We’re all familiar with the events of World War II, the name Cleopatra, and the great deeds of Florence Nightingale. Iconic historical figures aside, we’re often left with gaping holes in our knowledge of the past. Here are some snapshots of five significant, and very different, historical events from across the globe, which probably didn't come up in your high school exams – but that you should definitely know about.
When? Began in 1975
Why do you need to know? This almost inconceivable atrocity happened less than fifty years ago
The leader of the communist party, Pol Pot, initiated a brutal regime intended to style the country into a classless agrarian society, and the entire population was marched to the countryside and forced to work as farmers. Over the next 44 months, around 2 million people – a quarter of Cambodia’s population – were either killed or starved. The fields where many people died and were brutally murdered became known as the “Killing Fields”, and remain open as a memorial and tourist site today.
When? Independence achieved in 1957
Why do you need to know? It represents a major step forward for freedom, and changing attitudes towards colonialism
In 1948, the Gold Coast, a British colony in West Africa, had been demanding independence for several years. A group of unarmed African ex-servicemen marched to the British governor with a petition of grievances. Ordered to stop, they refused, and the police opened fire. Nationalist Kwame Nkrumah formed the Convention People’s Party (CPP) the next year, and the strikes and protests they encouraged remained peaceful but paralyzed the country, and Britain agreed to elections in 1951. The CPP won 35 out of the 38 seats, and the Gold Coast was moved rapidly towards independence, which was proclaimed in 1957. Kwame Nkrumah became prime minister of the nation of Ghana.
Where? Baghdad, Iraq
When? 800 A.D
Why do you need to know? This influential establishment kickstarted a medical revolution, with the opening of many more hospitals
In 762, al-Mansur, the second Abbasid caliph, established the city of Baghdad. Three years later, he summoned a staff member named Jurjis ibn Jibril ibn Bukhtishu to diagnose a stomach complaint. Delighted with his treatment, al-Mansur invited Jurjis to remain as his personal physician, and the family occupied this position for the next eight generations. In 800, Jurjis’ grandson was asked to head the new hospital in Baghdad, which became the most influential in the Islamic world, prompting the introduction of many more hospitals.
Where? UK and USA
When? 1863 onwards
Why do you need to know? You’ve probably grumbled about the state of transit
Between 1800 - 1900, the population density in New York more than doubled, and the congestion was worsening as public transport took up valuable land. The solution the United States favoured was an elevated railway raised above the streets. Across the pond in the UK, space constraints led to the birth of the Underground. London’s first Metropolitan Railway used conventional steam engines which opened in 1863 and linked Paddington to Kings Cross. By 1871 it encircled almost the whole of central London. Paris followed with the opening of the Metro, named after London line in the 1900, and Boston opened the first US underground service opened in 1879.
Why should you care? King Sejong’s intention was to make language accessible to all classes in Korean society
The creation of language is often a slow process across hundreds of years, but in 1443, King Sejong of Choson took matters into his own hands and announced the creation of Han’gul, a national alphabet for the Korean language. With only 28 characters, later reduced to 24, the new script was far easier to learn than Chinese. The introduction of the script faced bitter resistance from traditionalist nobles who feared that it would open civil service examinations to people from other social classes. As a result, Han’gul faded from use, relegated as the ‘vulgar letters’ of the lower orders, until its rediscovery in the 19th century.
Discover more historical moments like this in The History Book. Covering everything from obscure underdogs to renowned revolutionaries, the latest title in the Big Ideas series explores history's most important and intriguing tales.