Tory Historian's blog: A Matter of Calendars

Posted by Tory Historian Thursday, January 02, 2014

A very happy New Year from Tory Historian and a link to a fascinating article on Stratfor on the Gregorian Calendar, how it came about and why it ought to be reformed (at least, according to some people). Calendar reforms are never that popular and TH predicts that this will not happen, particularly as by now the Gregorian Calendar has spread through the world and is used practically everywhere even if there is another, parallel one for certain purposes.

Some interesting quotes from the article:

The Gregorian calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, was itself an attempt to address the problems of its predecessor, the Julian calendar, which had been introduced by Julius Caesar to abolish the use of the lunar year and eliminate a three-month gap that opened up between the civil and astronomical equinoxes. It subsequently spread throughout the Roman Empire (and beyond as Christianity spread) and influenced the design of calendars elsewhere. Though it deviates from the time it takes the earth to revolve around the sun by just 11 minutes (a remarkable astronomical feat for the time), the Julian system overly adjusted for the fractional difference in year length, slowly leading to a misalignment in the astronomical and calendar years.


But what was perhaps most significant about Pope Gregory's system was not its changes, but rather its role in the onset of the globalized era. In centuries prior, countries around the world had used a disjointed array of uncoordinated calendars, each adopted for local purposes and based primarily on local geographical factors. The Mayan calendar would not be easily aligned with the Egyptian, Greek, Chinese or Julian calendars, and so forth. In addition to the pope's far-reaching influence, the adoption of the Gregorian system was facilitated by the emergence of a globalized system marked by exploration and the development of long-distance trade networks and interconnectors between regions beginning in the late 1400s. The pope's calendar was essentially the imposition of a true global interactive system and the acknowledgment of a new global reality.


Most reform proposals have failed to supplant the Gregorian system not because they failed to improve upon the status quo altogether, but because they either do not preserve the Sabbath, they disrupt the seven-day week (only a five-day week would fit neatly into a 365-day calendar without necessitating leap weeks or years) or they stray from the seasonal cycle. And the possibilities of calendrical reform highlight the difficulty of worldwide cooperation in the modern international system. Global collaboration would indeed be critical, since reform in certain places but not in others would cause more chaos and inefficiency than already exist in the current system. A tightly coordinated, carefully managed transition period would be critical to avoid many of the issues that occurred when the Gregorian calendar was adopted.
We shall, no doubt, hear about this again at the beginning of 2015.


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