Some dates to remember, some dates to forget...
March 3, 2011 3:35 PM   Subscribe

What are the historical dates you are always glad you remember? Are there any well-recognized, history book dates that help you pin your sense of history together more than other dates do?

I'm always really glad I know the usual dates given for things like the depression and start/end of WWII, and the Vietnam War. I don't want to embark upon a journey to learn most historical dates -- I just want to start in order of how helpful they will be to know.

What are some other dates that you're really glad you remember (even if in YYYY-form only), and why?
posted by circular to Education (33 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
1492 was a funny year for Spain: the Muslims were kicked out of power and Columbus set sail for India.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:46 PM on March 3, 2011

Best answer: 1814 was the year the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building were burned down. I'm not sure if the date itself is useful, but I do think the reminder that the U.S. is not invincible is important. I actually usually remember it as 1812, the year the disastrous U.S. invasion of Canada began.
posted by yeolcoatl at 3:54 PM on March 3, 2011

1066: Norman conquest of Britain, Battle of Hastings.
1861: American Civil War starts, Fort Sumner attacked.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 3:55 PM on March 3, 2011

Best answer: 1066 Battle of Hastings - Norman conquest of England

1776 Declaration of Independence, Revolutionary War begins, "shots heard round the world"
1793 George Washington's inauguration (observe how long it took from 1776 to here!)
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:57 PM on March 3, 2011

Best answer: Queen Victoria's birth and death years (1819-1901,) the sinking of the Titanic, the year the Mormon exodus arrived in Utah (1847,) the Norman invasion of England (1066,) the printing of the King James Version of the Bible (1611,) the death of Julius Caesar (44 BC,) the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians (597 BC,) the beginning and ending dates of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1912,) the death of Stalin (1953,) the death of Alexander the Great (323 BC,) the eruption at Vesuvius (79,) and the death of Gengis Khan (1277) come to mind right away. It's all about "when things changed" or otherwise defining an era for me - I find 1939 a major touchstone for Western society, for instance, even when excluding the Hitler/Poland/etc. stuff. These are the borderlands of History.

But, and I must stress this, I am a geek who has so many historical dates memorized I sometimes see things differently from other people - I get nauseous when I see these "kids couldn't put the Civil War in the right century" polls. And this one time, I turned my 8-year-old Sunday School class into a year-long exploration of three thousand years of history under the guise of learning about prophesies of Christ in the Old Testament. ^_^
posted by SMPA at 3:59 PM on March 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: 44BC is a biggie. Death of Caesar.
posted by gaspode at 4:00 PM on March 3, 2011

Sorry - 1775, Revolutionary War begins, "shots heard round the world" - the famous poem about Paul Revere's ride begins "Twas the eighteenth of April in '75"
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:01 PM on March 3, 2011

Best answer: 323 BCE- death of Alexander the Great. I find it a more useful point of reference for serious change in the ancient Mediterranean than any of the dates of Alexander's conquests, because it's when the crazy political scheming started.
posted by oinopaponton at 4:06 PM on March 3, 2011

Best answer: I tend to see history in a very interconnected way, and for me, the 1750's were big. J.S. Bach dies (1750), Handel dies (1759) and Mozart is born (1756). Baroque music and the associated swanky upper class patronage system begin to die down (and there are eventually revolutions galore) and the classical/romantic era with all the accompanying nationalism and overwrought emotionalism is born.
posted by Go Banana at 4:07 PM on March 3, 2011

Best answer: November 22, 1963, the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The specific date resonates with a lot of people. (That was also the date when the Beatles released With the Beatles, their second British album, which has the famous shadow cover.)

This might seem obvious, but it's good to know at least the years of U.S. administrations. Remember that it's generally the year after the election year. For instance, if you remember Clinton's year being "'92," you'll know he was inaugurated in 1993.

Dates from the Bush administration -- Iraq war begins: March 20, 2003. (Sometimes incorrectly given as March 17, 2003; that's when we gave Iraq the final ultimatum.) Afghanistan war: October 7, 2001. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (yes, some people do forget the year).

1865, the assassination of Lincoln and the end of the Civil War.

Everyone knows July 4, 1776, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, right? Nope, according to Wikipedia, it was adopted July 4, 1776, but signed in August.

1787, US Constitution adopted.

Speaking of the US Constitution, a few Supreme Court cases: Marbury v. Madison, 1803. McCulloch v. Maryland, 1819. Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896. Korematsu v. US, 1944. Brown v. Board of Education, 1954. Roe v. Wade, 1973. (Of course, every American should know about the content of these decisions.)

The only album-release date I know by heart, aside from With the Beatles, is September 13, 1991: Nirvana released Nevermind. I remember a lot of album years (Sgt. Pepper's, 1967, etc.), which is useful if you're into music and like to keep a sense of music history.

I also like to keep track of dates in classical music history; I don't know if you're interested. It's especially good to know composers' death dates; the Baroque era is often defined by Bach's death in 1750. Mozart 1791, Haydn 1809, Beethoven 1827, Schubert 1828 (a year after Beethoven), Brahms 1897, Debussy 1918 (also the end year of WWI).
posted by John Cohen at 4:10 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I should have said: the end of the Baroque era by defined as Bach's death in 1750. Perhaps a better date would be Handel's death in 1759, which is also when Haydn wrote his First Symphony. The Baroque era is generally considered to start around 1600; Palestrina died shortly before that, in 1594, which could be considered the rough end of the Renaissance. Similarly, Brahms's death just 3 years before 1900 could be considered a rough dividing line between the Romantic and Modern eras.
posted by John Cohen at 4:17 PM on March 3, 2011

Best answer: The British defeated the Spanish armada in 1588. That marked the beginning of Britain as a world power and the decline of Spain as one. My favorite history professor practically smacked me when she found out I didn't know that date off the top of my head.

The Black Death reached Europe in 1346, one of the biggest events in the "Crisis in the Fourteenth Century" that led to the rise of capitalism.

11/11/1917 was when Germany signed an armistice with the Allies, effectively ending World War I.

The Meiji Restoration began in Japan in 1868, beginning a massive modernization effort that put expansionist Japan on a collision course with its neighbors.

The American frontier "closed" in 1890, according to the US Census.

You might enjoy Jay Winik's April 1865: The Month that Saved America. Richmond fell, Lee surrendered, Lincoln was assassinated, the Civil War de facto ended (isolated skirmishes continued, and the official end of the war wasn't until the next year).
posted by lilac girl at 4:24 PM on March 3, 2011

Since I gave a few constitutional cases, I should add: Wikipedia has an excellent list of "landmark" decisions for anyone who wants to pursue this further. The years are all clearly listed along with a one-sentence explanation of the significance of each case.
posted by John Cohen at 4:24 PM on March 3, 2011

May 29, 1453, Constantinople falls to the Turks.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:26 PM on March 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Approximate dates for WWI and II;

Victorian era / reign

Great Depression

birth/death of Shakespeare (it helps, for some reason!), which is close to the Elizabethan era;

Approximate centuries of the Italian/western Renaissance.
posted by amtho at 5:06 PM on March 3, 2011

1642 - Newton was born, Galileo died, and you are nearing the end of the Thirty Years War
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 5:09 PM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: 1648, The Treaty of Westphalia, pretty much the birth of the sovereign state.
posted by litnerd at 5:14 PM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: April 1861 to April 1865 for the Civil War -- easy to remember the two "Aprils" as well as the years. It's appalling how many Americans can't even get the right half-century for the Civil War! And such a major turning point for U.S. history.

The Treaty of Westphalia is another sticky date for me.

Also the Council of Nicea in 325, really the beginning of the consolidation of Christianity and I think a good mental marker for the end of the "Church Fathers" era (also not too long after the bifurcation of the Roman Empire, so it makes a good "Rome is definitely declining by now" marker too); and 1517 for Martin Luther's 95 Theses, the "official" kick-off of the Reformation. Of course such a huge event can't be pinned even to a single century, but it's a good mental marker to land you in the right general place. As Christianity is intimately tied up in European history, those two dates help you pin a lot of other European history in place, wars and conquests and stuff like that.

A slightly lesser one: Charles Martel "saved" European Christendom at the Battle of Tours in 732 (or didn't, depending on how important you think the battle was); another good mental divider for the end of the high point of Muslim power in Europe and the rise of Christian nations that weren't just smelly unwashed tribal backwaters. Charlemagne was his grandson so that helps you stick Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire and all in its right place too.

I also remember, for no reason, that Shakespeare died in 1616.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:28 PM on March 3, 2011

There's a great app called "On This Day" that pulls it's info from Wikipedia. I just started using it so dates really stand out yet, but hopefully someone will find the app useful.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:32 PM on March 3, 2011

July 16, 1945: First nuclear bomb is tested in Alamogordo, NM.
August 6, 1945: Nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.
August 9, 1945: Nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.
posted by pombe at 5:34 PM on March 3, 2011

Best answer: January 10, 1901: The discovery of the Spindletop oil field in Texas. It started with the classic gusher, which spewed 100,000 barrels of oil before it was capped.

That discovery lead to many more, and helped lead the world into the Oil Century.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 5:53 PM on March 3, 2011

Best answer: I like to check the original copyright years on older books I'm reading and get a sense of what the writer may have been dealing with in her time. Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813 but was started in 1796, about a dozen years after the Revolutionary War ended. Volume I of Little Women was published in 1868, just a few years after the Civil War had ended. Louisa May Alcott was the daughter of transcendentalist Bronson Alcott and had grown up around Emerson and Thoreau. The Betsy-Tacy series were set at the turn of the 20th century, which gave me a good idea of what life might have been like for Dorothy in L. Frank Baum's world.

On December 5 every year I try to celebrate the ratification of the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution: the Prohibition is repealed.

I think it's a great idea to equate music with time periods. There are so many different eras and there is nothing like context to give a person scope of a musical genre. The more connections I make with cultural, scientific, historical events, the greater grasp I have of them. Steven Johnson gave a very thought-provoking TED talk about how coffee may have brought about the Age of Enlightenment. (Or, in a more digestible 4-minute RSA Animate.)

I also will never forget that Louis XVI was the king of France in 1789 because my high school European history teacher forced us to listen to this 1963 Allan Sherman song, banging on our desks with a wooden spoon and hopping around the classroom while we sat frozen, terrified.
posted by therewolf at 6:01 PM on March 3, 2011

1649 - Diggers on St George's Hill, the Levellers cut down at Burford ; the English modern is beginning and there is a popular vision quite unlike the one that eventually triumphed.
posted by Abiezer at 6:07 PM on March 3, 2011

1685, birth year of J.S. Bach, Handel, and Domenico Scarlatti.
1806, dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, Hegel completes the Phenomenology and is forced to flee Jena by Napoleon's advancing army.
posted by facetious at 6:11 PM on March 3, 2011

Christmas Day, 800AD - Charlemagne crowned Holy Roman Emperor
posted by reptile at 6:23 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Remember, remember the 5th of November!
posted by Mister Fabulous at 7:04 PM on March 3, 2011

Best answer: Along with the standard dates for medieval English history like 1066 (Hastings), 1348 (Black Death), and 1485 (Bosworth), I always remember 1285 for the Second Statute of Westminster, which was a major legal history milestone and a big point in my Master's thesis.
posted by immlass at 7:33 PM on March 3, 2011

Best answer: The other key date for English history is:
1215 Magna Carta signed (the principle that the monarch is not above the law)
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:58 PM on March 3, 2011

December 8, 1980. The day John Lennon was shot.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:13 AM on March 4, 2011

Of late I've been getting more into Civil War history (due completely to TNC's lovely writing on the subject; the Civil War was beyond boring to me in high school and college), and I'm constantly surprised how much being aware of the 1861-1865 start-end dates of the Civil War is coloring my perception of other bits of American history I run across in pop culture. For instance, I'm also watching Deadwood and despite the fact that it occurs half-a-continent away and in a (slightly) later time, there's a lot that I'm picking up on that I would have been completely oblivious to two years ago.
posted by iminurmefi at 9:25 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers!
posted by circular at 10:16 AM on March 4, 2011

Best answer: Definitely 1789, beginning of the French Revolution, and 1917, the two Russian revolutions: February/March and October/November -- the Communist one. Note that Russia still used the Julian calendar (as opposed to the Gregorian calendar we use here in the US), whence the different months.

Professional historians use 1789 as the dividing line between two eras of history: Early Modern (ca. 1450 -- 1789) and Modern (1789 -- present).

As a professor of mine says, politics in most European countries after 1789 can be understood as a confrontation between those who believed in the ideals of the French Revolution and those who didn't. Of course, after 1917, the Communist Revolution partly replaced the French Revolution as the bogeyman of European politics, and many partisans of the latter abhorred the former.

Also, lilac girl, the Armistice (basis for Veteran's Day) was 11/11/1918.
posted by dhens at 10:39 AM on March 4, 2011

(I mean that many partisans of the French Revolution abhorred the October Revolution, if that is unclear.)
posted by dhens at 10:42 AM on March 4, 2011

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