It’s difficult to come up with a single thing that is most significant to humanity. You could go with the Big Bang or God creating the earth depending on your beliefs, but to get more recent is difficult. However, we can see through how significant and widespread their impact was, which events have has a profound impact on society, and that brings me to the topic of this post. The historical significance of the invention of gunpowder.
I don’t think there is any objective opinion that can state gunpowder was an insignificant invention. It was revolutionary in every sense of the word. Revolutionary to technology, revolutionary to industry, revolutionary to armed revolutions. Even the initial formula that has lasted nearly 1200 years is still in use, and was only phased out in the mainstream at the start of the 20th century.
Since it’s inception in 9th century China, gunpowder’s influence has only grown and grown all over the world. It almost immediately saw it’s use in weapons begin in China, and gradually made it’s way west until the 13th century where it reached Europe. Europe’s lack of nomadic raiders was the perfect political and warring environment for the expansion of the gun, and how it was modified over time.
This adoption of the gun in Europe became extremely significant during the age of exploration and colonization of the Americas, as these more advanced weapons gave the Europeans a strong advantage in colonial wars. The conquistadors in the Spanish Empire are a prime example of this, since technology like this allowed them defeat empires like the Aztec and Incans in combat.
But the gun isn’t the only thing gunpowder has been a conduit to. As it was the first explosive created in human history, it paved the way for other explosives and explosive concepts, important to the economic development of nations and life as we know it too. The use of explosives in mining being the main example that comes to mind, but also railway and road construction, avalanche control, and non military firearm purposes like hunting, sport and pest extermination. Even the combustion engine used in most vehicles relies on a concept of controlled explosions to function.
You could even find all sorts of symbols which don’t directly involve gunpowder, but are a result of it nonetheless. What’s known as the anonymous mask or Guy Fawkes mask for example, doesn’t use gunpowder, but has prominence because of the gunpowder plot to blow up the House of Lords in the early 1600s.
All of this is possible, just because of a few Chinese monks 1200 years ago. I think this is not only a strong example of historical significance, but also the butterfly effect, as one individual looking for medicine influenced an unthinkable number of events and lives, all across the world.