Yesterday I was reading the Baltimore Sun, which is graciously provided for free by my school. In the arts and entertainment section (the only part I read cover to cover everyday) there was an article about Mount Vernon, George Washington's estate and childhood home. The article discussed the new features of the house, announcing the springtime opening of the side garden that has been closed to the public for 3 years for excavation. The Mount Vernon staff announced that the garden is now "a much closer replica to what it was in 1799".
OK, so now if you're silly, like me, you think "1799? that's way to late in history! Washington was 1776." Well, that's a little over 20 years difference. So before you freak out, let's think about why some dates seem "closer" to us than others.
I think part of it is due to schooling. Example "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue". After learning that jingle, you will associate Columbus with the year 1492. However, he died in 1506. His life was much more than the one year. But, 1506? That seems so much closer than 1492! Have you noticed how the century breaks seem to be so much bigger than they really are?
Or how about this - I forget that people who are only a year or two older than me were born in the end of the 1980's and not the 1990's. Decades, Centuries, Millenniums - how far apart does your mind perceive them to be?