• Historical Timeline

    2500 BC

    2500 BCThe Epic of Gilgamesh (Mesopotamia)
    Gilgamesh was the more than capable ruler of the ancient town of Uruk; his strength and physical beauty were unmatched by any in the land, and his subjects adored him. Although he possessed so much, Gilgamesh wanted desperately to live forever like a god. He was two-thirds god and one-third human, but he refused to accept his destiny to die. If it were his lot to die, he wanted to perform great deeds so that his name would never be forgotten.

    The Greek Classics: 800-400 BC

    750-700 BCHomer: The Iliad and the Odyssey
    The Iliad celebrates the heroic deeds of warriors during the Trojan Wars, notably Hector of Troy.
    The Odyssey concerns the adventures of Odysseus and his use of wits and trickery to defeat the Trojans.
    620 BCAesop’s Fables
    Collection of fables credited to Aesop, a slave and story-teller living in Ancient Greece. Aesop’s Fables has also become a blanket term for collections of brief fables, usually involving personified animals. The fables remain a popular choice for moral education of children today. Many stories included in Aesop’s Fables, such as The Fox and the Grapes, The Tortoise and the Hare and The Boy Who Cried Wolf, are well-known throughout the world.
    373 BCPlato: The Republic
    A utopia made of 3 classes: merchants maintaining the economic structure, military minding security, and philosopher-kings providing political leadership.
    330 BCAristotle: Rhetorics & Poetics
    Problematic theory that breaks the world into part, analyzing each part separately.
    Aristotle’s 4 causes:
    material (language) found in the Poetics
    formal (shape) found in the Poetics
    efficient (what makes it)
    final (effect on audience) found in the Rhetorics

    The Roman Classics: 250 BC-AD 150

    70-19 BCVirgil: Aeneid
    A mythological epic in 12 books describing the seven-year wanderings of the hero Aeneas from the fall of Troy to his military victory in Italy.
    400-100 Celts over-run Western Europe
    c. 85 AD Romans over-run Britain.
    Julius Caesar invades Britain in 55 BC
    410Romans abandon Britain

    Dark Ages (Anglo-Saxon Period): 450-1066

    Literature is oral which helps in uniting diverse people and their myths. Poetry is the most dominant genre with its unique verse forms: caesura, alliteration, repetition and a 4 beat rhythm. Literature demonstrates a strong belief in fate, juxtaposition of church and pagan worlds, and an admiration of heroic warriors who prevail in battle. It also expresses religious faith and gives moral instruction. Life centered around ancestral tribes or clans that ruled themselves. Key literature: Beowulf,  Bede, Exeter Book.
    449Anglo-Saxons invade Britain.
    475Fall of Roman Empire.
    c. 600Beowulf
    English Epic: An Anglo-Saxon epic poem about a Scandinavian prince named Beowulf who rids the Danes of the monster Grendel and his mother.  Later as king he dies while killing a dragon who has devastated his people.
    656Holy Quran
    1000Murasaki Shibiku: Tale of Genji (Japanese)

    Medieval Period: 1066-1500

    Plays instruct the illiterate masses in morals and religion. Main content is chivalric code of honor, romances and religious devotion. Oral tradition continues with folk ballads, mystery and miracle plays, and morality plays through which the church instructs its people. The illiterate population is able to hear and see the literature. Crusades bring the development of a money economy for the first time in Britain and trading increases dramatically as a result. William the Conqueror crowned king in 1066. Henry III crowned king in 1154 brings a judicial system, royal courts, juries, and chivalry to Britain. Key literature: Domesday Book, L’Morte de Arthur, Geoffrey Chaucer.
    1095-1271The Crusades:
    A series of wars by Western European Christians to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims.
    1307-1321Dante: The Divine Comedy (Italian)
    1387-1400Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales
    A collection of stories set within a framing story of a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral. The poet joins a band of pilgrims on a journey to Canterbury.
    1347-1451Black Death/ The Plague:
    An outbreak of bubonic plague causing a decline of about one-third of the population of Europe.
    1450Gutenberg – Printing in Germany: Beginning of modern printing.
    1453Turks Capture Constantinople.
    End of Eastern Empire
    1469-1470Malory: Death of Arthur
    The first English prose epic telling the story of King Arthur and his legendary knights of the round table.
    1492Columbus discovers America.
    While on a voyage for Spain in search of a direct sea route from Europe to Asia, Christopher Columbus unintentionally discovered the Americas.

    Renaissance: 1500-1660

    World view shifts from religion and after life to one stressing the human life on earth. Development of human potential is a popular theme. Many aspects of love explored: unrequited, constant, timeless, courtly and love subject to change. Sonnet is the dominant poetic from. Metaphysical poetry is elaborate with unexpected metaphors called conceits. Drama (tragedies, comedies and histories) is written in verse and supported by royalty. Commoners are welcomed at some play productions (like ones at the Globe) while conservatives try to close the theaters on grounds that they promote brazen behaviors. Not all middle-class embrace the metaphysical poets and their abstract conceits. War of Roses ends in 1485 and political stability arrives. Printing press helps stabilize English as a language and allows more people to read a variety of literature. Economy changes from farm-based to one of international trade. Key literature: William Shakespeare, John Donne, Cavalier Poets, Metaphysical Poets, Christopher Marlowe, Andrew Marvell.
    1554-1586Sir Philip Sidney
    1564-1593Christopher Marlowe: Dr. Faustus
    1558-1603The Elizabethan Age
    1563-1616William Shakespeare
    1588Spanish Armada defeated by Q. Elizabeth:
    The King of Spain declared war on Britain, sending his troops on board the Spanish Armada, this was defeated by Queen Elizabeth’s fleet.
    1589Edmund Spencer: The Faerie Queen
    1599Globe Theatre built
    1603-1625 Jacobean Age
    1605-1616Cervantes: Don Quixote
    The first Western novel narrates the adventures of the main character, an aging man named Don Quixote, who is from a region of central Spain called La Mancha.
    1625-1649Caroline Age
    1642-1649English Civil War:
    Presbyterian Scots rioted when King Charles imposed the Anglican liturgy in Scotland.
    Theatres closed.
    1646Irish Revolution

    Neoclassical & Enlightenment: 1660-1785

    Emphasis on reason and logic. Harmony, stability and wisdom are stressed. A social contract exists between the government and the people. The government governs guaranteeing “natural rights” of life, liberty, and property. Satire uses irony and exaggeration to poke fun at human faults and foolishness in order to correct human behavior. Other genres are poetry, essays, letters, diaries, biographies and novels. Emphasis on the individual. Belief that man is basically evil. 50% of the men are functionally literate (a dramatic rise). Fenced enclosures of land cause demise of traditional village life. Factories begin to spring up as industrial revolution begins. Impoverished masses begin to grow as farming life declines and factories build. Coffee houses—where educated men spend evenings with literary and political associates. Key literature: Alexander Pope, Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson, John Bunyan,
    1664The Plague
    1650-1750Puritan/Colonial Literature USA
    1665Great Fire of London
    1667John Milton: Paradise Lost
    1678Lord Bunyan: Pilgrim’s Progress
    1700-1745Augustan Age (Age of Pope)
    1702-1714Q. Anne rules England
    1719Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe
    1726Jonathan Swift: Gulliver’s Travels
    1750-1800Age of Reason (USA)
    1750American War of Independence.
    1776: Declaration of Independence

    Romantic: 1785-1830

    Literature shows that human knowledge consists of impressions and ideas formed in the individual’s mind, and that in nature one can find comfort and peace that the man-made urbanized towns and factory environments cannot offer. Introduction of gothic elements and terror/horror stories and novels. Lyrical ballads appear in poetry. Evil attributed to society not to human nature. Human beings are basically good. Movement of protest: a desire for personal freedom. Children seen as hapless victims of poverty and exploitation.Napoleon rises to power in France and opposes England militarily and economically. Gas lamps developed. Tory philosophy that government should NOT interfere with private enterprise. Middle class gains representation in the British parliament. Railroads begin to run. Key literature: novelistsJane Austen, Mary Shelley; poets Robert Burns, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, John Keats.
    1789-1799French Revolution:
    Major transformation of the society and political system of France as the Old Regime was replaced with a series of different governments, enhancing the drafting of several bills of rights and constitutions.
    1814William Wordsworth & Samuel Coleridge: Lyrical Ballads
    A book of poetry attempting to use language of everyday speech, thus launching the Romantic movement in Britain.
    1792-1815Napoleonic War
    1800Ireland becomes part of Britain
    1809-1849Edgar Allan Poe
    1816Jane Austen: Emma
    1818 Mary Shelley: Frankenstein
    1826James Fenimore Cooper: The Last of the Mohicans

    Victorian: 1832-1901

    Conflict between those in power and the common masses of laborers and the poor. Shocking life of sweatshops and urban poor is highlighted in literature to insist on reform. Literature covers country versus city life, sexual discretion (or lack of it), strained coincidences, romantic triangles, heroines in physical danger, aristocratic villains, misdirected letters, bigamous marriages. Novel becomes popular for first time; mass produced for the first time: bildungsroman “coming of age”, political novels, detective novels (Sherlock Holmes), serialized novels. Elegies are common. Poetry is easier to understand. dramatic monologues are common. Comedies of manners appear in drama. Magazines offer stories to the masses. Paper becomes cheap; magazines and novels cheap to mass produce. Unprecedented growth of industry and business in Britain. Unparalleled dominance of nations, economies and trade abroad. Key literature: Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Eliot, Oscar Wilde, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Darwin, Charlotte Bronte, Robert Browning.
    1830-1886Emily Dickinson
    1833Emancipation Act: UK
    1837Q. Victoria rules England
    1845Frederick Douglass: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave
    1840-1860Ralph Emerson, Margaret Fuller and others formed the Transcendentalist Club in Boston, influenced by romantic values of self-examination, celebration of individualism, and extolling of beauties of nature and humankind.
    1847Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre
    1848 Emily Bronte: Wuthering Height
    1850Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter
    1851Herman Melville: Moby Dick
    1857Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary (French)
    1858Darwin’s theory of evolution
    1860Charles Dickens: Great Expectations
    1861-1865American Civil War
    1862Victor Hugo: Les Miserable (French)
    1865Abolition of slavery. USA
    1879Henrik Ibsen: A Doll’s House
    1895George Wells: The Time Machine
    1899Kate Chopin: The Awakening
    1900Walt Whitman: Leaves of Grass

    Modernism: 1901-1950

    A reaction to the enlightenment, modern literature portrays lonely individual fighting to find peace and comfort in a world that has lost its absolute values and traditions. Man is nothing except what he makes of himself. A belief in situational ethics—no absolute values. Decisions are based on the situation one is involved in at the moment. Mixing of fantasy with nonfiction; blurs lines of reality for reader. Loss of the hero in literature. Destruction made possible by technology. Free verse is common in poetry. Epiphanies begin to appear in literature so do speeches and memoir. In novels stream of consciousness appear. Detached, unemotional, humorless, present tense and magic realism distinguish modern novels. Approach to life: “Seize life for the moment and get all you can out of it.” British Empire loses 1 million soldiers to World War I. Winston Churchill leads Britain through WW II, and the Germans bomb England directly. British colonies demand independence. Key literature:James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence, Graham Greene, Dylan Thomas, Nadine Gordimer, George Orwell, William Butler Yeats, Bernard Shaw.
    1901-1914Edwardian Period (UK)
    Naturalism (USA)
    1901Q. Victoria dies
    1902Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness
    1914-1918World War I
    1916James Joyce: Portrait of an Artist
    1920Women’s Emancipation USA
    1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
    1932Aldous Huxley: Brave New World
    1939-1945World War II
    1945George Orwell: Animal Farm
    1945Atomic Bomb: Hiroshima & Nagasaki
    1946Albert Camus: The Stranger

    Postmodernism: 1950-1980

    A reaction to, and rejection of the grand narratives of modernism, seeing knowledge as always a product of socio-political discourses. Relies heavily on theory, specially deconstruction and poststructuralism in their rejection of the ability of language to provide meaning. Key thinkers: Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Ihab Hasan,
    1954William Golding: Lord of the Flies
    1957Jack Kerouac: On the Road
    1957-1975War in Vietnam
    1961Berlin Wall erected
    1963Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar
    The novel is semi-autobiographical. After Plath’s suicide, the novel was published under her real name, and the novel did cause great offense. This resulted in a successful lawsuit by one individual (who is portrayed as “Joan” in the book), where the court ruled that the novel unfairly branded her as homosexual.
    1970Maya Angelou: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
    Autobiographical journey of the early life of the author exploring the isolation and loneliness and how she coped with that. This book is about the very graphic life of Maya Angelou, involving her rape, growing up, and her travels through racism and sexism
    1970Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye
    Details a year in the life of a young black girl, Pecola. The story is told from four perspectives, Pecola’s, her friend’s, Soaphead Church, and her parents’. Because of the controversial nature of the book, dealing with racism and child molestation, there have been numerous attempts to ban it.

    Contemporary: 1980-present

    Literature shows concern with connections between people, exploring interpretations of the past, open-mindedness and  courage that comes from being an outsider, escaping those ways of living that blind and dull the human spirit. All genres are represented. Fictional confessional/diaries (50% of contemporary fiction is written in the first person). Narratives: both fiction and nonfiction, emotion-provoking, humorous irony, storytelling emphasized, autobiographical essays, mixing of fantasy with nonfiction; blurs lines of reality for reader. World growing smaller due to ease of communications between societies, A new beginning of a century and a millennium. Media culture interprets values and events for individuals. Key literature: Seamus Heaney, Doris Lessing, Louis de Bernieres, Kazuo Ishiguro, Tom Stoppard, Salman Rushdie. John Le Carre, Ken Follett.
    1989Berlin Wall dismantled
    1991Communist rule ends in USSR
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