It’s an interesting question.

“Who are the most significant people in history?”

It’s the perfect example of the kind of question we should asking our kids. A question that doesn’t have an easy answer. That raises other questions. That we can argue about.

Seriously. What do you mean by “significant?” Who decides? What is the criteria? How many people get to make the list? All of history? The entire world? Men? Women?

Plus . . . it’s a list. Who doesn’t love a list of 100 somethings?

The latest answer to the question can be found over at Time magazine.

. . . we evaluated each person by aggregating millions of traces of opinions into a computational data-centric analysis. We ranked historical figures just as Google ranks web pages, by integrating a diverse set of measurements about their reputation into a single consensus value.

Significance is related to fame but measures something different. Forgotten U.S. President Chester A. Arthur (who we rank as the 499th most significant person in history) is more historically significant than young pop singer Justin Bieber (currently ranked 8633), even though he may have a less devoted following and lower contemporary name recognition. Historically significant figures leave statistical evidence of their presence behind, if one knows where to look for it, and we used several data sources to fuel our ranking algorithms, including Wikipedia, scanned books and Google n-grams.

I also like the way the researchers weighted and compared current with past people. How does a contemporary Britney Spears rank against ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle?

This seems like the kind of question you ask at the start of the year to suck kids into the fun of history. Create a March Madness type of tournament where kids are assigned a historical character (or select their own), seed them, and let them loose to do research, present findings to a panel, and move up the ladder. Develop your own tournament or use something from Josh.

The social studies department at Wamego Middle School created a cool Hall of Fame activity that incorporates some sweet literacy pieces.

Maybe do this at the end of a unit. List the people and decide which five make the cut for entry into the next history iBook.

The top ten?

  1. Jesus
  2. Napoleon
  3. Muhammad
  4. William Shakespeare
  5. Abraham Lincoln
  6. George Washington
  7. Adolf Hitler
  8. Aristotle
  9. Alexander the Great
  10. Thomas Jefferson

Let the arguing begin!