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Here’s a Quick Way to Understand the Flow of History

Do you ever get overwhelmed with the immensity of history?  I took a course on Byzantine history in college and after a few weeks I was blown over by the sheer timespan the course covered – about 1000 years.

Whether your studying American history, the Han dynasty of China, or the history of ancient Egypt, the difficulty is wrapping your mind around a story whose main characters keep changing.  After all, a person only lives a certain number of years, but the history of nations takes much, much longer.

Moreover, the people that make a difference in a generation were influenced by the events of their childhood, when others were the influencers, who were themselves influenced by people in their childhood.

Here’s an easy way to to break up the flow of history in a way that lets you understand who’s who, and what their time-frame is as an individual.  I propose viewing the world through a grid of 25-year periods.  So each century gets four periods.

In general, an individual gets three periods if they live a full life.

  1. The first period is their childhood, where they generally don’t accomplish anything.  If they do, this in itself is notable.
  2. The second period, from 25-years-old to 50-years-old, is generally the professional period.  A person will begin to make their mark on the world.  Often this is when a person will publish a ground-breaking work that they will spend the rest of their life working out.
  3. The third period, from 50-75, isthe expert period.  By this point you’ve worked out the bugs and you really have something to say.  Most people who have changed the world significantly have done so in these years.
  4. From 75-100 are the bonus years.  Most people do not have the chance to do much in these years either because they are unable or are dead.  So if you are still changing the world after 75, you are a notable individual.

In terms of world history, a person is influenced by their childhood generation.  But they are also influenced by the 25-year period before they were born, and to a lesser extent, the 25-year period before that.  These were your parents’ generation and your grandparents’ generation.

Let’s take a quick look at a random historical figure using the grid to understand history.  We’ll take the philsopoher Averroes as ourexample.  Wikipedia says he lived from 1126-1198.  Here is the way I would understand his life:

1076-1100 – Grandparents’ generation
1101-1125 – Parent’s generation
1126-1150 – Childhood generation
1151-1175 – Professional period; he begins his translation work of Aristotle and writes some of his most important works
1176-1200 – Expert period; his philosophy is established and he is merely working out the details; in my mind he lived until about 1200, though technically he was a couple years short of it.

Hope this helps you get a grasp of world history.  If you use it, you will find it is a quick-and-dirty way to grasp the major facts of a person’s life quickly.

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