When you take a step back and ignore Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing, the collective creativity of human beings over time is undoubtedly astounding, but certain periods of history were creative hotbeds that helped shape our modern world.
The Renaissance was one such era of innovation and invention. It wouldn’t have come to light in such a fashion without the foresight of the Medici family — a line of Florentines that used their enviable wealth to reshape Italy, and beyond.
Was the Renaissance the most creative period in history? It’s definitely up there, but we can’t discount the following list of world-changing eras.
NOTE: time periods become more sketchy the further back we travel, so take each start and end date with a few grains of salt.
Prehistoric Homo sapiens
When: Somewhere between 2.5 and 3.5 million years ago
Where: Africa and beyond
Why: Man, these people had it rough. With no preconceived notion of how to thrive on this massive rock, somehow cavepeople discovered and manipulated fire. This gave way to a slew of crude yet ingenious inventions, namely in the tool and weapon department, and primarily using stone (blades and bows).
Where: Athens and beyond
Why: The freedom to create and express was of utmost importance to the Ancient Greeks, which was the perfect climate for concepts of art, architecture, philosophy, literature, language, and music to develop and deepen. Music in particular was woven into the Greek social fabric, so much so that Plato claimed what we listen to directly affects our ethics.
When: 8th century BC-late 4th century AD
Where: Rome and beyond
Why: The Roman Empire’s stronghold reached as far as humanly possible, and while on one hand the reign produced the most feared and ruthless soldiers, it also lead to great strides in the development and spreading of language, which gave Romans an abundance of power. Similarly, their innovations in the architectural sphere such as arches are still used by today’s construction industry. Not to mention their contribution to the democratic political system, medicine, education, law, art, and food.
When: 14th-17th Century AD
Where: Italy and beyond
Why: Art and Architecture. Two fields that saw such astounding feats of design. Thanks to the aforementioned Medici family, Italy became the future—drawing on the advances of all previous civilizations and casting its eyes forward. Visual art, literature and music were unshackled by the restrictions of religious themes, popularising humanism and realism, and for the first time, masters such as Da Vinci began combining art and science.
Louis XIV’s kingdom
Where: France and beyond
Why: Louis the Sun King, as featured in Versailles on SBS, was a complex visionary who over the course of his 70+ year leadership was more interested in art, architecture, fashion and dance than overt politics. While this angered the feudalists, it meant that 17th Century France took over as the world’s premiere creative force, contributing such enviable structures as the Champs-Élysées and of course, the Palace of Versailles.
Age of Enlightenment
Where: Western Europe and beyond
Why: Also known as the Age of Reason, this was basically a second renaissance, though primarily in the area of thought. Shifting even further away from God’s word than the Medici dynasty, focus was placed on rationality, humanism and science. The origin of life and the Earth’s history were constantly rethought, and the concept of spirituality entered popular consciousness.
Rapid scientific progress
When: Late 1800’s to 1920’s
Where: Anywhere and everywhere.
Why: The invention boom. Today would be a very different age if not for this inspired, yet often dangerous period of modern history. The light bulb has barely been bettered. Cars, airplanes, radio, telephone, transport, atomic physics and quantum physics are all inseparable from our modern world. They also played an integral part in both World Wars.
60’s counter culture
When: Late 50’s-70’s
Where: U.S., then the Western world
Why: Sociological issues take centre stage as the populous gains a voice like never before, redefining the concept of anti-establishmentarianism. Mass media moved beyond mere entertainment and began revealing the world to the world, uniting people against injustices based on race, gender and class. The radical climate lead to a twenty-year flourishing of poignant popular music, literature and cinema.
When: Turn of the millennium-present
Where: U.S and beyond
Why: It’s often difficult to quantify the gargantuan strides made in almost every area (except perhaps art) mentioned above, but we can’t deny how much the world has evolved since the popularisation of the internet. Connectivity has altered the way in which we relate to each other, and allowed change to occur at a blinding rate, multiplying progress to the power of eleven.
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So there you have it. Nine eras of enviable creative progress, though who knows where the human race will end up after the most recent advances in technology?
Watch Dustin Hoffman starring in Medici: Masters of Florence on SBS from 8:35pm Thursdays. Episodes are also available on SBS On Demand: