by Bryan Fidler
History, from the Greek word historia meaning “knowledge acquired by investigation”, is the study of the human past based on sequences of events, and the underlying cause and effect of those events. In a debate about whether history has been created by people or individuals, who caused “the events” must be considered.
When looking at developments in science, mathematics and technology; individual accomplishments can be pointed to as events that changed the course of history. The first numeral system and system of weights and measures developed in 3400 BC in Mesopotamia was historic. The discovery of the solar system by Copernicus in 1543, Faraday’s development of electricity, the discovery of a smallpox vaccine by Jenner in 1796, and Fleming’s breakthrough discovery of penicillin in 1928 were all historic events in science (www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0932440.html). The invention of the telephone by Bell in 1875, and the first modern computer introduced by Zuse in 1936 are historical technological milestones (inventors.about.com/library/blcoindex.htm). All of these things were created by individuals, and were monumental events that changed the course of history. The causes and effects are studied, but not to understand the “event”, but to improve on it further.
In the area of the arts, there have been things created in the past by individuals that are still respected and enjoyed worldwide today. Greek and Roman architecture, Shakespeare’s plays, Renaissance paintings, Bach and Beethoven’s concertos are all examples of historical works of art created by individuals. These pieces in history stand alone and are not attempted to be perfected or improved. The arts are a part of our history largely created by individuals that we study, but mainly for enjoyment, not to determine underlying cause and effect.
So the focus here is on what most people consider to be history. The timeline of events that happened in the past, their causes and effects and what we can learn from them. Who has created this world history of events; people or individuals? Certainly, individuals who were known as strong leaders have helped to change the course of history, some for the better, and some for the worse. Even though “the people” put those leaders in place, or allowed them to rule, the individual leaders were the ones driving the decisions and making things happen. In all forms of government, democracy, monarchy, tyranny, and oligarchy, one person or a small group of people make decisions for the people they govern. Even a democracy has an individual, or a few individuals, placed in a position of power to run their country, such as the President of the United States.
So who are some of these leaders who have created history? One of the earliest is Alexander the Great who was the Greek king of Macedon from 336 to 323 BC. He is known for his great military tactical abilities and for creating one of the largest empires in ancient history conquering Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia and Bactria. However, Alexander was also known for his diplomatic strength and for spreading Greek culture into the east which flourished during his reign (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_the_Great).
Another leader that immediately comes to mind when great military tactics are mentioned is George Washington, the commander-in-chief of the American Revolutionary Army who led his troops to victory over Great Britain and became the first President of the United States. Other U.S. Presidents who are known for creating history are Abraham Lincoln, for leading the country through the Civil War and being influential in ending slavery in America, and Franklin Roosevelt, for framing policies that pulled the country back from the brink of economic crisis and led us out of the Great Depression to become a leading world power (www.thefamouspeople.com/political-leaders.php).
Another American leader who created history was Martin Luther King, Jr., a clergyman at the forefront of the African American civil rights movement who has become associated worldwide as a champion of human rights. A second individual who created history through his civil rights activism was Mahatma Ghandi.As a spiritual leader and pacifist he used non-violence resistance against British rule in India and later played a key role in the civil rights movement in South Africa (www.thefamouspeople.com/political-leaders.php). A third individual who was a historical figure devoted to humanity was Mother Teresa, who dedicated a major part of her life to serving the poor and vulnerable. Mother Teresa is known worldwide as a symbol for selfless love. She made history through her publicized travels around the globe to assist those fighting AIDS and recovering from disasters (www.thefamouspeople.com/political-leaders.php). On the opposite end of the human rights spectrum is Adolph Hitler, who as the leader of the Nazi Party violated the human rights of Jews in Germany through racial subjugation and genocide, brutally torturing and killing millions of innocent people.
A more recent example of history created by an individual that has not led to a positive course of events is Osama bin Laden, the leader of the Islamic terrorist group Al Qaeda. Opposed to the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia, Al Qaeda terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001 by hijacking four planes, flying two into the Twin Towers, one into the Pentagon and crashing one in Pennsylvania, killing 3,000 people(www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/who/bio.html).Bin Laden claimed responsibility for this event that was felt around the world on that day, and will be remembered as a part of history.
Therefore, when one reflects on history as the events or happenings in the past, individuals’ contributions, positive and negative, are what come to mind. It is these leaders’ visions and actions that have changed the course of history over time. Although these leaders were supported by “the people” that they led or represented, without the strength of the individuals, history would not be the same.
“A Biography of Osama bin Laden.” Frontiline. 2010. WGBH Educational Foundation, Web. 19 Feb 2010. (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/who/bio.html).
“Alexander the Great.” Wikipedia. 02/15/2010. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Web. 19 Feb 2010. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_the_Great).
“Famous People: Political Leaders.” The Famous People.com. 2009. Famous People, Web. 19 Feb 2010. (http://www.thefamouspeople.com/political-leaders.php).
“The History of Computers.” About.com: Inventors. 2008. About.com, Web. 19 Feb 2010. (http://inventors.about.com/library/blcoindex.htm).
“Life Changing Science Discoveries.” Fact Monster.com. 2007. Pearson Education, Web. 19 Feb 2010. (http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0932440.html).