Significance of Historical Events

What Is a Historical Event?

History is rife with significant events, from political conflicts to medical breakthroughs. But what defines an event as historical?

This forum builds on current research that examines how societal processes shape the meaning of an historical event. It also reveals how the event’s significance can shift over time.

1. World War II

The second world war was the deadliest and most destructive conflict in history. It grew out of issues left unresolved by World War I, including economic instability and the rise of ultra-nationalist governments in Germany and Japan.

Adolf Hitler seized power in Germany in 1933, and he began rearmament, violating the Versailles Treaty. Millions of people joined the military and took defense jobs. Rationing of food, gas, and other products took place. Many people grew victory gardens and collected scrap metal for use in ammunition.

2. The Great Depression

After the stock market crash of October 29, 1929 – known as “Black Thursday” – the world entered a severe economic contraction. Prices, incomes and profits fell dramatically; factories closed, homes went into foreclosure and people were laid off.

Many families lost their life savings; the unemployed crowded into cardboard shacks called “Hoovervilles” and hitched rides on trains in desperate search of work. The resulting breakdown in consumer demand led to bank failures, reduced industrial production and deflation.

3. The American Revolution

The American Revolution was a world event. It paved the way for other political uprisings in Europe, Haiti and South America. It introduced Republican ideals and theories of universal rights to the world.

The war cost British taxpayers a fortune. To recoup some of that cost, Parliament passed laws imposing new taxes on legal documents, newspapers and even playing cards. The colonies resisted, with earth-shaking consequences. The American Revolution established the first republic based on Enlightenment principles such as the consent of the governed and constitutionalism.

4. The French Revolution

The French Revolution ended absolutist politics and a feudal economy, bringing new ideas to Europe including freedom for the commoners. Its legacy included images like the guillotine and institutions such as the metric system, and it produced figures such as Marie-Antoinette and Napoleon.

The revolution’s most violent phase was the Reign of Terror, during which countless suspected enemies were guillotined. However, it paved the way for democracy and ended king-ruled monarchies throughout Europe.

5. The Napoleonic Wars

The Napoleonic Wars shook Europe’s empires and transformed the nature of warfare. They were the first to see conflict on a global scale, and showed that battles thousands of miles apart could influence each other.

How did an inexperienced artillery lieutenant from Corsica become Emperor of France? He directly annexed territories in Western Europe, and imposed revolutionary legislation on satellite kingdoms in conquered Germany and Spain. But his ambitions overreached, and his force was crushed at Waterloo in 1815.

6. The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution saw the world’s agrarian, hand-crafted economies shift to factory and machine-manufactured models. This lowered the cost of everyday materials and allowed for mass production. However, it also led to harsh living conditions for working class people. Some business owners (called capitalists) merged their companies to form monopolies, giving them enormous economic influence and power.

Inventions like steam engines, power looms, and railroads fueled the Industrial Revolution. These machines increased human productivity by eight times.

7. The Cold War

Just after World War II, the US and Soviet Union became locked in a long period of strategic competition. They had different ideas about how the world should work and each tried to dominate the other by building massive military arsenals.

In 1947, President Harry Truman gave a speech that became known as the Truman Doctrine. It promised to provide military assistance to any country threatened by the spread of communism.

8. The Space Race

The Space Race was a 20th Century conflict between two superpowers, the US and Soviet Union, to demonstrate supremacy in space flight technologies. It was part of the Cold War, a tense global political struggle that pitted capitalism and communism against each other.

The US responded to Sputnik by creating the National Aeronautics and Space Act, establishing NASA. Its goal was to land a man on the Moon.

9. The Internet

The Internet is a network of networks that allow data to move between disparate networks. It grew out of the Department of Defense’s ARPANET.

The internet enables the creation, distribution and use of digitized information in all formats. It is the most powerful tool ever for sharing and creating knowledge.

The implications of the Internet are profound for the future. It is possible that new “nations” will emerge online that will be beyond the capacity of current nation-states to control.

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