Friday, October 12, 2012

The Most Significant Places In History

New article on the BBC based on their new history show – this time on the five most important places in history. The inclusion of just five locations for all of history seems awfully miserly – limits on article length perhaps?

I like the inclusion of the Great Rift Valley and Los Alamos. The inclusion of the site of the smallpox vaccine is intriguing but questionable to my mind in a country that launched both the industrial revolution and the scientific revolution. Surely those have had an even greater impact? In fact, I’ve included several English sites that I think are more important in my list below.

There seem to be two factors for sites – one where an important event happened, and one where significant cultural developments took place (in Athens we have both). If I had to pick, I would include Rome over Athens (and did, below). The exclusion of Jerusalem seems to a major oversight from any standpoint, though. Also muddying the waters is the distinction between regions such as the Rift Valley and Yellow River, and more specific locations. As for regions, the exclusion of the Fertile Crescent is also a bit puzzling.

So here are my major historical locations, and I obviously didn't confine myself to five. East Asia and Pre-Columbian America are a bit underrepresented, but sad to say I just don’t think any of those cities or regions are as important to how the modern world functions as the ones in the West. I’ve asterisked the five I’d pick if I had to (okay I cheated and picked eight).

Göbekli Tepe – Site in Anatolia that contains the oldest known man-made religious structure erected by hunter-gatherers (see also Çatalhöyük)

– One of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, and stand in for sites inhabited from hunter-gatherer through Neolithic though historical/city-state/modern times. (see also Damascus)

* Jerusalem – Origin point and sacred site of the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

* Rome – Seat of the Roman Empire, which gave the fundamental legal, political and cultural structures to all of Europe. Still seat of Roman Catholic Church

Constantinople – bridge between eastern and western worlds, major seat of Roman Empire from 330 to 1453.

Chang’an (Xi’an), China - center of Imperial China for over 3,000 years; terminus of Silk Road.

Tours, France – Islamic advance into Europe halted by Charles Martel

* Florence – major center of the Renaissance, medieval trade and Florentine Banking

La Isabela – first permanent settlement in new World established by Europeans. Beginning of European colonization.

* Amsterdam – site of the world’s first limited liability joint-stock corporation, stock exchange, central bank, and commodities bubble, all in early 1600’s

The Maluku Islands, Indian Ocean – known as the “spice Islands”, a major driver of the first global economy.

The Khyber Pass - ancient route for conquering armies from Alexander to the British.

* The West Midlands, England – site of first factory at Cromford, the first commercial steam engine by Watt and Boulton at Tipton, the coal industry at Coalbrookdale, and center of the the Luddite uprisings. Also birthplace of Shakespeare.

* Drake Well, Titusville, Pennsylvania – site of first commercial oil well by Colonel Edwin Drake.

* The Broad Steet Pump, London – Dr. John Snow’s tracking of a cholera epidemic leads to modern germ theory and public sanitation.

Galápagos Islands, Ecuador – influenced Charles Darwin in his Theory of Natural Selection. Beginning of modern biology.

* Chapingo, Mexico – agricultural university where Norman Borlaug developed the “green revolution.”

Xerox PARC, Palo Alto, California
– development of laser printing, Ethernet, the modern personal computer, graphical user interface (GUI), object-oriented programming, and more.

CERN, Geneva, Switzeland –site of major physics breakthroughs and birthplace of the World Wide Web.

Honorable mentions:

Ur of the Chaldees - one of the first Mesopotamian city-states and legendary birthplace of Abraham.

Alexandria - Major center of learning in the ancient world.

Baghdad - significant cultural, commercial, and intellectual center for the Islamic World. Flashpoint for conflict in the modern era.

Versailles Palace, France
- location of significant events in the French Revolution and location of Treaty of Versailles ending World War 1.

The Ruhr Valley - seat of German industrialism

Potosí - location of Spanish silver mines and colonial mint.

Guano Islands, Pacific Ocean – source of essential fertilizer and flash point for international trade conflicts.

As for broader regions, it’s hard to pick, but in addition to the Great Rift Valley here are some big ones

The Fertile Crescent – agriculture and the first city-states
The Nile Valley - site of the one of the world's oldest continuous civilizations.
The Indo-Gangetic Plain – heart of Indian civilization
The North China Plain – heart of Chinese civilzation
The Eurasian Steppe (yes I know I’m including much of the world here)
The Bering Land Bridge - how the Americas were populated
The Mediterranean Sea – birthplace of Western culture
The Yucatan Peninsula – or wherever corn was domesticated
The Great Plains – the modern world’s breadbasket
The Silk Road
The Trade Winds (cheating – not a region but essential in history)

Previously: 10 things readers want in a history of the world (BBC)

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