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January 28, 2009 6:53 AM   Subscribe

Significant historical and/or political figures since 1945?

For my (university) World History Post 1945 class, students are asked to write a 6-8 doubled space term paper on "significant [world] personalities [who] made lasting contributions to culture and society." Suggested persons are as followed: Che Guevara, Nelson Mandela, Eva Peron, Martin Luther King Jr., Dalai Lama, Valclav Havel, Aung San Suu Kyi and Rigoberta Menchu.

Although any of the before mentioned personalities would suffice, I would like to explore topics which are more unfamiliar to me. In order to conduct proper research, recently significant personalities (around 90s or sooner) are not an option as proper secondary sources are unlikely to be available.

posted by kiki_s to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Nasser, Ayatollah Khomeini, Ho Chi Minh, Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa.
posted by j1950 at 7:00 AM on January 28, 2009

The most significant changes world wide since 1945 have been economical and demographical [don't let the average new broadcast or history program fool you in this]. None of which developments have gained much from decisions made by the politicians you named. So I gather you better could look at people at the heart of the 'green revolution' after 1945 for instance, or any of the many other technological developments that made it possible that more people than ever live to see their old age. Name Sicco Mansholt, in Europe.
posted by ijsbrand at 7:13 AM on January 28, 2009

These lists may give you some ideas:
Nobel Peace Prizes
Nobel Prizes in Literature
(from your examples I'm assuming you're not looking for those whose contribution was in either the hard or social sciences, but if that's incorrect you might browse the other Nobel categories also)
Time's Person of the Year
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:14 AM on January 28, 2009

Norman Borlaug?
posted by stopgap at 7:17 AM on January 28, 2009

Bill Gates?
posted by gaspode at 7:24 AM on January 28, 2009

Don't dismiss newer people before doing a quick search on a journal database. You may be surprised!

With that said, I find Havel and Gorbechev very interesting choices. This is personal prejudice, I might add, since I am fascinated the post war central Europe.

Indira Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammed Ali Jinnah would also be interesting. People could argue that since Jinnah died in 1948 he's not the best choice, but he's regarded as the father of Pakistan, and that is very significant considering the state of South Asian and world politics now.

Oh, and Cesar Chavez. I think he would count as a world figure.
posted by piratebowling at 7:34 AM on January 28, 2009

Pope John Paul II would make a good choice. Gorbachev himself said that "The collapse of the Iron Curtain would have been impossible without John Paul II."
posted by DWRoelands at 7:39 AM on January 28, 2009

Oh! Mother Teresa!
posted by piratebowling at 7:52 AM on January 28, 2009

Alexandr Solhenitsyn
posted by goethean at 7:56 AM on January 28, 2009

Lech Walesa
posted by goethean at 7:56 AM on January 28, 2009

Does screwing things up count as a contribution to culture and society?

Abdul Qadeer Kahn, one of the biggest contributors to world instability in our current era.
Muhammed Ali Jinnah and his supporters made South Asia the ugly mess it is today.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:59 AM on January 28, 2009


That's an excellent choice. I'd throw Sukarno into the mix, too.

Less well-known in the U.S., deserves to be better-known, and term-paper friendly: Lester Pearson.
posted by gimonca at 8:09 AM on January 28, 2009

Deng Xiao Ping!!

Presided over the largest movement of people out of poverty in human history, was purged during the cultural revolution, was in part responsible for Tiananmen, and is essentially the father of modern china (in no particular order).

There are a lot of good suggestions in this thread though. Honestly with this sort of paper, expanding your horizons ought to be a close second to making sure you choose a person whom you can get enough solid research on. A great topic will only get you so far without great sources, and the better sources you have the easier it will be to write.

Also, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Charles De Gaulle, and Salvador Allende.

Finally I can tell you from personal experience that Che is not as interesting as you would think, his books are fairly boring, and I can almost guarantee you that your teacher is sick of reading papers about him.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:39 AM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nasser's not a bad choice, but Sayyid Qutb (executed by Nasser, guaranteeing him increased influence as a martyr) would be a better one—he's primarily responsible for the resurgence of Islamist movements in the late 20th century, very much including Al Qaeda. And much as I dislike Ronald Reagan, he should be on the list too.

Well, except that the list is a joke: Che Guevara made his "contribution to world culture" as a poster icon, Eva Peron as a musical (outside of Argentina, where she was a pernicious influence but hardly a worldwide one), Aung San Suu Kyi is an inspiring figure but again hardly of world significance... and Rigoberta Menchu? Are you fucking kidding me? She wrote an autobiography that is popular despite being full of lies and is doing good work promoting indigenous rights in Guatemala, but as an influence on world history she doesn't exist. This is a list of Progressive Icons of the Late Twentieth Century; I feel sorry for anyone in the class who has significant political disagreements with the teacher.
posted by languagehat at 8:42 AM on January 28, 2009 [6 favorites]

Emphatically seconding Normal Borlaug. This man is responsible for saving millions of lives in poverty-stricken cultures with his work on bio-engineering crops for higher yield.
posted by Hargrimm at 9:10 AM on January 28, 2009

Please, oh please, remove Guevara from your list! You do know he was a monster, don't you? A mass murderer?

Or if you decide to keep him, then you should also include Pol Pot.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:32 AM on January 28, 2009

Aaron Spelling. No I am not kidding.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:35 AM on January 28, 2009

"Personalities" might be a more significant word in the essay title than you seem to be assuming. Think about why are the people in the list of examples given "personalities" rather than, say, "figures" or "leaders", and the means by which "personalities" make an impact on culture and society? Then think about who else has made an impact in this way; that should help to focus your choice of which person to write about.
posted by Jabberwocky at 9:52 AM on January 28, 2009

made lasting contributions to culture and society

James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner. anyone who doubts their lasting contribution, go to www.whitehouse.org
posted by matteo at 10:00 AM on January 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

whitehouse.gov too, since .org is a satire site. anyway, I think it's hard to deny their lasting contribution
posted by matteo at 10:02 AM on January 28, 2009

Allen Welsh Dulles
posted by hortense at 10:10 AM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Eleanor Roosevelt
posted by jgirl at 10:51 AM on January 28, 2009

Vint Cerf
posted by Good Brain at 11:55 AM on January 28, 2009

Seconding matteo: Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were incredibly brave, and true heroes of the movement whose murders helped hasten the end of Jim Crow. I'd also suggest John Lewis.
posted by scody at 11:06 PM on January 28, 2009

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