Generation 494, 1860 – 1880. Reviewing the human situation

Most people coming to maturity in this period will have the memory of a brother or sister who died young, and maybe a mother or aunt who died giving birth. If they live in Britain or Ireland, they almost certainly have family members who have moved overseas, to America, Australia, Africa or India. Steamships had cut the journey times of ocean voyages compared to those of the days of sail, and the Suez Canal meant that it took weeks rather than months to get from Europe to India and the rest of Asia.

Those who stayed at home could get news from overseas by letter, and the newspapers carried more up-to-date news received via telegraph. The newspapers also told of the discoveries of explorers who reported back from the blank bits on the map of the world: central Africa, South America and central Asia.

For people living in the cities, sanitary conditions were generally appalling at the start of this period. By the end of it, city councils in the UK had taken responsibility for mains drainage, sewers and street cleaning. The air was dirty and smoky and the only lighting was from a naked flame or gaslight.

Kings Arms about 1870 - Z50-101-14b

Sports were becoming organised in a different way. This period saw football, baseball and lawn tennis organised into national and even international leagues, with agreed standardised rules. There was no recorded music, so all entertainment was live. A musical instrument must have been a treasured possession.

For people living in the countryside, there were changes to their status. The serfs in Russia were emancipated, and slavery was abolished in the USA. One human being could not own another any more. Women had more rights too. In the UK the Married Womens’ Property Act meant that any money a woman earned or held no longer automatically became the property of her husband. The London Medical School for Women accepted its first students.


And here is a photo of a girls’ school in Scotland, taken in 1865.


A new idea was discussed in this period, building on work done in the previous generation by men who looked at the natural world in a new light. The Christian biblical view that the world was created in its final complete form in seven days six thousand years previously was challenged by geologists (itself a new science). Looking at the story in the rocks they realised that the Earth is in a continual process of change and that all the changes they read must have happened over a much longer timescale than the one they saw written in the margins of their bibles. Not only that, other scientists proposed that organic life is itself in a continual process of change. Some species have become extinct, and maybe new ones can come into existence. Even humans may have evolved from previous forms. A new word had to be coined to encompass the extended timescale. The word ‘prehistory’ was invented. To ask such questions at all was breathtaking and pathfinding. ‘Eternity’ took on a completely new meaning, and to think about it was probably both frightening and exhilarating.

As we go back through the generations from now, the biblical version of Creation is the orthodoxy in the Christian world. The whole of world history is encompassed by fewer than two hundred human generations.


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