Historical Eras

[This is a document I prepared for homeschool.]

There is no single correct way of dividing the story of humanity into significant phases. History can be subdivided into different periods (or ages, or eras) depending on which aspect of human activity one focuses. Below are some possible ways of dividing history into meaningful periods based on the criteria in bold print:

Communication

  1. The Age of Speech – information can only be shared directly by word of mouth (before c. 3,200 BC)

  2. The Age of Writing – information can be stored in a long-lasting format, and ideas can be shared through time directly from one person to a multitude of readers (c. 3200 BC to c. 1440 AD)

  3. The Age of Print – information can be reproduced relatively quickly in large quantities in a durable format, furthering the sharing of ideas (c. 1440 AD to c. 1990 AD)

  4. The Age of the Internet millions of people can communicate with millions of others rapidly using the written word, images, sound recordings, and videos; all of which can be saved and shared, reducing the ability of small groups to control the flow of information to the majority of the people, and allowing the maximum sharing of ideas (c. 1990 AD through the present)

Technology

  1. The Stone Age – stone is the predominant material for advanced tool use (c. 2.5 MYA – c. 6000 BC)

  2. The Metal Age – metal is the predominant material for advanced tool use (c. 6000 BC – c. 1765 AD)

  3. The Industrial Age – tools become motorized (c. 1765 AD – c. 1947 AD)

  4. The Electronic Age –  electrically-powered devices containing solid-state transistors revolutionize manufacturing, computing and communications (c. 1947 AD to present)

Food Production

  1. The Age of Subsistence – food is obtained through hunting and gathering (before c. 10,000 BC)

  2. The Age of Agriculture – humans take control of their food supply and begin planting crops and domesticating livestock (c. 10,000 BC to c. 1860 AD)

  3. The Age of the Tractor – the amount of food a single person can produce increases by a factor of 10, and a larger percentage of the population is available for the production of other goods and services (c. 1860 AD to present)

Government

  1. The Age of Tribes groups are united by kinship, leaders regarded as first among equals (before c. 4000 BC)

  2. The Age of Kingdoms people are divided between rulers and subjects; the supreme leader having the power of life and death over most or all of the subjects (c. 4000 BC to 1776 AD)

  3. The Age of Democratic-Republics the division between rulers and subjects is eliminated or reduced over time; leaders are increasingly chosen by popular elections (1776 AD to present)

There are also other revolutionary inventions that could be used as the boundaries for eras:

Money facilitates greater ease of commerce; also allows greater specialization of occupations than can be supported in an economy based purely on barter (c. 3000 BC to present)

Banking creates pools of capital that can be invested in a variety of potentially profitable ways (c. 1300 AD to present)

Corporations – allows investors to pool capital and to limit risk, thereby encouraging enterprises that might otherwise have been too costly for an individual investor, or that might have been too risky (c. 1600 AD to present)

Science the methodical search for knowledge with an emphasis on demonstrable evidence (c. 1600 AD to present)

The dates of these boundaries are not exact, and cases could reasonably be made for other dates.  This only serves to support the proposition that the division of history into distinct periods, although a very useful way of framing the past, does not have one specific interpretation that is necessarily superior to all others.  Human activity is multi-dimensional, and attempts to categorize it using a single dimension limit one’s appreciation for the scope of human enterprise and development.

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About Mark James Wooding

I was born. I was scared. I tried to get back to the warm place, but they wouldn't let me. I cried. Since that quite unexpected and traumatic event, I've been trying to make the best of things. I've written a book called Seek Wisdom, Practice Kindness, which contains a philosophy of life as well as an attempt to describe why people do the things they do. I edited a book called The Magical World of Poetry, a collection of public domain poetry that includes many of the traditional favorites and a few others I was fortunate enough to come across. Both books can be read on their respective websites, which are listed in my Links section. I also wrote a novel called Sasha and Samantha Save the World, which is available on Amazon.com.
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