The Peak (Malaysia) - - Portraits -

Many have left a mark in Fe­bru­ary, for bet­ter or for worse.

What a month Fe­bru­ary has been over the cen­turies. Twenty years ago this month, Nel­son Man­dela walked out of South Africa’s Vic­tor Ver­ster prison af­ter serv­ing for 27 years for his ac­tiv­i­ties with the African Na­tional Congress. Four years later, he be­came pres­i­dent af­ter South Africa’s first demo­cratic elec­tions.

Two things that dom­i­nate our cur­rent land­scape also hap­pened in past Fe­bru­ar­ies: in 2004, Har­vard stu­dents Mark Zucker­berg, Ed­uardo Saverin, An­drew McCol­lum, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes launched Face­book from their dorm room, while the fol­low­ing year, YouTube, started by for­mer Pay­Pal em­ploy­ees Chad Hur­ley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, went live. Just as ubiq­ui­tous, but prob­a­bly less ap­peal­ing, it was in Fe­bru­ary 1909 that the Bel­gian chemist Leo Baeke­land cre­ated Bake­lite, the world’s first syn­thetic plas­tic.

Fe­bru­ary 1912 saw the ab­di­ca­tion of Em­peror Puyi, bring­ing an end to im­pe­rial rule in China. Four decades later, El­iz­a­beth II as­cended to the thrones of the United King­dom, Canada, Aus­tralia, New Zealand and three other Com­mon­wealth coun­tries, where she re­mains to­day. In be­tween, in 1923, Egyp­tol­o­gist and ar­chae­ol­o­gist Howard Carter un­sealed the burial cham­ber of Tu­tankhamun, re­veal­ing the most com­plete an­cient Egyp­tian royal tomb ever found. Carter him­self took 10 years to cat­a­logue the more than 5,000 items found in the tomb.

It was also a Fe­bru­ary that com­poser Clau­dio Mon­teverdi de­buted L’Or­feo, widely con­sid­ered the first fully de­vel­oped opera in Man­tua, Italy, in 1607. The same month in 1914 saw an­other de­but: Char­lie Chap­lin’s im­mor­tal ‘The Tramp’ char­ac­ter made his first ap­pear­ance in the film Kid Auto Races at Venice. That month also saw Chris­tian Dior un­veiled the ‘New Look’ that rev­o­lu­tionised women’s dress and re-es­tab­lished Paris as the cen­tre of the fash­ion world in 1947.

In Fe­bru­ary 1940, bio­chemists Martin Ka­men and Sam Ruben dis­cov­ered car­bon-14, which is used ex­ten­sively as the ba­sis of the ra­dio­car­bon dat­ing method to date ar­chae­o­log­i­cal and ge­o­log­i­cal sam­ples. An­other sci­en­tific break­through also took place in Fe­bru­ary 1997, when scientists at the Roslin In­sti­tute in Scot­land an­nounced the birth of Dolly, the first mam­mal to have been suc­cess­fully cloned from an adult cell.

And then, it was also a Fe­bru­ary that re­vealed our place in the uni­verse when the Voy­ager 1 space probe took an iconic pho­to­graph of Earth in 1990 that be­came fa­mous as Pale Blue Dot, show­ing how tiny and in­signif­i­cant we are in the grander scheme of things. If there’s any­thing that all the Fe­bru­ar­ies of the past can teach us, it is that, af­ter all the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of cre­ations and ac­tions, we are but a mere speck in the pas­sage of time. Bet­ter make ev­ery sec­ond count.

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