Napoleon is thought to have asked:

what is history but fable agreed upon?

What a great way to start a history class!

What better statement could you use to convey the whole idea of uncertainty in the study of history, of unanswered questions than that?

I’ve been messing the last few days with photos that have impacted society and happened to run across a CBS article discussing Fred Kaplan’s book, 1959: The Year Everything Changed.

The article raises the question of what year was the most influential in history. Which period had the most impact on future generations?

And the article mentions Napoleon’s quote as part of that conversation. We can all argue for different periods.

I haven’t read 1959 but apparently Kaplan argues that several things during that year had an especially powerful impact on American society:

  • drug company Searle introduces the first birth control pill changing the way men and women relate to one another
  • the first US soldiers died in Vietnam changing the way the US government and its citizens relate to one another
  • the microchip was invented changing the way we and information relate to one another

Music, architecture, literature were also changing.

And because I haven’t had the chance to sift through his arguments, I’m hesitant to get that excited about 1959. What about 1945?

1848? 1776? 1787?

Maybe 1865? 1918? 1954?

Napoleon’s quote would be a great place to start a class.

The question “What was the most important event in history?” seems like another nice way to engage kids in discussion and argument at the end of a class or unit.

Mmm . . . right now, I’m leaning to 1787. But I’ll put Kaplan’s book on my Shelfari. Maybe he’ll convince me.