Common Times

So what’s “common” in the Common Era (C.E.)—or what was lacking in the “Before the Common Era” (B.C.E.)? This rather new disturb-no-one designation of the fundamental chronological divide in historical development apparently offers no justification other than to move away from the religious basis of the old B.C. and A.D.

But in so doing, it fails to consider what we all know to be true: to speak of historical commonality is to talk of globalization, a phenomenon that does not go back much before newspapers, telegraphs, railroad trains and canned (tinned) food. What was common before then has more become the fields of investigation of anthropology and archeology than of eventful history. There were few well-marked dates (such as July 4, 1776) or chronologically discernible trends that affected the world simultaneously or nearly simultaneously.

The “common” conditions, such as war, farming and religious practice, were usually geographically defined and restricted.  Some foodways were “common,” or at least widely shared, such as tea drinking and rice eating, but little else was.

Then came the truly ”common era,” the one in which we live, what with Adidas sneakers on our feet, Coke cans in our hands, Toyota cars on our roads and FIFA World Cup competition on our TVs, “Before the Common Era” and “Common Era” are not satisfactory terms by which to separate the ancient from the modern.  The Kentucky Department of Education fudged the issue— but probably with the only viable solution-- by determining that “B.C./B.C.E” and “A.D./C.E” will be henceforth be used. (This, too, has met with opposition.)

I offer no solution; and as a historian whose interest is in the “modern era,” I have no vested interest in the controversial alphabet game.

Ray Betts