Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum, so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
. . . it was the epoch of incredulity – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Every day I look up the events and people connected to one day in history, from big things like war being declared, to little things like the first day a song is heard.
It’s a different view from that of professional historians, who usually specialize in a particular era, or culture, or aspect of social development. Or the generalists in history who look for long arcs, seeing how a series of events are set in motion, and the impact they have on “civilization.”
Civilization — a funny word when you think about it:
- the stage of human social development and organization that is considered most advanced
- the process by which a society or place reaches an advanced stage of social development and organization
- the society, culture, and way of life of a particular area
Civil means “relating to ordinary citizens and their concerns, as distinct from military or ecclesiastical matters” or “courteous and polite.” So from Civil, you get both civil war and civilization. Maybe it should be called anti-civil war?
What I see looking day-by-day are snapshots — not the ordered, civilized progression of history, but its random, inconsistent lurching. Over time, I am beginning to see a few connections here and there, and an occasional glimpse of the “long view.”
These are my preliminary conclusions.
The majority of treaties are broken within a generation, especially if there is a power imbalance among the parties involved. Related to this observation: It’s hard to keep issues “settled.” Campaigns for the likes of the rule of law, human rights, religious tolerance, against slavery or the depredations of greed, do win temporary victories, but they will have to be re-settled, time and time again.
Popular music is a quick gauge of the year it comes out, but the songs which become “classics,” transcending national boundaries and language barriers, tell us that feelings of love and the desire to be loved, and the hope for better days to come, are universally human.
People who share a birthday often do not have much in common. A recent example: September 24 —
- John Marshall, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice (1755)
- Julius Klengel, German composer and cellist (1859)
- Bhikaiji Cama, Indian Independence activist, India’s “Betsy Ross” who designed the Free India flag (1861)
- A. P. Herbert, English author and humorist (1890)
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, American ‘Jazz Age’ writer (1896)
- Charlotte Moore Sitterly, American astronomer noted for spectroscopic Sun studies (1898)
- Stephen Bechtel, American construction engineer, Bechtel Corp. (1900)
- Jim Henson, puppeteer, creator of the Muppets (1936)
But some days do have runs of musicians or scientists, or more rarely, some other field of endeavor.
This day-by-day look at history reminds me of those booklets of drawings that become a raggedly animated little movie if you ruffle the pages quickly. But above all else, I am reminded of Charles Dickens’ opening lines for A Tale of Two Cities:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.