12 Important Historical Actors (Edited List)

Before leaving this past weekend for a seminar in Springfield, Missouri, I was having a conversation about the ten most influential historical people that must be understood and discussed in all history and/or social science related courses. Some might find it to be criminal if I ranked such individuals, so I want. . There are problems with this list as it relates to feminism, multiculturalism, and  its emphasis on Westernism. Furthermore, there are no major religious actors here. I am sure it is impossible to teach a course without some type of connections to Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha, etc.  I selected these individuals because of their impact on multiple disciplines. For example, to be a Marxist historian does not mean one subscribes to communism, but rather one looks and writes about history from the perspective of class conflict and social inequality. Feel free to add to this very limited list.

  1. Karl Marx
  2. Charles Darwin
  3. John Locke
  4. Thomas Hobbes
  5. Adam Smith
  6. Jean Jacques Rousseau
  7. Edmund Burke
  8. Arnold Toynbee
  9. Sigmund Freud
  10. Oswald Spengler
  11. John Calvin
  12. St. Augustine
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15 thoughts on “12 Important Historical Actors (Edited List)

  1. Good thing I’m not afraid of admitting my ignorance, huh? I know of Marx, Darwin, Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, and Freud. I could give you a few major highlights about those folks, but can’t tell you anything about the others.

    Most of the people I would add would be humanitarians; Gandhi, King, Tutu and Mandela. Doesn’t do a thing for adding women to the list, but there you have it.

  2. I too thought about King and Gandhi. I excluded them only because academic fields, to my knowledge, have not been created as an absolute thought after them. Though they are studied in multiple courses. Am I incorrect? I guess one might contend that black studies have some relationship with King.

  3. I would consider adding a couple more enlightenment thinkers to the list: Thomas Paine, Montesquieu, and Beccaria. I also agree that a woman needs to be added to the list – Wollstonecraft, perhaps?

  4. I agree with the addition of King to the list. His writings are the foundation for modern African-American Studies courses – correct?

  5. It is hard to create a “top 10” as by it’s very nature it is going to exclude a TON of people. But this is a good start and a good way to get a conversation going.

  6. If we wanted to add women possibly Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly ans her mother Mary Wollstonecraft (I only just realized Dillion already added her :)). Shelly showed the destructive nature of the Industrial Revolution while her mother fought for womens rights in education.

  7. If we are arguing based on historical impact gender and race shouldn’t be an issue. I’m not making any normative judgments on the importance of diversity, I just believe that any other factor(ie race, gender, class, etc) doesn’t have a place in this argument based on the definition of the list. I think your list is also a bit heavy on historians. Spangler and Toynbee don’t have as much cross-discipline relevance as the others. I would replace one of them with Keynes, but then again I am biased towards economists.

  8. I am surprised that no one has brought up Martin Luther yet (no not King….the historical Martin Luther). Not only did he promote, and gain the right to, a new age of “liberality” if you will in that he started what is now known as the protestant revolution and incited numerous violent protests in regards to the corruption of the catholic church, but many of us still feel the repercussions of his actions today as we practice many other religions other than Catholicism. I would say that that is pretty major.

    However, one might contend that if you add Luther, you would also have to add L. Ron Hubbard, but that is a totally different issue……lol.

    Oh, and I would elect to leave Keynes off of the list. I hardly think that unproven theories of economics qualify as history changing (despite the fact that many are flocking to it as they did in the 1970s).

  9. Ahhh the beauties of economics. It is said to be very mathmatical… but there is absolutly no absolutes in it. depending on how far you are willing to go back we can add a few philosphers in the mix for good measure: Galileo, Socrates, Plato, Confucius, Ashoka. And artists do add major historical value to a society as well like Sophecles and Shakespeare. Then again I am slightly Shakespeare biased.

  10. Calvin’s impact in the realm of transatlantic economies and political structures is why. Much of the United States is shaped by Calvinism and its conservatism. It too had this impact in parts of Northern Europe and England. Though Luther is important, it is my opinion that he has not had the same impact on the writing of both history and sociology as Calvin has had.

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