Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ending the deafening silence

Last Friday's Times published an interesting list of the 50 key dates of world history by the historian Richard Overy. It's well worth a look: the tight selection inevitably makes it controversial and thought-provoking.

But what's he missed? Money for a start, which could have been added to one of the early Mesopotamian entries. Or accounting, from around the same time. Where's gunpowder, or the flintlock - for their explosive power and ability to change the social order? To be nit-picky I suspect Muhammad's death (and Christ's) were more important than their dates of birth. Muhammad's death sparked the creation of the Caliphate, under which Islam's influence massively expanded. The Black Death of 1348-49 - was responsible for the death of about a third of Asia's and Europe's peoples and spelled the end to feudalism in Europe. Penicillin. The telegraph, radio, television and flight are all absent, despite the impact that they have had on government communications and the speed at which the world moves. Many of the political developments of the early modern era - Hobbes's Leviathan, the US constitution, and the rights founded by the French revolution - all owe themselves to the rediscovery of classical political philosophy which itself resulted from the invention of the printing press and the breaking of the medieval church's restrictive stranglehold on ideas.

Anyway, have a look.

1 comment:

Patrick Kidd said...

Hi James,
You are quite right to point out that the deaths of Mohammad and Jesus were more crucial for history than their births.
Following that thought (and without remotely claiming that TEL should be compared to either religious figure), how about a counterfactual on what would have happened had TEL not gone for a motorbike ride in Dorset?
What role may he have played during the Second World War? He was close to Churchill, obviously, so would he have been asked to take some position in the war in North Africa? Or was he already quite marginalised by his death? Maybe, like that other hero Turing, he would have ended up victimised for his homosexuality? Your thoughts in a rare idle moment would make interesting reading.
Patrick