An article in Intelligent Life magazine for summer 2009 tried to decide which was ‘The most important year ever‘. The feature writer, Andrew Marr, argued for 1776, with the American Declaration of Independence, or 1945, with its world changing events; he was duly rebuked for US-centrism by website commentators. His five guests chose arguably more interesting dates:
Web commentators have added some dates of ancient battles, some significant dates for Asia in particular, 1492 (a bit US-centric again), 1919 for the Treaty of Versailles, 1940 for the Battle of Britain; and, interesting, 1958 for the origin of the integrated circuit and the basis of modern computers.
So .. if we discount ‘political’ and ‘military’ dates, whose importance seems to vary dramatically according to your national original and political views, and ‘religious’ dates, important (presumably) only if you are an adherent of the religion in question … then we seem to be left with printing, the telegraph, the integrated circuit… ‘Information dates’ seem to have a stronger hold over the imagination that the dates of, say, medical advances, or developments in transportation or agriculture. Reality or perception, I wonder ?
My vote for most important year ? I suppose I would go with the introduction of printing, since we don’t have a good date for the start of writing. But, more parochially, and as I’ve written in an editorial for the Journal of Documentation (2009, vol. 65, no. 3) , I have a fondness for 1759. Establishment of the British Museum, start-up of Kew Gardens as a serious botanical institution; and, according to Frank McFlynn, when the Brits took over the world [McLynn, F., 1759: The year Britain became master of the world, London: Jonathan Cape, 2004].