which lead the USA and Soviet Union to become the superpowers of the World with Immediate Effect. Germany was divided into east and west to be occupied by Soviets and Allies respectively. Europe had lesser countries with their borders redefined and many British and French colonies celebrated independence. The Cold war and Arms Race too are blamed to have been triggered by the war to change world politics for years to come. But how it changed the world the most was that United Nations was formed (and how children in Nagasaki and Hiroshima were deformed).
The Industrial Revolution
You realize how today you are sitting in front of your screens in posh offices and are employed? Probably because somewhere in the 1760, the Industrial Revolution in England happened, or atleast began. It was not just an explosion of new technological inventions, the press and new ideas based on logic and reason but also an entire drive to drive mankind away from feudalism. An aftermath of the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution was best received in other parts of Europe post the French Revolution that to an extent abolished Feudalism. All the healthcare, transportation and technology we today enjoy was due to the Industrial Revolution some ancestors brought about in the heart of the world.
Boston Tea Party-1773
You thought the list could have been better topped by what preceded, who cares what happens over a tea party after all, important stuff happens over coffee. Not really, not when coffee has been boycotted as the drink of the English and the climax to the American Revolutionary War is triggered? You know how that changed your world? America was the first nation to oppose the monarchy or tyranny of her majesty and with 13 colonies striving for absolute independence against the British Military, it was not only a war between America and England but also among major Nations of Europe with the French siding with the colonies. With congress declaring independence in July 1776, not just 13 colonies of the world were free but it gave rise to French Revolution, then Russian and then the war for independence in all major colonies was not far to follow. Great Britain lost not just colonies but faced major financial loses for its own economy rested majorly on the exploitation of these economies. So you know why America poses as the saviour of Mankind? They had once inspired you to not be a Britannic colony, then again the civil war freed the slaves and maybe just once more or once less.
The Attack on Pearl Harbour
On the 7th of December 1941, the Japanese military forces launched an attack without warning dubbed ‘Operation Z’ on Pearl Harbour, a United States naval base. This resulted in the death of over 2,000 U.S. combatants and civilians, wounding an additional 1,178. Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the date as one ‘that will live in infamy.’ The U.S. declared war on Japan the following day, the 8th of December 1941, leading them directly into WWII.
The Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was an armed conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia from November 1 1955 to April 30 1975. The conflict saw the communist regime of North Vietnam fight against South Vietnam and the United States. The contentious war ended with the withdrawal of U.S. military forces in 1973 and saw the confederation of Vietnam under Communist control in 1975. Throughout the course of the war, over 3 million people, among them 58,148 American citizens, were killed in the conflict and 75,000 individuals were severely disabled in the war.
- The Rwandan genocide took place in 1994. It saw the mass slaughter of the Tutsis by the Hutus, resulting from longstanding internal conflict between the two ethnic groups. J.E. Burnett states that the civil war broke out as a result of a coup by the Rwandan Patriotic Front in an attempt to defeat the Hutu led government. The Hutu retaliated and the ensuing civil war that took place meant that a staggering percentage of the country was killed during the genocide in the East African State. The number affected is estimated to be somewhere in the region of five hundred thousand to over one million. As is the case in all wars, both sides were complicit in the mass murdering of Rwandan citizens and as such, both the Hutu’s and the Tutsi’s must be held accountable.
This barbaric period in history saw the death of over six million Jews. The Holocaust Encyclopedia describes it as ‘the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder’ of these individuals. The Nazis, who rose to power in Germany in 1933, saw Jews as racially inferior. As part of the ‘Final Solution’ the Nazis killed 2 out of every 3 Jews. Their eugenics movement aimed to stop the weak from procreating. The barbaric means by which this was carried out was compulsory sterilisation, segregation or institutionalisation of anyone deemed to be unfit. Ultimately, eugenics became an umbrella under which ethnic genocide could be justified in Nazi Germany. It was a devastating period of the twentieth century.
Transatlantic Slave Trade
- The Atlantic slave trade began during the 15th century and continued through the 19th Century during which period it was eventually abolished. The triangular trade was born out of the desire for European empires to establish themselves via trade in the New World. European and American settlers enslaved West African civilians and subjected them to gross abuse and neglect in order to fulfil their increasing labour needs on plantations. It is estimated that over 60 million Africans died during The Middle Passage, the crossing from Africa to the Americas.
The detonation of an atomic bomb in Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945 was one of the most horrific events in the history of the world. Equivalent to 20,000 kilotons of TNT, the atomic bomb known as ‘Little Boy’ was launched from the B-29 bomber, Enola Gay. The bomb destroyed two thirds of Hiroshima, an estimated 70,000 civilians dying immediately followed by the death of an additional 70,000 as a result of radiation poisoning over the course of the following five years. All that remained of those closest to the blast were shadows imprinted on buildings.