An Arbitrary Timeline of History
BC 1st century AD 1200 1300 1400 1500 1600 1700 1800 1900

History has been written from the point of view of those who have been in power. It is not an objective record of the human race—we don't know the history of humankind. A true history would allow us to see the mingled efforts of people of all colors and sexes, all countries and races, all seeing the universe in their own diverse ways.
—Judy Chicago

Cultural History


Changes from science, technology, and acts of nature


Political history


United States England France
    600 BC
Image of stamp
Stamp with image of Thales of Miletus and amber attracting a feather with electrical current.
Thales of Miletus (640-610 to ca. 548-545) writes about the electrical properties of amber (or "ilektron," from wence the name electricity comes). When rubbed, it generates an electrical current strong enough to attract objects.
600 BC             600 BC  
Mt. Vesuvius erupts and burries Pompeii and Herculaneum in ash, cinders, and mud.
79             79  
Marcus Graecus describes Saltpeter and "black powder" in Liber Ignum (The Book of Fire). Roger Bacon describes "Black Powder" in 1268 in Opus Majus.
c.1250             c.1250  
Portrait of Marco Polo
Marco Polo.
The Travels of Marco Polo is transcribed by Polo's (1254-1324) prison-mate, Rustichiello of Pisa, sometime after 1298. In it, Polo related that he left Venice, Italy, at age 17 with his father, Nicolo, and uncle, Maffeo, who had traveled east previously. They were gone for 24 years, serving 17 years in the court of the Mongolian Emporer of China, Kublai Khan. Enough oddities in his tale have caused scholars to doubt its truth. However, the book heightened European zeal for international trade, kindled fascination with other cultures, and provided a standard for documenting unfamiliar cultural and natural observations.
1298   1298             1298  

  early 1300s
The German monk Berthold Schwarz invents the cannon, making warfare fought with mounted knights obsolete.
early 1300s             early 1300s  
Map of the spread of the bubonic plague across Europe
Map of the spread of the Black Death across Europe.
The Bubonic Plague reaches Sicily via the Black Sea trade routes with China. It ravages Europe for 3-5 years, killing 1/3 of the population. The disease doesn't disappear entirely until the 1600s.
1347             1347  
Fresco portrait of Boccaccio
Fresco of Giovanni Boccaccio
Giovanni Boccaccio begins The Decameron, as the plague sweeps through Florence. The disease gives Boccaccio the opportunity to bring together the sexes in a casual and continuous setting, against contemporary convention. 7 women and 3 men, escaping the plague in a countryside villa outside of Naples, take turns telling stories that reflect late medieval Italian society. See Decameron Web.

Fresco portrait of Boccaccio

Illustration of Brunelleschi's perspective device.

Architect, goldsmith, and sculptor Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) made a painting, now lost, of the Florence Baptistry by delineating a grid at the door of the Cathedral and reproducing each cell in his grid onto a gridded panel. To prove the accuracy of his painting, he drilled a hole at his point of view in the painting (the vanishing-point and horizon line) and provided viewers with a mirror with which they could view the baptistry through the hole then move the mirror in front of the hole to compare the baptistry with the painting. Thereby he developed and proved the mathematical theory of linear perspective. Silverleaf in the sky area allowed Brunelleschi to incorporate non-geometric features of sky and clouds, including their movements.
c.1414-18   c.1414-18             c.1414-18  
Fresco portrait of Boccaccio

Massacio, The Trinity, c.1425-28. Fresco, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

Massacio's (1401-28) fresco, The Trinity, is one of the earliest examples of linear perspective in painting. He nailed a hole at the vanishing point and impressed radiating lines using string or some other instrument into the plaster. Both the hole and the line impressions are still visible. Significantly, Massacio located the viewer's eye level at the base of the cross, below the kneeling saints and above the sarcophagus and reclining skeleton.
Leon Battista Alberti wrote Della pittura, or On Painting, in 1435-36. In it he described his intent to paint scenes as if seen through a window, thereby elevating veracity to nature as a principle objective of painting. He also outlines the basic precepts of Brunelleschi's linear perspective.
1435-36   1435-36             1435-36  
Drawing of a printing press
Drawing of a movable type printing press
Johannes Gutenberg develops the printing press using movable type. He published the bible for the first time.
1450             1450  

14th century drawing of cesarean section
Cesarean section performed on a living woman by a female practitioner. Miniature from a fourteenth-century "Historie Ancienne."
One of the first written records of a successful cesarean section--both mother and child survived--performed in Switzerland by Jacob Nufer, a sow gelder, on his wife. Until the latter half of the 19th century, C-sections were usually performed on a dead or dying mother in an attempt to save the baby. See Cesarean Section: A Brief History, by the National Library of Medicine


    1509   1509     1509-1547

Portrait of Henry VIII

Hans Holbein the Younger, Henry XIII, c.1536
Holbein was left handed.

Henry VIII rules England. See Henry VIII in The History of the Monarchy

Print of Martin Luther preaching. Reproduced in J.R.Greene, A Short History of the English People. University of Victoria Library.
Martin Luther (German, 1483-1546) nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg. His primary concern was the sale of indulgences (reductions of punishment in the afterlife) by the Roman Catholic church. They and other doctrines he developed in the hope of reforming the Catholic church ignited the Protestant Reformation. Among them were the belief that faith alone, without good works, could lead to salvation. He also denied that the pope was the final interpreter of scripture and the necessity of the priesthood as intercessors between God and the lay worshiper. As a protest, he held a public burning of the papal bull and canon of law. Unwilling to recant, he was excommunicated in 1521.
1517   1517       1517  
Durer illustration of an artist using a grid to paint a semi-nude reclining woman with representational accuracyIn 1527, Albrecht Durer wrote Underweysung der Messung, in which he illustrated techniques (in this case a grid across the artist's field of view and a point-tipped stand) with which to render people and objects from a single vanishing-point perspective. Note the relationship of the sexes in his most famous illustration (above). Switching the roles would have been taboo at the time. Those few women who painted were socially forbidden to paint from the male nude. It violated both the prevailing codes of modesty and the (im)balance of power.
1527   1527       1527  
    1547   1547       1547  
    1558   1558    


Portrait of Elizabeth I
Nicholas Hilliard, Elizabeth I: The Ermine Portrait, c.1585

Elizabeth I rules England. See Elizabeth I at The History of the Monarchy




  1603   1603       1603  
Painting of Louis XIV
Louis XIV rules France
Portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701
Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture founded in Paris
Johannes Vermeer, A Maid Asleep, c. 1656-57, Collectino of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
At the age of 25, Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1627-1675) paints his first genre scene or depiction of figures in a domestic interior. Genre scenes had recently been pioneered by other Dutch artists, such as Pieter de Hooch, Nicolas Maes and Gerard Terborch. Vermeer's pictures quickly take on the serious tone of history paintings, considered the most exalted subject matter of the time. During his life he enjoyed respect in the confines of his home city, Delft, but was unknown elsewhere. He left debts at his death. His work fell into obscurity and was often sold under other artists' name to fetch higher prices. In the 1850s his paintings began to enjoy greater respect. By the early 20th century he was recognized as one of the great European artists. Approximately 35 paintings are now attributed to him.
1657   1657           1657  
Painting of John Locke
John Locke (1632-1704) publishes An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, stated simplistically, an argument for the empirical basis of all knowledge.
1690   1690           1690  

The Profane oaths act of 1746 levied penalties for swearing according to the class of the speaker. Twelce pence was the fine for the lower orders; gentlemen paid more. The act was required to be read in church four times a year. References to body parts or activities were considered bawdy and vulgar, but not on par with the more serious oaths that invoked God or the devil, such as "Gadzooks" (God's hooks, meaning the nails of the cross) or "Zounds" (God's wounds).
1746             1746  
Portrait of Bach
Elias Gottlob Haußmann, Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach, 1746
Johann Sebastian Bach (German, 1685-1750) dies. He composed over 1000 works, both secular and religious, for both Roman Catholic and Lutheran patrons. He fathered 20 children, 7 by his first wife, his cousin Maria Barbara Bach. After she died, he married Anna Magdalena Wilcke who bore him 13 children. His work is characterized as late Baroque.
1750   1750             1750  
Detail of a portrait of a wind-swept Franklin adjusting a key on a kite string held in by cherubs
Benjamin West, Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky, c 1805
In June, Benjamin Franklin flies a kite with a key attached to prove that lightning is a stream of electrified air. He later developed much of the common language used to speak aobut electricity: battery, conductor, condenser, charge, discharge, uncharged, negative, minus, plus, electric shock, and electrician. He also developed the lightening rod. Benjamin West's painting, at right, shows his innovative approach to history paintings, presenting recent political figures in the heroic manner of Greek and Roman history, myth, and literature.
1752             1752  
William Hogarth, frontice piece to Tristram Shandy, 1760
Lawrence Sterne (Irish) publishes the first two volumes of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen, a satire with convoluted time frames and narrator self-consciousness.
1759   1759             1759  
Portriat of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Portrait of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau's (French) The Social Contract, which became the textbook of the French Revollution. It proposes a republic based on equality and freedom of all men and advocates death for dissenters. Rousseau propounded the superiority of the "savage" nature, unspoiled by the artificiality of society.
Portriat of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Sir Joshua Reynolds, The Braddyll Family, 1789
The Royal Academy of Art founded is in London. Joshua Reynolds (1723–92, English history and portrait painter) is its first President. He was knighted the following year. He, the American Benjamin West, the Swiss Angelica Kauffmann and other English painters helped to elevate the status of history painting and to forge the NeoClassical style, which would become a hallmark of the French Revolution. English patrons, however, preferred portraiture--of themselves, their children and their animals. The Braddyll Family was the last portrait Reynolds made before he was forced to retire due to loss of vision.
Portrait of Marie Antoinette
Louis XVI rules France
Portrait of Marie Antoinette, Marie Therese Charlotte de France, Madame Royale, and her brother, Louis, Le Dauphin, 1788, by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun
Two portraits
William and Caroline Herschel
drawing of telescope with stand
Drawing of the 7-foot telescope with which the Herschel's found Uranus.
With the discovery of Uranus, William Herschel finds the first planet since antiquity on 13 March 1781. Until then, five planets were known to the ancients: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. His sister, Caroline Herschel, acted as his assistant at the time. Fame brought William an annual salary of £200 from King George III of England. Later George III paid Caroline a £50 annual salary.
1781           1781  
Etching of frog legs with two metal pieces creating a circuit between the muscles and the spine
Etching of frog legs used as an electrical circuit.
Luigi Galvani makes a battery by using the fluids of a frog's leg as an electrolyte and the muscle as circuit and indicator. He fastened "brass hooks in their [the frogs'] spinal cord to an iron railing which surround a certain hanging garden of my house" Galvani noticed that the frogs' legs went into contractions "not only when the lightning flashed but even at times when the sky was quiet and serene."
1786           1786  
      French Revolution begins  
      Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette beheaded    

Drawing of Mary Anning
Mary Anning.
Accounts differ as to when the first dinosaur bones were found. According to one account, 11 year-old Mary Anning (1799-1847) and her brother Joseph found a 17 foot bone on the beach at Lyme Regis, England. It is later identitifed as from an Ichthyosaurus. Anning is not regularly credited with finding the first fossils.
Two portrait drawings, one of Gideon and the other of MaryAnn Mantell
Gideon and MaryAnn Mantell.

MaryAnn Mantell found a tooth on the side of the road in Cuckfield, West Sussex, England. Her husband, Gideon Mantell, in describing the tooth, would be the first to describe part of a dinosaur, the Iguanadon.


Landscape painting
John Constable
The Hay Wain, 1821
Oil on canvas
The National Gallery, London
John Constable, Joseph William Mallord Turner and a small group of Englishmen had begun painting landscapes from nature in the early 1800s. Constable shows two landscapes painted from nature (including the one at left) at the Paris Salon and wins gold medals for them. See Outdoor Painting.
Drawing of a jawbone found by William Buckland, published in his description of the Megalosaurus.
William Buckland publishes a description of some bones he found in 1818 in a quarry in Stone Fields, England. He named the creqture Megalosaurus, or great lizard.
1824             1824  
Isadore Niépce
Pantheon, 1840. Daguerreotype
The Daguerreotype is made public. The process had been in development for over a decade, a collaboration between Daguerre and Niépce. Daguerre probably made his first portrait in 1837. The process required a 30 minute exposure; immersion in salt made the image permanent.
1839 1839             1839  
    1846 At Massachusetts General Hospital, dentist William T.G. Morton used diethyl ether, or laughing gas, while removing a facial tumor. 1846             1846  
Photo of Pompeii forum, Mt. Vesuvius in background
Photo by Leo C. Curran
A dig is begun, headed by Guiseppe Fiorelli, to uncover the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Since 1594, objects had been removed from the area by treasure hunters.
1860             1860  
Edouard Manet
Dejeuner sur l'Herbe, 1863. Oil on canvas
Edouard Manet's Dejeuner sur l'Herbe is rejected by the Paris Salon. It is instead shown in the Salon des Refuses. His painting, Olympia, was shown in the 1865 Salon. His loose brushwork, flattened space, harsh tones, demythologized female nudity, and contemporary subject matter laid the groundwork for Impressionism and the demise of the academic style.
1863   1863             1863  
Drawing of surgeon and anesthesiologist dressed in street clothes perfomring abdominal surgery on a woman
Abdominal surgery to remove diseased ovarian tissue (ovariotomy). Note that the surgeon and anesthesiologist are wearing street clothes. From Thomas Spencer Wells, Diseases of the Ovaries, 1872.
British surgeon Joseph Lister began using carbolic acid as a surgical antiseptic. Concerns for its corrosive affect encouraged experimentation with other methods, including simply increased cleanliness.
c1865             c1865  
Drawing of surgeon and anesthesiologist dressed in street clothes perfomring abdominal surgery on a woman
Photo of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1880
The Metropolitan Museum of Art opens in New York City with a collection of 174 paintings, mostly Dutch and Flemish. See Met history.
1870   1870             1870  

  1928 Alexander Fleming discovers Penicillinin; it become readily available by 1940. 1928             1928  
    1932   1932  
Photo portrait of FDR
See his biography at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum site.
November 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) is elected President of the United States. He dies while in office of a stroke
    1933   1933        
Photo portrait of Hitler in Nazi uniform
See his biography at the Groliers' bio.

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), leader of the German Nazi party, is appointed Chancellor or Germany by President Paul von Hindenburg. In March the Reichstag passes a law that gives him dictatorial powers. He will led Germany into war, committing suicide as the Russian army closed in on his Berlin bunker.
Zora Neale Hurston

Photo portrait of Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) writes Their Eyes Were Watching God. See The Hurston Museum
1937   1937         1937  
    1939   1939 Photo of Marion Anderson singing in front of the statue of Abraham LincolnWhen members of the Daughters of the American Revolution discovered that Marion Anderson, a world-renowned contralto booked to perform at Consitution Hall, was African American, they, as owners, cancelled her recital date. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned the DAR in protest. The Secretary of the Interior then invited Anderson to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. She did so on Easter Sunday, 1939 with an audience of 75,000. See's Great Performances site.       1939  
Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty (1909-2001) published The Curtain of Green, a collection of short stories. She is awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for The Optimist's Daughter. See Eudora Welty on the Mississippi Writers' Page.
1941   1941         1941  
    1945   1945         1945  
    1947   1947

Jackie Robinson with Dodgers teammatesOn April 15th, 1947, Jackie Robinson played his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the first African American in the twentieth century to play baseball in the major leagues, ending a policy that segregated black players into the Negro league. He won Rookie of the Year, and in his 10 seasons with the Dodgers, the team won 6 penants.

Branch Rickey, president of the Dodgers: "I know you're a good ballplayer. What I don't know is whether you have the guts."
Robinson: "Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?"
Rickey, exploding: "Robinson, I'm looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back."


    1955   1955 Photo of Rosa Parks on a busOn December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks, an unknown seamstress, refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. She was arrested and fined for violating a city ordinance. Her act of defiance inspired the civil rights movement that ended legal segregation in America.           1955  
Harper Lee

Photograph of Harper Lee, taken by Truman Capote, the model forthe character Dill Harris

Harper Lee publishes To Kill A Mockingbird. It is awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. It is made into a movie starring Gregory Peck in 1962. See To Kill A Mockingbird & Harper Lee.
1960   1960             1960  
    1969   1969 Women are admitted to Yale College, the university's undergraduate school, for the first time. Yale graduate programs had first accepted a woman in 1892.           1969