The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events / Edition 4

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A vast and absorbing resource, the fourth edition of The Timetables of ™History spans millennia of human history.
Unlike any other reference volume, this book gives a sweeping overview of the making of the contemporary world by mapping out at a glance what was happening simultaneously, from the dawn of history to the present day.
With nearly 100 pages of new material, including:
Recent breakthroughs in science and technology
New achievements in the visual arts and music
Milestones in religion, philosophy, and learning
The rise and fall of nations and the emergence of historical figures
Landmarks in the drama of daily life around the world

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A unique, encyclopedic book — rewarding, informative, entertaining."
— The Wall Street Journal

"A fascinating and useful book for a great number of people."
— Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

"The Timetables of ™History can give us a feel for the fluidity and many-sidedness of past experience...[and] can help us see what we thought we already knew in a lively new perspective."
— Daniel J. Boorstein, from his Foreword

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743270038
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 9/13/2005
  • Edition description: Revised
  • Edition number: 4
  • Pages: 848
  • Sales rank: 212,076
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 1.62 (d)



By Daniel J. Boorstin

"Time," wrote the famous American philosopher-idler Henry David Thoreau, "is but the stream I go fishing in." Each of us -- with the help of parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, historians, and others -- goes fishing in that stream. And we usually come up with what we knew, or strongly suspected, was already there. One of the purposes of this book is to make it possible for us to go fishing and come up with some surprises.

At a glance, The Timetables of History can give us a feel for the fluidity and many-sidedness of past experience. Here we plainly see that the historian's neat categories parse experience in ways never found among living people. While, even in this volume, the authors have found it necessary to separate events into political, cultural, artistic, and scientific categories, when we cast our eye across any page we see how overlapping, interfusing, inseparable, and arbitrary are all such separations. Often the most interesting -- and most surprising -- are the miscellaneous items which the authors list in the last righthand column under "Daily Life." Precisely because these items are commonplace in their time, precisely because they were so obviously in the foreground of the experience of non-historians, historians have been reluctant to give them the dignity of "history."

For people in the past, just as for us, experience has had no academic neatness. The miscellany on every page of can help remind us of this neglected first principle of history. For example, 1776, the year of the United States' Declaration of Independence, was also the year of publication of thefirst volume of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations; the year of the death of the Scottish philosopher David Hume; the year when Fragonard made one of his best-known paintings and when the English landscape painter John Constable was born; the year of Mozart's Serenade in D Major, K. 250 (the "Haffner"), of Cook's third voyage to the Pacific, and of military ski competitions in Norway. Or 1927, the year when Lindbergh flew the Atlantic, was also the year when Trotsky was expelled from the Communist Party, when Show Boat opened in New York, when Sigmund Freud published The Future of an Illusion and Thornton Wilder The Bridge of San Luis Rey, when Pavlov did his work on conditioned reflexes, A1 Jolson starred in the epoch-making "talkie" The Jazz Singer, the German economic system collapsed, and the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team was organized. Which of these items was most vivid to anyone living in Western Europe or America at the time must have depended on where that person lived, and on his education, interests, social class, and prejudices. On every page of this book, then, we see clues to how polychromatic and how iridescent is the experience of any age.

A number of peculiarities in our thinking and teaching have made "chronology" -- the study of the arrangement of events in time -- seem less interesting than it really is. First is the time-cliché. This is the notion that history mainly consists of certain "key" dates -- "1066 and All That!" Dates, then, seem the rigid skeleton of history, which historians flesh out. And early Anglo-American history would be all that happened between "1066" (The Norman Conquest) and "1776" (The American Revolution). "Crucial dates," we are told, are the Landmarks of History. But if we teach history as chronology the landmarks overshadow the landscape.

It is not surprising, then, that the unwilling student thinks of history as little more than lists of numbers (and names) to be memorized. A more profound consequence, for those of us who did our homework and learned the lists, was to shape -- or rather pervert -- our notions of human experience in the long past. History was not a broad stream of many eddies, but a neat and narrow road with sharp turns, unambiguous starting points, and clearly marked dead ends. Roman civilization "ended" when Alaric and the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 A.D. Then the Dark Ages "began." Favorite examination questions asked: When did the Renaissance commence? Was it with the birth of Petrarch in 1304? or of Shakespeare in 15647 A sophisticated student was one who had become adept at marshaling and juggling dates to mark off one or another sharply bounded expanse of time.

Such a date-oriented history was inevitably a story of sudden beginnings and instant endings. The great eras and grand movements of history seemed to arrive with fanfare and to depart with formal valedictory. People who lived "in advance of their age" were "prophets." The past was peopled with figures of transition "wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born." It was such thinking that led an imaginative student to describe Dante (1265-1321) as "the Italian poet who had one foot in the Middle Ages, and with the other saluted the rising star of the Renaissance."

While these time-cliches pervert our view of the processes of history, another peculiarity of our date-oriented thinking perverts our view of the experience of history. Against this malady The Timetables of History may be a mild corrective. For we have been trained to think of the past as a sequence, and to think of history as consequences. We learn about the American Revolution because a great nation came out of it. Among its other consequences we may count the French revolutions of 1789 (1830, 1848?) and too, indirectly, the Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the myriad anti-colonial revolutions of our age. We have been so overwhelmed and dazzled by this sequenceoriented view of the past that we have failed even to notice what we have been missing -- History as Experience!

One of the obvious features of the experience that fills our lives every day is that we never can know what will flow out of it. But the historian is the scientist of hindsight. Since he knows (or thinks he knows) how it all turned out, he is preoccupied with the question: What chain of events made it come out that way? On the other hand, we, the people, live in a world of the contemporary. We see ourselves dominated by the events that happen at one time -- in our time. We are charmed and enticed, and threatened by the uncertainties of the future. The historian in his library and at his leisure can focus in turn on one kind of event after another -- the political, the economic, the intellectual. He has the opportunity to sort out origins and consequences. But the citizen is the simultaneous target of all sorts of events. These Timetables of History, then, can remind us of how numerous and how diverse are the events which make up the experience of living men and women.

Another effect of our common way of viewing the historical past is to reinforce our habits of thinking in ways that make us feel at home where we already are. We actually use our chronology to narrow our historical vision. We do this, for example, when we make the birth of Jesus the turning point of historical dating. The signs of A.D. and B.C. proclaim the central importance of an event which is actually believed to be central by only a small proportion of mankind. The cumbersome designation of early events by a subtractive system of B.C. simply adds to the problem of finding our bearings in strange and ancient societies. Muslims, naturally enough, date their events A.H. (Annus Hegirae) from the crucial event in the history of their religion.

All such ways of looking at chronology inhibit our thinking about the whole human past. In addition, the decimal system and the celebration of centuries and their multiples induce us to give the fluid past an unnatural neatness and rigidity. Among the ancient Jews, a "jubilee" when slaves were manumitted and debts were forgiven was celebrated every fifty years. Then the Roman Catholic Church began the practice of proclaiming a Holy Year (generally once every 25 years, when special privileges were given by the Church for pilgrimage to Rome, and there was an unusual jubilee indulgence), the first of which was proclaimed by Pope Boniface VIII in 1300. Since the rise of the historical profession in Western countries this slicing of the past into "centuries" has dominated us in ways difficult to overestimate. At first a hundred years was described as "a century of years." Then by the middle of the seventeenth century the word "century" itself had come to mean a period of 100 years. Ever since then the units of academic instruction and scholarship have been wrapped in parcels, each 100 years long.

Scholars will surely dispute some of the dates offered here. While the authors of this volume have conscientiously aimed at precision and accuracy, they would be the first to caution the reader. The Timetables of History is a stimulus and an eye-opener for everyman's exploration of the past. This book should be the starting point, and not the conclusion, of some new questions for us to ask about the past.

The reader should be reminded, too, that much of the contemporaneity of happenings all over the world revealed in these Timetables was itself beyond the consciousness of people living at the time. The events and achievements that are contemporary by the calendar are not contemporary in experience unless people know of them. During nearly all history, communications have been limited, slow, and desultory. We must therefore be wary of assuming that because different events occurred in the same year they were known to contemporaries at about the same time. For example, Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (probably the first comprehensive treatment of political economy in a Western language) had first been delivered as lectures in Glasgow, was first published in Britain in 1776, and did not appear in an American edition until 1789. It was not translated into French or German until 1794. The writings of John Locke, which were first published in England in the late seventeenth century, and were frequently referred to by the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, remained scarce on American shores throughout the eighteenth century. One of the more tantalizing questions for the historian is how, when, and where knowledge of an event occurring in one place reached other parts of the earth.

In many cases this inability to communicate promptly, so that people in one part of the earth remained ignorant of some of the contemporaneity revealed in these Timetables, has been a crucial fact shaping the course of history. And there are a number of familiar examples in the history of the United States. If James Monroe, President Thomas Jefferson's special envoy, and Robert R. Livingston, then the United States Minister in Paris, had been able to consult President Jefferson about the urgent and surprising terms that Napoleon offered in 1803 for the sale of the whole of Louisiana, Jefferson and the Congress of the United States might have balked. Both the history and the boundaries of this nation might then have been quite different. These envoys' inability to keep their President currently informed forced them to strike a bargain on their own. Faced not with the question but with their answer, Jefferson put his constitutional scruples behind him, and the Congress ratified what they would not have initiated.

Similarly, Andrew Jackson's reputation as a military hero was in no small part due to the lack of communications. At the famous Battle of New Orleans on the morning of January 8, 1815, General Andrew Jackson, then commander of the American army in the Southwest, repulsed a superior British force, which lost more than 2,000 men, at a cost of only 71 Americans. So he "saved" New Orleans and the Mississippi Valley from a British invasion. But this battle had no effect on the outcome of the war with Britain, because the peace terms had been settled two weeks earlier by the Treaty of Ghent (signed December 24, 1814), a fact which neither Jackson nor his British opponents knew. If communications had been speedier, the battle might have been forestalled, and Andrew Jackson would never have been given the opportunity to become "The Hero of New Orleans" -- with consequences for American politics and the rise and demise of "Jacksonian Democracy" on which we can only speculate.

Among the crucial features of our human experience, then, we must count not only the vast range of events and achievements that make up a contemporary life, but the accessibility of the events and achievements of one place to people living elsewhere. Contemporaneity -- as a quality not of the calendar but of living human experience -- is a relative and variable term. It depends not only on what happens when and where, but on who knows what, when, and where. Among the grand changes in human experience few have been more drastic than our changing and suddenly enlarging sense of the contemporary. In the most recent times we can begin to take it for granted that dominant events and achievements which occur in a particular year enter the experience of larger and larger numbers of people in that very year, or even on the very day of their occurrence.

The calendar of dates and the reach of experience come closer and closer together. To millions of citizens in our Televised States of America, an increasing number of events are known (and of course many are actually seen and heard) at the moment when they happen. This flood of confused contemporaneity has itself become a dominant and bewildering feature of life in our time.

As we read The Timetables of History for the years before the late twentieth century, we should not forget that we are seeing "contemporary" events as only God could have seen them. And so we can discover what men of the Pre-Television Age were missing about life in their own time. The horizontal columns show us the interesting coincidences and the surprising range of events and achievements of mankind in each era.

Another reminder -- and a caution -- to all users of this book. The focus of the authors' views is Western Europe and the Americas. While relevant events in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere are not intentionally omitted, the authors have made no effort to survey the historical events of those parts of the world. The reader should be aware that Timetables for those other parts would be at least as copious and no less interesting. If there is no logical justification for this limitation of the book, there is ample human justification. Western civilization alone offers an exhausting enterprise of chronology. Werner Stein, Bernard Grun, Wallace Brockway, and their helpers have given us a wealth of facts about a considerable part of the human story.

We hope that the reader and the browser will find here most of the items that he would expect to find. But, except for the more familiar and more obvious items in politics and the arts, the authors' choice has been personal. For there really is no such thing as a "correct" or complete selection of items for inclusion in such a volume as this. Much of the interest, and most of the stimulus and the usefulness of these Timetables must come from the unexpectedness and even from the arbitrariness of the authors' interests. The inquiring reader will be grateful to these authors for awakening him to kinds of events and achievements which he had never even thought of looking up.

This fantastic miscellany can help us see what we thought we already knew in a lively new perspective. And it can also open our vision to vistas of human experience that we never thought of as "history" but which enrich our understanding of the whole human past and of ourselves.

Copyright © 1963 by F.A. Herbig Verlagsbuchhandlung

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2013

    Great book for fact checking

    If you read historical non-fiction or ficton and want to verify dates or get and idea of what else was happening during a certain year this is a great help.

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  • Posted March 20, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    This is an excellent tool. I highly recommend it.

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