Throughout this hectic spring, I have been squirrelling away occasional minutes to type notes for my "History of the Catholic Church in 30 Minutes" presentation this September. One of my goals that has developed is to give my listeners a sense of historical perspective. I always begged my kids to develop a basic historic framework in world history (Moses, then Christ, then Mohammed; Greeks, then Romans, then Dark Ages) and U.S. history (1776, Civil War, New Deal, Vietnam). Without it, you're an idiot when it comes to anything that has a history.
It dawned on me as I work on this lecture that I have always used historical reference points: people and events that I can place firmly on a timeline. Everything else then flows around them.
For some reason, for instance, I've know most of my adult life that Thomas Aquinas lived from 1225-1274. This fact immediately helps me get my bearings when I hear something about the Middle Ages: Black Death, after STA. Dominic, obviously before STA . . . and with Dominic, Francis. And with these mendicants, the end of the Dark Ages . . . it was the rising wealth of the Europe that led to these poverty-driven responses.
I think anyone who knows anything about history does something like this already, but regardless, if you're trying to cultivate a sense of history, or if you're working with your kids on it, you might want to make this approach explicit.
Here's my list that I made explicit last week:
587 BC: Babylonian Exile
399 BC: Death of Socrates
33: Death of Jesus Christ
476: “Fall” of Rome
621: Rise of Islam
800: Coronation of Charlemagne
1225-1274: Thomas Aquinas
1453: Fall of Constantinople