The HyperTexts

Famous Firsts

Who did what first? This is a list of "famous firsts" firsts in discovery, exploration, travel and transportation, science, medicine, philosophy, religion, politics, sports, culture, literature, music and the other arts. We also have an extensive Timeline of famous firsts that follows some of our favorite capsules, which appear immediately below in a compressed format. In the timelines below, some dates are approximations or "educated guesses." We have tended to use the oldest dates provided by experts, but please keep in mind that the experts sometimes disagree by hundreds of thousands of years on important subjects like the the development of the first human languages (estimated from 350,000 BC to 150,000 BC). Considerable information was extracted from wiki and other public web pages (we do not claim everything here to be stunningly original).

Our top ten most important inventions: tools/weapons, fire/cooking/smelting, language/writing/teaching, clothing, buildings/settlements, agriculture/animal domestication, medicine, the wheel/transportation, pottery, civilization/law/human rights/democracy
Our top ten most important discoveries: Newton's laws of motion and gravity, Einstein's special and general theories of relativity,
Our top ten most important aspects of human culture: poetry/literature, theater, music, visual arts, dance, history, philosophy, science, architecture, sculpture/ceramics/pottery

In 1620, Francis Bacon mentioned three inventions that had "changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world." Those inventions were the magnetic compass, paper and gunpowder. All three were critical to the far-flung British Empire, upon which the sun famously (or infamously) never set. The compass allowed ships to sail far from land without losing their bearings. Paper allowed governments and merchants to keep track of their transactions and holdings, and to communicate information and directions. Gunpowder allowed the "more advanced" nations to impose their will on less advanced nations.

Timeline of Important Milestones

Homo Habilis was the first human ancestor to create stone tools, circa 2,500,000 BC.
Homo Erectus was the first human ancestor to control fire, circa 1,500,000 BC.
The first human languages develop, circa 350,000 BC.
The first clothing, circa 170,000 BC.
Neanderthals had fashion sense, creating jewelry circa 133,00 BC.
The earliest known drawing, made with a red ocher "crayon," and the first figurative art, circa 71,000 BC.
Paleolithic bone flutes appear to be the oldest musical instruments, circa 40,000 BC.
Cave paintings were the first human art circa 39,000 BC.
The oldest figurines/statues circa 38,000 BC. (Please note that three major art forms appeared almost simultaneously!)
The first weaving circa 36,000 BC.
The first signs of human agriculture circa 21,000 BC.
The first permanent human settlements circa 10,000 BC.
The first alcoholic beverage (mead) circa 7,000 BC.
The first smelting of metal (lead) circa 6,500 BC.
The first wheel is invented circa 4,000 BC.
The first writing circa 3,500 BC.
The first paper (papyrus) is used in Egypt circa 3,000 BC.
The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh appears to be the earth's oldest extant major poem and the first great work of literature, circa 2,100 BC.
The first musical notation in Sumer, circa 2,000 BC. Also the first chariots and the first use of glass.
The first alphabet, circa 1,700 BC, in Phoenicia (modern Lebanon). 
The first coins, circa 1,500 BC, in Phoenicia (modern Lebanon).
The ancient Greek poet Homer writes The Odyssey and The Iliad, circa 800 BC.
The first Olympic Games take place in 776 BC.
The first attempts to introduce concepts of democracy on a significant scale in ancient Greece, e.g. the democratic reforms of Cleisthenes, circa 508 BC.
Alexander the Great crossed the Indus and waged war in India in 326 BC, but his army refused to cross the Ganges, so he explored the Persian Gulf instead.
The first compass is created in China, using lodestone, circa 200 BC.
Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon and becomes the dictator of Rome in 45 BC.
Caesar Augustus becomes the first Roman emperor in 27 BC.
Jesus Christ, the first Christian, is born circa 4 BC.

All dates from this point forward are AD.

Hero of Alexandria, born circa 10 AD, invents the first steam turbine, the first syringe, the first windwheel, and the first coin-operated vending machine!
The first reference to gunpowder appears in China during the Eastern Han Dynasty, in 142.
In 476, the last of the Roman emperors in the west, Romulus, is overthrown by barbarians and the Pax Romana is no more.
The prophet Muhammad begins his dictation of the Koran circa 625.
Leif Erikson probably discovered North America circa 1000.
The First Crusade is launched in 1096, under the direction of Pope Urban.
The fire-lance, a bamboo tube filled with gunpowder and a precursor of the firearm, is first used in China, in 1132.
The English document known as the Magna Carta established the legal principle of habeas corpus, in 1215.
Marco Polo, born in 1254, traveled extensively in Asia and was the first westerner to meet Kublai Khan.
The first cannon on record was used by the Mamluks (Muslim knights) against the Mongols in 1260.
The oldest surviving personal firearm is a Chinese hand cannon, dated to 1288.
Hand cannons or "hand gonnes" (hand guns such as the arquebus, an early musket) were being used in Europe, circa 1350.
Johannes Gutenberg produced the first typeset book in 1440.
Christopher Columbus discovered, or rediscovered, the Americas in 1492.
Virginia Dare was the first child born in the American colonies, in 1587.
The Dutch East India Company, formed in 1602, was the first major joint-stock company.
Jamestown, the first major American colony, is founded in 1607.
Galileo makes his first observations of the stars with a telescope in 1609 and soon concludes that the earth moves around the sun.
The first reflecting telescope was invented by Sir Isaac Newton in 1668.
Sir Isaac Newton publishes his laws of motion and gravity in 1686.
Ben Franklin conducted the first electrical experiment when he flew a kite during a thunderstorm in 1752.
Captain James Cook was the first person to cross the Antarctic Circle in 1773.
The American Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, led to the creation of the first modern democracy.
Marquis d’Arlandes and Pilatre de Rozier were the first men to fly in a hot-air balloon (20 minutes), in 1783.
George Washington is elected the first president of the United States, in 1789.
Charles Babbage, born in 1791, has been called the father of the computer. The first ten amendments to the American Constitution become known as the Bill of Rights.
Ada Lovelace, born in 1815, has been called the first computer programmer for devising the first algorithm for Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine. The computer language Ada was named after her.
The first telegraph is invented in 1844.
Edgar Allan Poe's 1848 poem Eureka posited a singularity that produces the Big Bang, an expanding universe and black holes!
James Maxwell took the first color photograph, in 1861.
DNA is discovered in 1868.
The first Transcontinental Railroad is created, connecting America's east and west, in 1869.
Alexander Graham Bell patents the first telephone in 1876.
Thomas Edison invents the first viable light bulb in 1879.
In 1885-1886, Karl Benz built and tested the world’s first automobile powered by an internal combustion engine.
The Wright brothers are the first human beings to achieve powered flight in an airplane, in 1903 at Kitty Hawk.
Albert Einstein publishes his special theory of relativity, in 1905.
Roald Amundsen was the first person to reach the South Pole in 1911. Also Marie Curie became the first person ever to win two Nobel Prizes
Roald Amundsen was the first person to reach the North Pole in 1926.
In 1927, Al Jolson was the star of the first talking movie, The Jazz Singer.
Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, in 1928. Alexander Fleming discovers the first super-drug, penicillin.
The first atomic bombs are dropped, ending World War II. The United Nations was created in an attempt to avoid a third world war.
The bikini was first worn in public on July 5, 1946, by Micheline Bernardini, a dancer for the Casino de Paris.
In 1947, Chuck Yeager was the first pilot to fly faster than the speed of sound (670 mph) in a Bell X-1 rocket.
The first McDonald's was opened in 1948. Also the first universal declaration of human rights was adopted by the United Nations.
Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay were the first men to climb Mt. Everest in 1953.
Roger Bannister became the first human being to run a four-minute mile, in 1954.
The first satellite, Sputnik I, was launched in 1957.
Yuri Gagarin, a Russian cosmonaut, was the first man in space, in 1961.
Valentina Tereshkova was the first first woman in space, in 1963.
Indira Gandhi was the first elected female head of state of a major nation, India, in 1966.
Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, in 1969.
George Carlin was the first host of Saturday Night Live, in 1975.
Margaret Thatcher became the first female prime minister of Great Britain, in 1979.
Dolly, a lamb, was the first cloned mammal, in 1996.
Barack Obama becomes the first African-American president, in 2008.

Prehistoric or Pre-History (all dates are BCE)

2,500,000 BC — Homo Habilis is the first human ancestor to create stone tools; thus begins the Early Stone Age and the Lower Paleolithic Era.
1,500,000 — Homo Erectus is the first human ancestor to control fire.
300,000 — The first fossil evidence of Homo Sapiens coincides with ochre works at Olorgesailie, Kenya, where ochre continues to be used by natives for adornment and art.
168,000 — Humans begin to wear clothing, but nothing too stylish yet ... the emergence of clothing, intentional burials and possible concepts of an afterlife mark the Middle Paleolithic Era.
133,000 — Neanderthals had fashion sense, as jewelry made from eagle talons has been discovered at a Neanderthal cave at Krapina, Croatia.
108,000 — Beads made from shells of Nassarius sea snails, found at the Skhul cave in Israel, are the first known jewelry made by humans, who are finally catching up to Neanderthals!
71,000 — The earliest known drawing, made with a red ocher "crayon," is found at Blombos, South Africa. The drawing looks like a #hashtag!
68,000 — Stones with crosshatch markings found at Blombos, South Africa, may be the first abstract or symbolic art. The Middle Paleolithic Era concludes with modern human behavior.
50,000 — The "great leap forward" includes abstract and symbolic thinking, long-term planning, cooperative labor, trade, music, hearths, elaborate graves, fishing and blade technology.
40,000 — Paleolithic flutes made from bones and mammoth ivory appear to be the oldest musical instruments. Increasing organization and advancing art mark the Upper Paleolithic Era.
39,000 — The Altamira Cave cave paintings, near El Castillo, Spain, may be the earth's oldest paintings and the earliest carbon-dated examples of human figurative art.
38,000 — The Lφwenmensch figurine, aka the Lion Man of the Hohlenstein Stadel, and the Venus of Hohle Fels may be the earth's oldest statues.
26,000 — The earliest known pottery was used not as crockery, but for art: the Venus of Dolnν Věstonice, Moravia (in the modern-day Czech Republic).
21,000 — Evidence of the seeding, cultivation and grinding of grains at the Ohalo II settlement in Israel mark the dawn of human agriculture.
10,000 — The first permanent settlements and emergence of full-scale agriculture and domesticated animals pave the way for more advanced art forms to come ...

The Dawn of Writing, Literature and History (all dates are BCE)

5000 — The inventions of the wheel, the kiln, smelting (tin, lead and copper) and proto-writing set the stage for the coming Bronze Age and the dawn of poetry and other forms of literature.
3500 — The Stone Age winds down; the Bronze Age revs up with metal tools and weapons; nations form; writing develops in Sumer (Iraq); thus begins what we call "history."
3000 — Sumerian temple hymns and laments; Egyptian pyramid and coffin texts (early epigrams); invention of paper (papyrus); the first smaller henges are dug out locally at Stonehenge.
2700 — The Egyptian physician Merit-Ptah appears to be the first woman named in the fields of medicine and science. Her portrait appears in a Valley of Kings tomb.
2690 — A Seth-Peribsen tomb seal has the first known complete sentence: "The golden one of Ombos has unified the two realms for his son, the king of Lower and Upper Egypt, Peribsen."
2650 — The Egyptian polymath Imhotep has been called the first architect, engineer and physician; he designed the first pyramid, got promoted to a god, and was worshipped by a cult!
2500 — The oldest known lyres were discovered in the tombs of the royal family of Ur (a lyric was originally a poem sung or chanted to the strumming of a lyre).
2500 — The Sumerian Kesh Temple Hymn and Instructions of Šuruppak may be the earth's oldest surviving literature. This may be the approximate beginning point of literature and songwriting.
2500 — Major work takes place on Stonehenge and the Great Sphinx of Giza.
2285 — Enheduanna, daughter of King Saragon the Great, may be the first named poet in human history for prayers and hymns such as The Exaltation of Inanna.
2100 — The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh appears to be the earth's oldest extant major poem and the first great work of literature.
2000 — The earth's oldest love poem may be the Sumerian Love Song of Shu-Sin. Early Minoan culture on Crete. The first libraries in Egypt. Abraham of Ur becomes the first monotheist.
1800 — The Babylonian/Akkadian Enuma ElisAtra-Hasis and Eridu Genesis
1600 — The Egyptian Book of the Dead. The Rigveda, a collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns, may be the oldest religious text still in use today.
1400 — A Hurrian Cult Song from Ancient Ugarit (aka Hurrian Hymn 6) has the first musical score and the oldest playable melody. The first written legal codes are those of Hammurabi.
1200 — The Bronze Age evolves into the Iron Age. Iron artifacts dating to this time have been found in Anatolia (Turkey), Egypt, Jordan, Sumer (Iraq) and Greece.
1100 — The Tale of Two Brothers and The Story of Wenamun (Egypt); Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda (Sanskrit/Indian); Avesta of Zoroastrianism (Avestan/Persian).
1000 — The first Native American poetry such as Mayan and Aztec; early Oriental poetry; possible birth date for Homer, author of the epic poems Odyssey and Iliad; the Iron Age begins.
900 — I Ching manual of divination (China); the Brahmanas and early Upanishads (Sanskrit/Indian).
750 — Birth of Hesiod; Celts reach England; Hebrew proverbs; oldest Chinese poems in the Shi Jing; Lycurgus of Sparta; first Olympic games; Rome is founded; Nineveh's library has 22,000 clay tablets.
668 — One of the most ancient extant poems was found in the oldest surviving royal library, that of Ashurbanipal (668-630). 
600 — Possible date for the Bible's poetic book of Job.
600 — The births of Archilochus (680), Solon (640), Sappho of Lesbos (630) from whom we derive our terms "lesbian" and "sapphic," Aesop (620), Lao-tse (604).
600 — The ancient Greeks developed the classic forms of drama, music and poetry, including the ode, epic, lyric, tragedy, and comedy. This became the basis of modern literature.
500 — Possible date for the Bible's Song of Solomon and the Sanskrit epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.
500 — The births of Pericles (500), Sophocles (497), Euripides (484), Socrates (470), Plato (428), Aristotle (384).
484 — Aeschylus wins first prize for tragedy at the City Dionysia in Athens. Sophocles wins in 468, Euripides in 441, Aristophanes in 425. Talk about tough competition!
100 — The births of Julius Caesar (100), Lucretius (99), Cato the Younger (95), Catullus (84), Virgil (70), Horace (65), Plutarch (47), Ovid (43), Martial (43), Lucan (39).
37 — Virgil's reputation is established by his Eclogues.
23 — The first three books of Horace's Odes are published.
16 — A collection of witty erotic love poems, Amores, brings Ovid success while still in his twenties. He is best known today for his Metamorphoses
60 — The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the first comprehensive history of the Anglo-Saxons composed during the reign of King Alfred the Great, has the year 60 BC as its first dated entry.
55 — Julius Caesar invades England, creating a Roman beachhead on the coast of Kent. At this time the primary language of the native Britons is a Celtic dialect known as Brittonic. The Britons had no form of writing, so in that sense they remained prehistoric and their poetry was oral. The following year, 54 BC, Julius Caesar invades again, this time using diplomacy to bring England within the Roman sphere of influence, but conquering no territory and leaving no Roman troops behind. However, Latin would become the language of business, commerce and politics.

Current Era (all dates from this point forward are AD)

9 — The "invincible" Roman legions suffer their bloodiest defeat in the Battle of Teutoburg Forest and suddenly don't seem so invincible, after all.
26 — Pontius Pilate is appointed Prefect of Judea, where another revolution (and new major religion) are percolating.
28 — John the Baptist is executed by Herod Antipas in Judaea.
32 — Jesus Christ is crucified in Jerusalem. The Christian religion will have tremendous implications for the world.
43 — Claudius invades England and Roman rule is established. The first major Roman city in England, Londinium (London), is established.
56 — Birth of Tacitus (c.56 - c.120), whose Latin histories would be a primary source of info about the early Britons. Tacitus favorably contrasted the liberty of Britons with the tyranny and corruption of the Roman Empire.
60 — ABCs written on a wood-and-wax tablet found in London suggest that a school may have existed there soon after the Roman conquest.
70 — The destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman legions of Titus. This will eventually result in the diaspora of the Jews.
122 — The Roman Emperor Hadrian visits England. Construction of Hadrian's Wall begins.
127 — Juvenal writes his Satires, which will influence English writers like Samuel Johnson.
181 — The stoic Meditations of Marcus Aurelius are published posthumously. He would influence English writers like John Stuart Mill and Matthew Arnold.
368 — Attacks by Picts and Saxons force the Romans to abandon Hadrian's Wall.
383 — Magnus Maximus launches a bid for imperial power. He rules Gaul and Britain as Augustus. This is the last date for evidence of a major Roman military presence in Britain.
400 — Saint Augustine writes his Confessions.
405 — Saint Jerome finishes his translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible. Some of Jerome's translation errors would end up in English translations such as the King James Bible.
407 — Constantine rallies the remaining Roman troops in Britain, leads them across the Channel into Gaul, and establishes himself as Emperor. Romano-Britons, having suffered early Saxon raids, soon expel Constantine's magistrates.
410 — Rome is sacked by the Visigoths under King Alaric. The vaunted Roman Empire is falling apart.
430 — The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says "This year Patricius [Saint Patrick] was sent ... to preach baptism to the Scots." Patrick's Confessio (Confession), written in Latin, survives.
444 — The Huns unite under Attila who sets his sights on Rome.
449 — Around this time Anglo-Saxons are invading England with considerable success.
477 — The birth of Boethius (477-524) in Rome. His Consolation of Philosophy, called a "golden volume" by Edward Gibbon, would greatly influence early English poets like John Gower and Geoffrey Chaucer.
500 — The birth of Gildas (c.500-570), perhaps the first notable English writer we know by name (although he was born in Scotland and wrote in Latin).
521 — The birth of Saint Columba (521–597), who founded the important abbey on Iona and has been credited with three medieval Latin hymns.
537 — The Battle of Camlan has been suggested as the one where King Arthur fought Mordred.
570 — The birth of Mohammed, the first great prophet of Islam, and presumably the last.
596 — Pope Gregory makes Saint Augustine a missionary to England, where he becomes the first Archbishop of Canterbury and baptizes Ethelbert, the first English king to convert to Christianity.
600 — Possible date for early Irish saga literature.
620 — Vikings begin invasions of Ireland and will eventually take it over.
627 — The birth of Adomnαn (c.627–704), whose Vita Columbae ("Life of Columba") is the first biography written in Britain.
634 — The monastery at Lindisfarne is founded by Saint Aidan. Also the birth of Cuthbert, who would become Bishop of Lindisfarne (see the entry for 685).
639 — The birth of Aldhelm (c.639-709), an Anglo-Saxon aristocrat, scholar, abbot and bishop who composed "enigmas" or riddles in Latin. If he wrote poems in English, they have been lost.
657 — Hilda founds the first English monastery, Whitby Abbey. Hilda is considered to be a patron saint of learning and culture due to her patronage of Cζdmon (see the entry for 658).
658 — Caedmon's Hymn is the first extant English poem. According to the Venerable Bede, Caedmon was an illiterate herdsman of the Whitby monastery who was given the gift of poetic composition by an angel.
664 — During the Synod of Whitby, the Whitby Abbey aligns with the Roman Catholic Church. This heralds a decline of the Celtic Church in England.
673 — The birth of Bede (c.672-735), the great English scholar who came to be known as the Venerable Bede and the "Father of English History."
680 — Possible date for the composition of the epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf and the shorter poem Widsith, the "Far Traveler."
685 — Cuthbert becomes Bishop of Lindisfarne. An anonymous life of Cuthbert written at Lindisfarne may be the oldest extant English historical writing.
700 — Runic extracts from The Dream of the Rood, the first dream poem in the English language, are carved on the Ruthwell Cross, establishing the poem's antiquity.
735 — Bede's death and Death Song.
757 — Offa becomes King of Mercia and constructs a gigantic defensive earthwork between Mercia and Wales called Offa's Dyke.
771 — The birth of Egbert of Wessex (c. 771-839), who may have been the first king of a somewhat united England. 
778 — An attack on Charlemagne's army at the pass of Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees inspires the Chanson de Roland ("Song of Roland").
789 — Viking attacks begin against the northeast English seacoast.
800 — Pope Leo III crowns Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor of the West.
829 — The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described Egbert as a bretwalda, meaning "wide-ruler" or "Britain-ruler." Thus Egbert may have been the first king of a united Anglo-Saxon England.
830 — Ono no Komachi wrote tanka (also known as waka), a traditional form of Japanese lyric poetry that, along with haiku, would influence English modernists like Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot.
842 — Vikings raid London, Rochester, and Southampton.
853 — Viking invaders take over Ireland.
849 — The birth of King Alfred the Great (c. 849-899), one of England's greatest kings (as his appellation suggests). Alfred was one of the first known writers of English prose.
871 — Alfred the Great unites the Anglo-Saxons, defeats the Danes and becomes the first king of a united England.
874 — Iceland is settled by Norsemen.
875 — Norsemen attack Paris, are awarded Normandy and become known as the Normans (who would later invade and conquer England under William the Conqueror).
886 — King Alfred the Great captures London from the Danes.
890 — The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is the first comprehensive attempt at an English history. It has been called "the single most important source for the history of England in Anglo-Saxon times."
900 — Deor, a scop, is writing poems such as Deor's Lament.
950 — A possible first extant English poem written by a woman is Wulf and Eadwacer; another contender is The Wife's Lament.  
975 — St. Aethelwold's Regularis Concordia is the first evidence of dramatic activity in England.
985 — Eric the Red begins the Norse colonization of Greenland. His son Leif Ericsson would discover North America and winter in Canada almost 500 years before Columbus.
1000 — The first known limerick ("The lion is wondrous strong") appears in France.
1028 — The birth of William of Normandy, also known as the Bastard and the Conqueror. He was of Norse stock, the descendant of Vikings.
1031 — The Book of Life was an earthly prequel to the heavenly Day of Judgment.
1040 — Macbeth kills Duncan at the battle at Elgin and rules as King of Scots. Shakespeare would write one of his most famous plays about the goings-on.
1042 — King Edward the Confessor reigns as king of all England.
1048 — The birth of Omar Khayyαm, a Persian polymath, scholar, mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and poet who is widely considered to be one of the most influential thinkers of the Middle Ages. 
1054 — The Great Schism of the Roman Catholic Church.
1066 — Edward the Confessor dies and Harold Godwinson inherits his throne. William the Conqueror defeats him at the Battle of Hastings, becoming King William I of England; this Norman Conquest of England marks the end of the Anglo-Saxon or Old English era.

Anglo-Norman or Middle English Period (1066-1332)

1068 — The chansons de geste ("songs of heroic deeds"), performed by professional minstrels in castles and manors, celebrate the exploits of Charlemagne―the greatest of French kings―and his paladins.
1085 — The birth of Orderic Vitalis (1075–c. 1142), an English historian who wrote a chronicle of Anglo-Norman England. He called himself Angligena ("English-born"). Thus we see the "Angle" in England!
1086 — William I orders surveys of his English holdings, recorded in the Domesday Book, and notifies the Pope that England owes no allegiance to Rome, the first British rift with the Vatican. Possible date for The Song of Roland.
1095 — The First Crusade.
1096 — There is evidence of teaching at Oxford, which would become home to the first English university (see the entry at 1117).
1100 — Henry I reigns.
1117 — The first English university, Oxford, is founded. It has a "growth spurt" when King Henry II bans English students from attending the University of Paris in 1167.
1130 — Possible date for the birth of the Archpoet.
1189 — Richard I, aka Richard Cœur de Lion ("Richard the Lionheart") reigns; he joins the Third Crusade while his brother John acts as regent.
1199 — King John reigns after Richard I dies in France.
1200 — How Long the Night ("Myrie it is while sumer ylast") is one of the great early rhyming poems of the Middle English period; it remains largely understandable to modern readers.
1207 — Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (1207–1273), was a Persian Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, and Sufi mystic. Rumi has been described as the "most popular poet" in the United States.
1208 — The University of Cambridge is founded when violence between Oxford townspeople and students makes another campus seem like a good idea.
1215 — The Magna Carta forces King John to grant liberties and rights to English nobles in return for taxation (although the document was drafted in French).
1216 — Henry III reigns.
1219 — The birth of Roger Bacon (c. 1219–1292), the Doctor Mirabilis ("wondrous doctor").
1260 — Sumer is icumen in came with a musical score and instructions for singing it in rounds, although the instructions were written in Latin! Considered a rondel because it is "round" or cyclical in form, it is one of the oldest lyrics that can still be sung to its original melody. Other early rhyming poems that may predate the first major English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, include Fowles in the Frith, Ich am of Irlaunde ("I am of Ireland"), Now Goeth Sun Under Wood, Pity Mary, Ubi Sunt Qui Ante Nos Fuerunt? ("Where are now those who lived before us?") and Alison. While Germanic, French and Latin influences remain, the robust English language is coming into its own and is about to claim primacy. Meanwhile, a new form of poetry is being written in northern Italy: the dolce stil nuovo ("sweet new style").
1263 — Balliol College is founded at Oxford.
1265 — The birth of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), generally considered to be one of the world's greatest poets, comparable to Homer and Shakespeare. Simon de Montfort summons the first directly-elected English Parliament.
1272 — Edward I ("Longshanks") reigns, and is crowned upon his return from the Ninth Crusade (the last major crusade).
1277 — Roger Bacon is exiled for heresy.
1292 — Dante's Vita Nuova ("New Life") explores his love for Beatrice, which appears to have been unrequited.
1295 — The "Model Parliament" is England's first representative parliament (i.e., giving ordinary citizens a voice in their government).
1296 — Edward I defeats the Scots, seizes the throne, and removes the Stone of Scone to Westminster.
1304 — The birth of Francesco Petrarch, the creator of the sonnet ("little song"). Petrarch would be a major influence on early modern English poets like Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard.
1305 — William Wallace is executed for treason.
1306 — Robert Bruce is crowned King of Scotland; Edward I dies on his way north to invade Scotland.
1307 — Edward II reigns. Dante begins his Divina Commedia ("Divine Comedy").
1317 — Dante's Inferno.
1320 — The Birth of John Wyclif or Wycliffe aka Doctor Evangelicus. He would be an important translator of the Bible into English. Wycliffe has been called "England's first European mind." 
1328 — The Scots win independence from England.
1332 — English replaces French in the British Parliament and courts, heralding the end of the Anglo-Norman era. From this point forward the most important English poets―Chaucer, Gower, Langland, Skelton, Dunbar, et al―will write in some form of native English, or in multiple languages. For instance, Gower wrote in English, French and Latin.

Late Medieval or Chaucerian Period (1340-1486)

1340 — The birth of Geoffrey Chaucer. Long before Shakespeare, Chaucer would create unforgettable characters like the Wife of Bath. These are the first "developed" literary characters in English literature. John Dryden called Chaucer the "father of English poetry."
1341 — Petrarch is crowned Poet Laureate in Rome.
1342 — The birth of Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), an English anchorite whose visions would influence T. S. Eliot's "Four Quartets." She would become the English language's first published writer.
1348 — The Black Death kills one-third of the population of England; the Chronicle of the Black Death records the horror.
1350 — Boccaccio's Decameron. Around this time there is an "Alliterative Revival" in England, with the Gawain/Pearl poet and others employing the methods of the Anglo-Saxon scops.
1356 — Edward III's eldest son, the Black Prince, is victorious in France; England now controls most of southwest France.
1357 — Geoffrey Chaucer becomes a page to Elizabeth de Burgh, the Countess of Ulster. Chaucer's future wife, Philippa Pan, is also a member of the household.
1369 — The birth of the English poet Thomas Hoccleve, an early confessional poet and one of the first English poets to leave manuscripts written in his own hand.
1370 — The birth of the English poet John Lydgate, a penner of devotional poems; he was one of the earliest English poets known to have worn spectacles.
1376 — The first record of the York mystery plays; these were English verse plays acted out on pageant wagons with moveable stages. 
1377 — John Wycliffe is brought on charges of heresy before William Courtenay, the Bishop of London, on February 19, 1377.
1378 — The "Western Schism" results in three different popes being elected simultaneously.
1379 — Chaucer begins The House of Fame, written in rhyming octosyllabic couplets.
1380 — The Pope charges John Wycliffe with heresy.
1381 — Watt Tyler and the poet John Ball lead the Peasants' Revolt in response to a poll tax and march on London.
1382 — John Wycliffe translates the Bible into English, introducing over 1,000 new words into the language..
1384 — John Wycliffe suffers a stroke during mass and dies; his writings would establish the basis of Puritanism.
1385 — Chaucer's Troilus and Criseydet has been called "the first modern novel" although it was written in rhyming verse. It appears to be the first major English poem to be written in iambic pentameter. 
1387 — Chaucer begins work on his masterpiece The Canterbury Tales, the first major work of still-largely-readable English literature.
1388 — Juliana Berners (1388-?) is the first English woman verse writer whose name and work we know today. She was a prioress who wrote about hawking, hunting and fishing.
1390 — The first English cookbook, the Forme of Cury ("Form of Cookery"). John Gower completes his Confessio Amantis, the first English translated into continental languages.
1394 — Charles D'Orleans (1394-1465), a grandson of Charles V of France, is born; a master of the ballade and rondeau, he would write poetry in French and English.
1395 — Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love is the first book in the English language by a female author.
1400 — The alliterative Morte Arthure ("Death of Arthur"). Chaucer is the first poet to be buried in the "Poet's Corner" of Westminster Abbey.
1403 — Sir Henry Percy, aka Sir Harry Hotspur, is slain at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Hotspur would become one of Shakespeare's best-known characters. 
1409 — The Pope orders John Wycliffe's books to be burned.
1429 — Joan of Arc, a French peasant girl, begins her campaign to drive the English from France, with considerable success.
1430 — A "haunting riddle-chant" from this era is I Have a Yong Suster. A similar haunting poem is the Corpus Christi Carol.
1431 — Joan of Arc is burned at the stake as a witch; Henry VI is crowned King of France in Paris.
1440 — Eton College is founded. Duke Humphrey donates a library of 600 books to Oxford.
1450 — Robin Hood and the Monk is one of the earliest popular ballads.
1455 — The Guttenberg Bible is the first book printed with moveable type.
1473 — William Caxton prints the first typeset English book, his History of Troy. Caxton would also publish the first book by an Englishwoman, The Moral Proverbs of Christine de Pisan.
1476 — William Caxton prints Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
1477 — The first and oldest surviving Valentine's letter in the English language was written by Margery Brews to her fiancι John Paston in February 1477.
1478 — The birth of Sir Thomas More, author of Utopia.
1484 — William Caxton prints Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde.
1485 — Henry Tudor defeats and kills Richard III in the last major battle of the Wars of the Roses; Henry Tudor becomes King Henry VII. Thus begins the Tudor Period, which marks the end of the Middle Ages in England.
1486 — Henry VII marries Elizabeth of York, uniting the houses of Lancaster and York and cementing the Tudor dynasty.

Early Modern English: the English Renaissance and the Tudor and Elizabethan Periods (1486-1618)

1492 — Columbus discovers the Americas.
1497 — John Cabot discovers Newfoundland.
1503 — The birth of Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542), called "the Father of English Poetry." William Dunbar's Sweet Rose of Virtue.
1504 — Leonardo Da Vinci paints the Mona Lisa. Michelangelo finishes his masterpiece David.
1508 — Michelangelo begins to paint the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. William Dunbar's Lament for the Makaris .
1509 — Henry Tudor marries Catherine of Aragon and reigns as King Henry VIII.
1515 — William Tyndale, despite being a student of theology, a subdeacon and possessing a Master of Arts, is not allowed to read the Bible! He will risk his life to change that.
1516 — Sir Thomas More's Utopia is published by Erasmus.
1517 — Martin Luther, a professor of moral theology at Wittenberg, publishes his 95 theses against the Roman Catholic Church, kick-starting the Protestant Reformation.
1518 — Henry VIII, although better known today for beheading his wives, is a musician and composer who creates a royal songbook.
1519 — John Skelton, a "renegade humanist," attacks the powerful Cardinal Wolsey in Collyn Clout. Wolsey would send Skelton to prison for his impertinence.
1521 — Martin Luther's protestant writings hit England. Pope Leo X declares King Henry VIII the Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith) for attacking Luther's theology.
1522 — John Skelton's A Ballade of the Scottysshe Kynge may be the first printed English ballad.
1525 — William Tyndale is working on his English translation of the New Testament, possibly in Wittenberg (where Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation).
1526 — Thomas Wyatt travels to Italy  and returns with a passion for the sonnets of Petrarch; he begins to translate Petrarch and Horace into English.
1527 — Henry VIII seeks the Pope's permission to divorce Catherine of Aragon but is refused, leading to Henry's subsequent "divorce" from the Roman Catholic Church.
1529 — Henry VIII declares himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. The "Reformation Parliament" passes legislation that will lead to the English Reformation. 
1533 — Henry VIII marries Anne Boleyn; Pope Clement VII excommunicates Henry. Thomas Wyatt's sonnet Whoso List to Hunt may have been written with Boleyn in mind.
1534 — Around this time, Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard introduce the English sonnet, modeled after the Petrarchan sonnet.
1535 — Sir Thomas More is executed for refusing to recognize Henry VIII as the head of the Church of England. Thomas Cromwell begins to seize the Roman Catholic Church's assets.
1536 — Anne Boleyn is beheaded; Henry VIII marries his third wife, Jane Seymour. Thomas Wyatt, imprisoned in the Tower of London for his alleged affair with Boleyn, may have written Whoso List to Hunt around this time. 
1537 — Henry Howard develops the first English blank verse in his translation of the Aeneid. Half a century later, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare would employ blank verse in their most famous plays.
1539 — The Prayer Book Rebellion occurs when Catholics object to the imposition of teachings of the Protestant Reformation.
1540 — Henry VIII marries his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, but the marriage is annulled and Henry marries his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. Thomas Cromwell is executed for treason.
1542 — Catherine Howard is executed for treason. James V of Scotland dies and is succeeded by his six-day-old daughter Mary (later, Mary Queen of Scots). Sir Thomas Wyatt dies. 
1543 — Henry VIII marries Catherine Parr, his sixth and last wife.
1545 — The approximate birth of Isabella Whitney (1545?-1573?), the first Englishwoman to publish her verses.
1546 — Henry Howard is arrested and charged with high treason.
1547 — Henry Howard is beheaded on the order of Henry VIII, who dies the same year. Thomas Warton called Howard the first classical English poet. King Edward VI reigns at age nine, but is sickly.
1550 — The birth of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), who has been suggested as the "real" Shakespeare by a number of "Oxfordians."
1553 — Edward VI dies; his will appoints Lady Jane Grey as his successor; his sister Mary deposes her and reigns as Mary I.
1554 — Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger leads a revolt to depose Mary I, who was Catholic and considering a marriage to the Catholic Philip of Spain; the revolt is crushed and Wyatt and Lady Jane Grey are executed.
1555 — "Bloody Mary" begins her brutal persecution of Protestants; she has 283 religious dissenters killed, most of them burned at the stake, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer.
1557 — Henry Howard's translation of the Aeneid is published. Tottel's Miscellany, perhaps the first modern English poetry anthology, includes poems by Howard and the elder Wyatt.
1558 — Mary I dies childless; Queen Elizabeth I reigns; thus begins the Elizabethan Period.
1559 — The birth of the English poet George Chapman, who would author more than twenty plays and translate Homer. Chapman has been suggested as the "rival poet" mentioned by Shakespeare in his work.
1560 — The birth of Sir John Harington (1560-1612), an English poet and inventor of the flush toilet!
1561 — The birth of the English poet Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke (1561-1621), translator of the Psalms, the first notable female English poet, and the sister of Philip Sidney.
1564 — The births of the English poets and playwrights Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. The birth of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).
1565 — Sir Walter Raleigh, a poet and explorer, is the first European to bring potatoes and tobacco back from the New World.
1566 — Isabella Whitney's Sweet Nosegay is the first volume of verses published by an Englishwoman.
1568 — Mary, Queen of Scots, flees to England and is imprisoned by Elizabeth.
1569 — The birth of the English poet Emilia Lanyer (1569-1645), who has been proposed as Shakespeare's mistress.
1578 — Sir Philip Sidney writes a masque in Elizabeth's honor and begins work on his popular Old Arcadia, the most popular English prose narrative of its period.
1579 — Edmund Spenser's Shepheardes Calender has been called "the first work of the English literary Renaissance."
1583 — Sir Philip Sidney marries the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham.
1584 — Walter Ralegh founds the first American colony, names it Virginia after Elizabeth I (the "Virgin Queen"), and is knighted.
1587 — Mary, Queen of Scots, is executed at Fotheringhay Castle on charges of treason. Sir Walter Ralegh is appointed captain of the Queen's guard.
1588 — England defeats a Spanish Armada of 130 ships; the resulting English dominance of the seas greatly enhances the prospects of the British Empire. Christopher Marlowe writes Doctor Faustus.
1589 — William Shakespeare's first play may have been The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Walter Ralegh visits Edmund Spenser and helps him publish the first three books of The Faerie Queene.
1590 — Shakespeare's plays The Taming of the Shrew, Henry VI, Titus Andronicus, Richard III, Edward III, The Comedy of Errors, Love's Labor Lost, and Romeo and Juliet may have been written around 1590.
1591 — Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella is the first major sonnet sequence in the English language. Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd share lodgings in London.
1592 — Shakespeare is called an "upstart crow" by Robert Greene.
1593 — Christopher Marlowe is murdered. Sir Walter Ralegh is released from the Tower of London and becomes a member of Parliament.
1594 — Richard Burbage assembles a group of actors called the Lord Chamberlain's Men: members include his son Richard Burbage and William Shakespeare. Edmund Spenser writes Epithalamion.
1595 — Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream.
1596 — Shakespeare's plays King John and The Merchant of Venice. Edmund Spenser's Prothalamion, a nuptial song he wrote for the double marriage of the daughters of the Earl of Worchester.
1597 — Shakespeare's plays Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Francis Bacon's Essays; John Dowland's The First Booke of Songes or Ayres; George Chapman's translation of Homer's Illiad.
1598 — Shakespeare's plays Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing. Shakespeare acts in Ben Jonson's play Sejanus. The Lord Chamberlain's Men dismantle The Theatre and use its beams to construct The Globe.
1599 — Shakespeare's plays Julius Caesar, As You Like It and Twelfth Night. The Globe Theater opens; William Shakespeare owns 12.5% of the action.
1601 — The first performance of Shakespeare's play Hamlet.
1602 — The first major joint-stock company, the Dutch East India Company is founded.
1603 — The death of Queen Elizabeth I; James VI of Scotland becomes King James I of England; thus begins the Jacobean Period. Sir Walter Ralegh is sent to the Tower of London on charges of treason.
1604 — Shakespeare is granted a coat of arms; Othello is first performed and includes one of the earliest English limericks; James I becomes a patron of Shakespeare's acting company.
1605 — Shakespeare's plays King Lear and Macbeth.
1606 — John Donne contemplates suicide and writes Biathanotos, an early justification of suicide.
1607 — The birth of John Harvard (1607-1638), who would found Harvard University.
1608 — The birth of the English poet John Milton (1608-1674). John Donne begins to write his Holy Sonnets.
1609 — Shakespeare publishes his Sonnets.
1610 — Galileo claims the earth moves around the sun. Shakespeare employs limerick meter in Stephano’s drinking song in The Tempest.
1611 — The King James Bible is published in still-readable English. Emilia Lanyer's words attributed to Eve have been called "the first clear glimmer of English feminism in verse."
1612 — Heretics are burned at the stake in England for the last time.
1613 — The Globe Theatre burns during a performance of Shakespeare's late play Henry VIII, which may have been co-written with John Fletcher.
1614 — Sir Walter Ralegh's History of the World. It was composed while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London on charges of treason.
1616 — The death of William Shakespeare. George Chapman's complete translations of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are published.

Poets at War with Each Other: The Cavaliers, the Reformation and the Restoration (1617-1675)

1617 — Sir Walter Ralegh is released from the Tower of London and sets sail in search of El Dorado, the fabled city of gold.
1618 — Sir Walter Ralegh fails in his last expedition to find El Dorado and upon his return to England is executed on trumped-up charges of treason.
1620 — The Pilgrims set sail for America in the Mayflower; they land at Cape Cod and found the New Plymouth colony.
1623 — Shakespeare's First Folio, a collection of his plays, is published by a syndicate. Ben Jonson had a financial stake in the folio and wrote an elegy for Shakespeare (one of poetry's first blurbs?).
1627 — Robert Herrick is appointed Dean Prior of Devon. John Donne preaches the funeral sermon for George Herbert's mother.
1628 — Ann Dudley marries, becoming Anne Bradstreet. The birth of the English poet and writer John Bunyan, best known for his allegorical novel Pilgrim's Progress.
1629 — John Milton composes his first important poem, On the Morning of Christ's Nativity, while still a student at Cambridge.
1630 — Sir John Suckling, a Cavalier poet, is knighted. Suckling is credited with inventing cribbage. He was said to have been the most skilled card player and bowler in England.
1637 — Charles I authorizes an Anglican Booke of Common Prayer. The prayer book caused riots which led to the Bishop's War of 1639 and the Puritan Revolution of 1645. In the end Charles lost his crown, and his head.
1639 — Charles I raises an army of 20,000 troops and invades Scotland in an attempt to impose his will (and prayer book) on the Scots.
1640 — Aphra Behn (1640-1689) would become England's first female professional writer. The Bay Psalm Book is the first book printed in North America.
1641 — The first English domestic news publication is Diurnalls, followed by Weekly Accounts, Mercuries and Intelligencers.
1642 — The birth of  Isaac Newton, on Christmas Day. Galileo Galilei dies under house arrest by the Roman Catholic inquisition.
1644 — The birth of the Japanese haiku master, Matsuo Bashō. Haiku would have a tremendous influence on English modernists like Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot; they prized its conciseness, imagery and lack of ornamentation.
1645 — Under the influence of Puritans like Oliver Cromwell, Parliament bans Christmas celebrations, including caroling.
1647 — Charles I attempts to escape from captivity on the Isle of Wight.
1649 — Charles I is found guilty of high treason by the Rump Parliament, is sentenced to death, then executed by beheading. John Milton publishes an explicit defense of the regicide.
1650 — Anne Bradstreet's The Vanity of All Worldly Things is the first notable poem by an American poet.
1652 — John Milton publishes a defense of the English people in Latin. He also publishes a sonnet dedicated to Oliver Cromwell ("Cromwell, our chief of men ...").
1653 — Oliver Cromwell is made England's Lord Protector and Regent.
1658 — Oliver Cromwell's death throws England back into chaos. As the republic begins to disintegrate, John Milton continues to write treatises in favor of a non-monarchial government.
1660 — King Charles II is handed the British crown and throne in the Restoration.
1665 — While King Charles II holds court in Oxford to avoid the plague, the first newspaper is published: the Oxford Gazette. When Charles returns to London it becomes the London Gazette.
1666 — The Great Fire of London destroyed many of the city's presses. Book and ballad prices skyrocket due to the laws of supply and demand.
1667 — John Milton's masterpiece Paradise Lost is published in ten books.
1670 — Aphra Behn becomes the first Englishwoman to make a living by writing; her first play The Forc'd Marriage premiers.
1671 — John Milton's Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes are published.

The Augustan or Metaphysical Period (1675-1749)

1681 — Andrew Marvell's To His Coy Mistress, his best-known poem, is published in a collection three years after his death.
1682 — John Dryden's satirical poem Mac Flecknoe is published.
1688 — The birth of the English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1784). Pope, described as a "delicate precocious boy," suffered from Pott's disease, which stunted his growth and left him with a severe hunchback.
1689 — The birth of the English poet Mary Wortley (Lady Mary Wortley Montagu). Denied a classical education because of her sex, she was educated at home and taught herself Latin in her father's library.
1694 — The birth of the highly influential French writer and philosopher Voltaire. 1700 — This is a rough beginning time for the first American negro spirituals, which would lead to gospel music, the blues, jazz and eventually rock'n'roll. 
1704 — Jonathan Swift's A Tale of a Tub satirizes the abuses of Christianity.
1707 — England and Scotland are―finally!―officially united as the Kingdom of Great Britain. At this time Ireland is not included.
1711 — Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele publish the Spectator, a daily publication.
1717 — Franηois-Marie Arouet is sent to the Bastille for writing scandalous poems. While in prison or soon thereafter he adopts the name "Voltaire." 
1718 — Alexander Pope makes a handsome living from his translations of Homer and is able to buy a villa with a grotto and gardens in Twickenham.
1719 — Daniel Defoe's The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe has been called the first novel.
1726 — Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels is published.
1744 — The early limerick "Hickory Dickory Dock" appears in Tom Thumb's Pretty Songbook. Alexander Pope dies.
1746 — Samuel Johnson contracts to produce his landmark Dictionary of the English Language.

The Romantic Era (1750-1824)

1750 — The French Romantic philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau becomes famous for his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences. Rousseau is a deist, a free thinker and a heretic.
1751 — Denis Diderot's Encyclopaedia is published between 1751 and 1772 (in 17 volumes of text and 11 volumes of engravings).
1752 — Birth of the English poet Thomas Chatterton, called the "marvellous boy" by William Wordsworth in his poem "Resolution and Independence."
1753 — Phillis Wheatley, the first notable African-American poet, is born somewhere in Africa, perhaps in Senegal.
1755 — Samuel Johnson publishes the first major English dictionary, A Dictionary of the English Language.
1757 — The birth of the English romantic poet William Blake, the son of a haberdasher. Blake was perhaps the greatest of the English Romantic poets and one of England's greatest visual artists and engravers.
1758 — Voltaire completes Candide, or Optimism. It lampoons the ideas that "this is the best of all possible worlds," that "things work out for the best" and that "God is in control."
1759 — The birth of the Scottish romantic poet Robert Burns, generally considered to be the greatest Scottish poet of all time and notable for his "lucid pathos."
1760 — The beginning of the Industrial Revolution, a significant influence on the Romantic and Modernist movements. The first publication of Mother Goose's Melodies includes limericks like "Hickory Dickory Dock."
1763 — Around the tender age of ten, Thomas Chatterton writes his first poem, On the Last Epiphany, or Christ Coming to Judgment. It appeared in Felix Farley's Bristol Journal on Jan. 8, 1763.
1764 — Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto has been called an early Romantic work and the first gothic novel.  
1773 — Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral is the first book of poetry by an Afro-American slave; her poetry was praised by George Washington and John Hancock.
1774 — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe publishes The Sorrows of Young Werther, perhaps the first major work of German Romanticism; it has been called the first best-seller and made Goethe a celebrity.
1775 — British troops sing "Yankee Doodle" to mock American colonists; the colonists defiantly adopt the song as their own.
1776 — The American colonies declare independence with words written in ringing iambic pentameter by Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin: "We hold these truths to be self-evident ..."
1786 — Robert Burns has the poems "To a Mouse," "To a Louse," "A Winter Night" and "To a Mountain Daisy" published in Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect.
1788 — The birth of George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824). Goethe called Byron "undoubtedly the greatest genius of our century." Byron invented the Byronic hero, patterned after himself.
1789 — Start of the French Revolution. The upheavals in France would greatly influenced the artists and writers of the Romantic Movement.
1791 — Thomas Paine's Rights of Man. Voltaire's remains are brought to Paris for entombment in the Pantheon; the procession is attended by a million people.
1792 — The birth of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822).  Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Percy Bysshe Shelley would marry Mary Wollstonecraft's daughter.
1794 — William Blake's Songs of Experience is published;  Blake's "The Tyger" is the most anthologized poem in the English language.
1798 — Lyrical Ballads, written primarily by William Wordsworth with contributions by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is published. It would greatly influence the Romantic and Modernist movements.
1803 — The Napoleonic Wars begin when Great Britain declares war on France.
1804 — William Blake begins working on Milton and Jerusalem. Blake is accused of high treason after giving a soldier a hard time, but is acquitted.
1810 — Lord Byron leaves England, swims the Hellespont, and begins composing the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Percy Bysshe Shelley enters University College, Oxford.
1812 — The U.S. and Great Britain fight the War of 1812. The birth of Charles Dickens (1812-1870), "the first great writer to tackle the essentially modern problem of the discontents of an urban civilization."
1814 — Oxford University expels the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley for writing a tract on the necessity of atheism.
1815 — Napoleon escapes from Elba and raises an army, but loses at Waterloo and surrenders. This marks the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
1815 — The birth of Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate child of Lord Byron. She may have has the first computer programmer because she formulated the first algorithm for Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine. The computer language Ada was named after her.
1817 — New Orleans designates "Congo Square" as an official site for slave music and dance. Was this a step toward the blues and jazz?
1818 —The novel Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is a landmark Gothic/Romantic work, but also an early work of science fiction, with electricity being harnessed to create life.
1821 — John Keats dies at age twenty-five; Percy Bysshe Shelley writes the long poem Adonias as a tribute to him.
1822 — Percy Bysshe Shelley drowns in a boating accident at age thirty, on the Don Juan, with a book of Keats' poems in his pocket.
1830 — Walt Whitman, age eleven, drops out of school but never stops reading. The birth of the early modernist American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1866).
1835 — Edgar Allan Poe's The Unparalled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall is an early example of science fiction about a balloon trip to the moon. Poe may thus be called a father of science fiction.
1836 — Charles Dickens has success with the serial publication of The Pickwick Papers.

The Victorian Era and Pre-Modernism (1837-1901)

1837 — Queen Victoria takes the throne of the United Kingdom, leading to what has become known as tame and staid Victorianism. Charles Dickens publishes Oliver Twist.
1841 — Edgar Allan Poe invents the first modern detective story with The Murders in the Rue Morgue.
1843 — The Christy Minstrels form; they perform in blackface and are very popular. The group pays Stephen C. Foster $15,000 for exclusive rights to his song "Old Folks at Home."
1844 — The birth of the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889). Hopkins is notable for his eclectic style and use of "sprung rhythm."
1845 — Edgar Allan Poe writes and publishes his most famous poem, The Raven. It becomes a "popular sensation" and makes Poe a household name.
1846 — Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning secretly marry at St. Marylebone Church in London: they would become poetry's first "super couple." Adolphe Sax invents the saxophone.
1847 — Emily Bronte publishers her dark gothic masterpiece Wuthering Heights. Her sister Charlotte Bronte publishes Jane Eyre under the pseudonym "Currer Bell."
1848 — The German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels publish The Communist Manifesto.
1848 — Edgar Allan Poe's poem Eureka posits a singularity that produces the Big Bang (a theory that didn't achieve mainstream acceptance until more than a century later, in the 1960s). Poe also predicts an expanding universe and black holes.
1848 — Henry David Thoreau delivers a lecture on civil disobedience, a concept that would appeal to Leo Tolstoy, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
1849 — Edgar Allan Poe dies. Poe was a pioneer of the "art for art's sake" movement, the symbolist movement, science fiction, the detective story, and the psychological thriller.
1851 — Stephen Foster writes "Old Folks at Home" for a minstrel show; it is published in sheet music. Herman Melville publishes Moby Dick, which he dedicates to Nathaniel Hawthorne.
1854 — Henry David Thoreau publishes his best-known work, Walden. Robert Frost later wrote: "In one book ... he surpasses everything we have had in America."
1855 — Walt Whitman self-publishes his revolutionary book of free verse poems, Leaves of Grass.
1859 — Charles Darwin publishes On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection, intensifying what has been called the "Victorian crisis of faith."
1860 — Charles Dickens publishes Great Expectations.
1861 — The Confederates attack Fort Sumter, starting the Civil War. Jules Verne works on his first science fiction novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon.
1862 — Emily Dickinson's "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers" is published; hers is one of the first and most unique voices of modernism.
1863 — Samuel Langhorne Clemens uses the penname "Mark Twain" for the first time.
1865 — The Civil War ends. Slavery is abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment. Abraham Lincoln is assassinated. Walt Whitman publishes his elegy for Lincoln, "When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd."
1867 — Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach has been called a masterpiece of Early Modernism, employing irregular rhyme and form, skepticism, pessimism, and exhibiting a crisis of faith in both God and mankind.
1875 — Gerard Manley Hopkins resumes writing poetry with his long poem "The Wreck of the Deutschland."
1876 — George Eliot publishes Daniel Deronda.
1878 — Carl Sandburg, an American poet, is born. Henry James's novel The Europeans.
1879 — Wallace Stevens, an American poet, is born. E. M. Forster, an English novelist, is born.
1880 — Ten years after the death of Charles Dickens, George Eliot dies. Thus the High Victorian era lapses into the Late Victorian.
1881 — Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman were among the first gay poets to "come out of the closet." Tony Pastor creates what we now call vaudeville. Henry James's novel A Portrait of a Lady.
1882 — The birth of the English modernist writer Virginia Woolf (1882-1941). William Butler Yeats writes his first poems around age seventeen.
1883 — Alfred Tennyson accepts a peerage, becoming Lord Alfred Tennyson. He was the first British subject to be made a lord for his writing. William Carlos Williams, an American poet, is born.
1884 — Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn takes a strong stand against racism and slavery. Huck says he would rather go to hell then turn in his friend Jim, the escaped slave.
1885 — Ezra Pound, an American modernist poet and critic, is born. William Butler Yeats's first poems are published in the Dublin University Review.
1886 — H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), an American modernist poet, is born. Robert Louis Stevenson's novels Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
1888 — T. S. Eliot, perhaps the greatest of the modernist poets, is born. Columbia Records, the first major American record label, is founded.
1890 — Emily Dickinson's poems are published posthumously. William James publishes Principles of Psychology, a book that would influence the Modernists.
1892 — Wakt Whitman prepares the final edition of Leaves of Grass, known as the "Deathbed Edition." Tommy Turpin's "Harlem Rag" is the first known ragtime composition.
1893 — The birth of the great English war (or anti-war) poet Wilfred Owen (1893-1918). William Butler Yeats publishes The Rose and The Celtic Twilight.
1894 — E. E. Cummings, an American poet, is born. William Butler Yeats has an affair with Olivia Shakespear. Rudyard Kipling writes The Jungle Book.
1895 — Scott Joplin publishes ragtime. Buddy Bolden has been credited with the countermelody of jazz. H. G. Wells writes the early science fiction novel The Time Machine.
1896 — The first radio technology. Thomas Hardy's last novel, Jude the Obscure, is considered "shocking" and he turns to poetry for the last 30 years of his life.
1897 — Scott Joplin popularizes ragtime, giving birth to the popular music industry. Jimmie Rogers, the "father of country music," is born. H. G. Wells writes The Invisible Man.
1898 — Thomas Hardy's Wessex Poems. Oscar Wilde's long poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol. H. G. Wells writes The War of the Worlds.
1899 — Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" is published and becomes the first ragtime hit with over 100,000 copies sold. Duke Ellington is born.
1900 — Thomas Hardy pens "The Darkling Thrush" and dates it December 31, 1900, which he considers to be the last day of the old century. Queen Victoria died a few days later, marking the end of the Victorian Era. Sigmund Freud publishes Interpretation of Dreams, which became an important influence on the Modernists.

Early Modernism and the Edwardian Period (1901-1910)

1901 — Sears, Roebuck and Co. is selling record players to the public, setting the stage for the coming explosion of record sales. Edward VII assumes the British throne, beginning the Edwardian Period.
1902 — Victor Records issues the first known recording of black music. Pianist Jelly Roll Morton claims to have invented jazz this year. Buddy Bolden creates a fusion of blues and ragtime.
1903 — Wilbur and Orville Wright fly the first airplane at Kitty Hawk. W. C. Handy sees a bluesman playing a guitar with a knife (the first "pick"?).
1905 — Albert Einstein presents his Special Theory of Relativity. Time and space were no longer infinite or absolute; everything was suddenly relative.
1907 — James Joyce's Chamber Music. The first wireless broadcast of classical music is produced in New York.
1908 — Ezra Pound leaves America for London. Alcohol is banned in North Carolina and Georgia, presaging Prohibition.
1909 — Two T. E Hulme poems launch the early modernist movement called Imagism. Hulme forms the Secession Club and Ezra Pound soon joins. Robert Peary reaches the North Pole.
1910 — Rudyard Kipling writes his most famous poem, "If." The NAACP is founded. Marie Curie, the first great female scientist, isolates radium. King George V assumes the British throne, beginning the Georgian Period. Virginia Woolf writes that "in or about December 1910, human character changed." The change became known as "modernism" (one aspect of modernism is that the "complexity of modern urban life must be reflected in literary form.")

The Georgian Period (1910-1936), World War I and the Modernists

1911 — Ezra Pound's Canzoni is published in London. Irving Berlin completes his first hit, "Alexander's Ragtime Band." The birth of the American playwright Tennessee Williams.
1912 — Harriet Munroe founds the literary journal Poetry with Ezra Pound contributing. The Titanic sinks, inspiring Thomas Hardy's "The Convergence of the Twain." W. C. Handy is playing the blues.
1913 — Ezra Pound's Imagist manifesto and anthology Des Imagistes. The word "jazz" first appears in print. Igor Stravinsky's avant-garde musical composition and ballet The Rite of Spring.
1914 — Great Britain enters World War I by declaring war on Germany. The Panama Canal opens to commercial traffic. T. S. Eliot meets Ezra Pound for the first time, in London.
1915 — The last issue of Blast includes the first poems of T. S. Eliot to be published in England. Einstein publishes his general theory of relativity.
1916 — James Joyce publishes his autobiographical modernist novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia will have worldwide repercussions.
1917 — The U.S. enters World War I and begins to dominate international affairs.
1918 — Wilfred Owen writes his graphic anti-war poem, "Dulce et Decorum Est." He dies just one week before the armistice that ends WWI.
1919 — George Gershwin's first and biggest hit is "Swanee." Physicist Ernest Rutherford, known as the father of nuclear physics, discovers a way to split atoms.
1920 — Jazz is made popular by musicians like Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. The first blues record is recorded on Valentine's Day by Mamie Smith, "Crazy Blues."
1921 — Adolf Hitler is elected leader of the Nazi Party in Germany.
1922 — T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" (perhaps the major poem of English modernism). James Joyce publishes Ulysses (perhaps the major novel of English modernism). The first country music recordings.
1923 — Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, the defining performers of classic blues, make their recording debuts. Hiram King "Hank" Williams is born in Olive, Alabama.
1925 — In Nashville the Grand Ole Opry begins radio broadcasts, bringing country and western music to the masses.
1926 — The birth of the American poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), the author of "Howl" and perhaps the greatest and most influential of the Beat poets. Langston Hughes' The Weary Blues.
1927 — Show Boat becomes the first hugely popular American musical comedy. Jimmie Rogers, the "father" of country music, appears on a radio station for the first time.
1928 — Virginia Woolf publishes her gender-bending novel Orlando. D. H. Lawrence publishes Lady Chatterly's Lover in Italy; the racy book is called obscene.
1929 — The Great Depression cripples the American economy, hurting the sales of books, phonographs and records. Virginia Woolf publishes her book-length essay A Room of One's Own
1931 — E. E. Cummings writes the first great modernist anti-war poem "i sing of Olaf glad and big."
1934 — Adolf Hitler becomes dictator of Germany.
1936 — Debut of the electric guitar. Legendary Delta bluesman Robert Johnson begins his short recording career. King George V dies, ending the Georgian Period.

World War II, the Cold War, Modernism and Postmodernism (1937-Present)

1939 — Great Britain enters World War II. Eddie Durham records the first music featuring the electric guitar; it will influence the blues and rock'n'roll.
1941 — The debut of FM radio stations. Alan Lomax records McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters, at Stovall's Farm in Mississippi.
1942 — The first award of a gold record for a million-selling hit went to Glenn Miller for "Chatanooga Choo-Choo."
1945 — The end of World War II.
1947 — Bluesman T-Bone Walker plays electric guitar on the recording of his standard "Call it Stormy Monday."
1948 — Columbia Records introduces the LP ("long playing") vinyl record, or album. Allen Ginsberg has his "auditory vision" of William Blake; Ginsberg would become the foremost Beat poet.
1949 — Hank Williams Sr. makes his debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Jerry Wexler, an editor at Billboard magazine, coins the term "rhythm and blues" as a substitute for the older term "race records."
1950 — Nat King Cole hits the charts with "Mona Lisa." Little Richard is an electric star.
1951 — Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed uses the term "rock 'n' roll" to promote rhythm and blues to white audiences. Muddy Waters is the king of the blues singers.
1953 — John F. Kennedy marries Jacqueline Lee Bouvier; the American Camelot has its royal wedding.
1954 — Bill Haley and the Comets have the first rock hit with "Rock Around the Clock." Elvis Presley records his first commercial record, "That's All Right, Mama," at Sun Studios in Memphis.
1955 — Black artists, sometimes employing racy lyrics, begin to hit the pop charts. Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" is a precursor of rap and modern performance poetry.
1956 — Elizabeth Bishop wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Elvis "the Pelvis" performs on the Milton Berle TV show, gyrating his hips and causing girls in the audience to scream and swoon.
1957 — San Francisco book publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti is arrested for publishing Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl."
1958 — Buddy Holly appears on the Ed Sullivan show. Billboard introduces its Hot 100 chart. Ricky Nelson's "Poor Little Fool" is the first number one record.
1959 — Berry Gordy Jr. founds the Motown record label; its future stars will include the Miracles, Supremes, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.
1960 — Sam Cooke scores big with "Chain Gang." Muddy Waters performs at the Newport Jazz Festival to tremendous acclaim.
1961 — The Motown record label has its first number one hit with "Please Mr. Postman" by the girl group The Marvelettes.
1962 — James Brown records "Live At The Apollo." Brown’s drummer Clayton Fillyau introduces the break beat, which would later inspire the b-boy movement, and rap.
1963 — Bob Dylan becomes famous for folk songs and protest songs like "Blowin' in the Wind."
1964 — The Beatles top the American charts for the first time with "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and Beatlemania has begun.
1965 — Bob Dylan has a major hit with "Like a Rolling Stone" and goes electric at the Newport Folk Festival (receiving boos from the audience and producers).
1966 — The Beatles, Monkees, Beach Boys, Supremes, Rolling Stones, Petula Clark and Frank and Nancy Sinatra somehow manage to coexist on the popular charts.
1967 — Anne Sexton wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Lulu, Englebert Humperdink, the Sinatras, the Doors and the Rolling Stones incongruously top the charts.
1968 — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated.
1969 — Woodstock features folk and rock poets Arlo Guthrie; Joan Baez; John Fogerty; Sly Stone; Janis Joplin; Jimi Hendrix; and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
1970 — William Stafford is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. The Moody Blues, ELO and Pink Floyd invent "art rock."
1972 — The earliest rap musical events are held in the Bronx.
1973 — Great Britain joins the European Union. American Graffiti is the first major movie about rock 'n' roll.
1974 — The debut of disco music.
1975 — Queen releases the single "Bohemian Rhapsody" which features surreal, ultra-modernistic lyrics. Patti Smith is the pioneer of punk music with "Horses."
1977 — The movie Saturday Night Fever popularizes disco and makes the Bee Gees major stars. 
1978 — Sony introduces the Walkman and the concept of personal, portable music. The debut of hip-hop music, which is very close to poetry and rap. The debut of Soul Train.
1979 — The Sugarhill Gang’s "Rapper's Delight" is released; it becomes the first rap/hip-hop song/poem to reach the Billboard's Top 40.
1980 — Blondie has the first white rap/hip-hop hit with "Rapture."
1981 — MTV debuts with innovative music videos.
1982 — Sylvia Plath wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for her collected poems. 
1983 — Compact discs begin to replace vinyl records. Michael Jackson wows the MTV world with his first public moonwalk during a live performance of "Billie Jean."
1984 —  Madonna becomes a pop star with "Like a Virgin."
1985 — Freddy Mercury and Queen steal the show at Live Aid.
1991 — Nirvana's first single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," makes grunge cool.
1993 — The Who's rock opera Tommy debuts on Broadway. Kurt Cobain and Nirvana have an epic moment on MTV Unplugged.
1996 — Rap poet Eminem releases his debut album, Infinite.
2001 — Apple releases the first iPod, a portable MP3 player.
2016 — Great Britain leaves the European Union in a movement known as "Brexit." Donald Trump is elected president of the United States in a shocking upset.

And who can guess what the future will hold? ...

Related Pages in Chronological Order: Song of Amergin, Caedmon's Hymn, Bede's Death Song, Deor's Lament, Wulf and Eadwacer, The Wife's Lament, Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Kennings, How Long the Night, Ballads, Sumer is Icumen in, Fowles in the Frith, Ich am of Irlaunde, Tom O'Bedlam's Song, Now Goeth Sun Under Wood, Pity Mary, Sweet Rose of Virtue, Lament for the Makaris

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