Historical Events That Would Shake Society If They Happened Today

By Kierston Drier on July 19 2020 in Society

Image credit: Song_about_summer/Shutterstock.com
  • Several events in the past have significantly altered the fate of humankind. If similar events were to happen today, what would be the consequences?
  • The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria is often cited as one of the major factors the kicked off World War One. Today, our politics and power are still largely a delicate dance of diplomacy, and there is no doubt that the open assassination of a powerful political figure would shock and horrify the world. 
  • If a major revolt of the people were to take place today, where people en-masse stopped working to enact social change, the impacts could stand to be far more dramatic than a simple tax change. 

It's easy to think about the fundamental moments in history that shaped society into what it is now. One small change, one tiny alteration- and history, and by extension the world we know today- could be profoundly different. With that in mind, what are some of the events that did alter us? And what would they look like, if they happened today? We'd like to know, too. We took a look at some well known, and not-so-well-known historical moments in history, and endeavoured to theorize how those events would change us if they rocked our world in the present day. 

1.  The Discovery Of King Tuts Tomb

Howard Carter opens the innermost shrine of King Tutankhamun's tomb near Luxor, Egypt

The discovery of Pharaoh Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 shocked the world. While it had long been understood that the powerful and elite were buried with riches, until this discovery much of the excavated tombs had been previously looted. The tomb of this 18th dynasty leader, however, still included much of the breathtaking splendours of gold, alabaster and lush riches that set the imagination of the world on fire. The west exploded with a new-found love of all things Egyptian, with fashion and cinema reflecting the craze. The discovery of such a major historical figure today, complete with all the trappings of their station, would no doubt ensnare the world with the culture surrounding that of the discovery. Beyond cultural sensationalism, the historical revelations we would undercover based on our current scientific advancements would no doubt advance our understanding of the ancient world. 

2. A Major Political Assassination

Half-length portrait of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria-Este (1863-1914) in uniform.

The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria is often cited as one of the major factors the kicked off World War One. This devastating world event altered the trends and forces of modern power and generated four bloody years of war and slaughter. Only days after the assassination, Germany, in support of Austria's outrage, declared war on Russia (Serbia's Ally) in retribution for the assassin, a Serbian nationalist.The war saw the rise of nationalism, a European arms race, and intense cultural and social divides among entire populations. Today, our politics and power are still largely a delicate dance of diplomacy, and there is no doubt that the open assassination of a powerful political figure, no matter the validity of the reason, would shock and horrify the world. 

3.The Black Death 

Pieter Bruegel's The Triumph of Death reflects the social upheaval and terror that followed plague, which devastated medieval Europe.

The Black Death devastated the world in the 1300s. It is considered a major event in European history, but it affected much of the world. The population knew far less about hygiene and healthcare than we do today, causing the bacteria known as Yersinia Pestis to spread quickly. From flagellants who beat themselves to repent for their sins, to the mass labour and wool shortages due to high death tolls, the effects were widespread and reaching. Today, we are experiencing our own pandemic, the COIVD-19. We can take comfort in our superior medical advancements and contact tracing. While vigilance and strict adherence to expert medical opinions are constantly required, we can hope the damage caused by a pandemic today won't be as devastating as the Black Death. 

4. An Agricultural Revolution

Ploughing with a yoke of horned cattle in Ancient Egypt. Painting from the burial chamber of Sennedjem, c. 1200 BC.

To the best of our knowledge, our first agricultural revolution occurred around 12,000 years ago, when humans began settling down to cultivate crops, instead of foraging. With this change came a massive population boom and technological advancements. It is difficult to imagine what a revolution of that magnitude would look like in today's' scale- perhaps the development of agricultural colonies on other planets. If this were to happen successfully, population growth and technological expansion would likely follow in a way that would revolutionize the way our civilization looks today.

5. A New Type Of Standardized Currency 

 Silver coin of Damastion. Image credit: John Ward/Public domain

Multiple cultures throughout history developed a standardized system of value and currency for trade. Greeks, Egyptians, Persians and (slightly later) the Phoenicians all developed coins in the 5th and 6th centuries. In China, the standardized gold currency was developed during the Quin Dynasty (221-207 BCE). If a new type of currency were to become standardized and globally accepted, it would vastly change the landscape of the economy. With the delicate balance of international debt and the effect of the value of independent national currencies, the financial exchanges of the entire world would shift drastically. 

6. A Large Scale Empire 

A statue of Genghis Khan. Image credit: Needpix.com

Few things in our modern world can really grasp the scope of the Mongol Empire's reach. Genghis Khan first united the Mongol and Turkic tribes in the early 1100s. Through the next hundred years, he and his descendants would span their empire across East, Central and West Asia. The advancement of the Mongol Empire created wide-spread cultural and technological trade, but also caused the death of millions. Genghis Khan was a brilliant military leader and strategist, but known for his ruthlessness- and also his lineage. It is estimated that one in every 200 men are direct descendants of Genghis Khan. If an empire expanded to that extent today, the effects would be felt globally for generations. 

7. A Working-Class Revolt 

The Death of Wat Tyler at the hands of Walworth, Mayor of London, with the young Richard II looking on. Image source: Wikimedia.org

The Wat Tyler Rebellion of 1381 is one of the most often cited working-class revolts in history. With labour shortages and increased taxes resulting in part from the devastation of the Black Death, demands began to rise from the working class. The King met with the people to discuss changes to their system. Much of the items discussed were later renigged by the king, but the peasants succeeded in reversing the poll tax, the inciting incident for the event. If a major revolt of the people were to take place today, where people en-masse stopped working to enact social change, the impacts could stand to be far more dramatic than a simple tax change. 

8. A Religious Reformation  

Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre, painting by François Dubois

The protestant reformation of the 16th century was largely led by John Calvin and Martin Luther. The division within the church created political, economic and social changes, and vastly altered public opinion of the Chruch and its structures of power. The major changes to the church during this time would establish three main offshoots of Christianity, including Protestantism. If a large scale religious reformation were to take place today, it may not have as many wide-sweeping effects, but for countries and cultures where religion is a major factor in daily lives and policymaking, these changes could drastically impact society. 

9. An Educational Revolution

For the majority of human history, education was basic and taught in the home, revolving around the required tasks to continue daily life. Science, philosophies, music, art, multiple languages and other formal education topics were reserved for the wealthy, the royal, the elite and religious professionals. As societies advanced and specialized, a desire for the opportunities afforded by advanced knowledge led to diverse offshoots of education, including tutoring, religious schools, trade schools, apprenticeships and the establishment of schools both private and public. Today, an educational revolution may take the shape of free and publicly accessible education for all people, up through and including post-graduate education. In many cultures today, finances impact an individual's ability to continue schooling. With the barrier of entry removed, the advancement to human culture and technology could expand greatly. 

10. Pax Romana 

Image credit: LittlePerfectStock/Shutterstock.com

Pax Romana translates to "Roman Peace." During this 200 year span, the Roman empire was essentially more peaceful than before. With peace, came stability, economic and social growth, infrastructure and industry development. It led to innovations we still have in some form today, like the basis of many legal systems and an early postage system. If a modern-day "Pax Romana" was to bring peace to areas of long-standing conflict in the world, the advancements we might see in the coming generations, as resources move from war to society, could usher in a new age of prosperity. 

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