“When the past no longer illuminates the future, the mind advances in darkness.”
– Alexis de Tocqueville
As Aristotle says, "If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development." We want to understand the liberal arts and education, so it is important to observe their beginning and development. Our timelines tell the story of education in the Western tradition and contextualize that story within the larger scope of world history. A timeline is a superior presentation of history because one can see the whole of Western Civilization, the parts of its development, and how the parts fit back into the whole. We center history around individual men and women, not general ideas and trends, because progress is not the result of inevitable fate, but the result of people who use their free will to enact change. Like poetry, the object of history is the human person, but the method of approach is from the perspective of real men and women from the past. The past we put forward for you is from the Western and American traditions. The greatest use that these timelines offer are not a general overview of a specific era, but a particular emphasis upon how the West asks and answers the two questions of a liberal education: what is the nature of reality and how should a life be lived.
Our timelines attempt to draw a narrative through the judgments, actions, and works of the founders of Western and American culture. Although these timelines would be too narrow to use for a semester class, they would be perfect for a single introductory class or a framework to structure a course around. With this in mind, let us look to the great historians to know how to approach history. Thucydides says, "History is philosophy teaching by examples." Livy says, "What chiefly makes the study of history wholesome and profitable is this, that you behold the lessons of every kind of experience set forth as on a conspicuous monument; from these you may choose for yourself and for your own state what to imitate, from these mark for avoidance what is shameful in the conception and shameful in the result." Tacitus says, "The principal office of history I take to be this: to prevent virtuous actions from being forgotten, and that evil words and deeds should fear an infamous reputation with posterity." David C. McCullough says, "History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are." If you keep these ideas in mind when perusing our timeline, or history in general, you will not fail to find fruit.