A Guide to Western European History

Western European history encompasses the history of the countries of Europe, from ancient times to the present. It is a vast and complex story of wars, battles, monarchs, religion, cultural identity and much more. It is a story that spans over 2 percent of the world’s surface, yet tells an epic tale of human civilization.

In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church dominated European culture, and kings controlled religious institutions within their kingdoms. The discovery of gunpowder and the invention of the printing press changed warfare, and allowed humanistic ideas to spread. The Age of Exploration saw the exploitation of natural resources and people of the Americas and elsewhere, while the Reformation ripped the Catholic Church apart. During this period, feudalism gave way to capitalism, and European countries developed a sense of their own superiority based on the idea of a shared Christian heritage.

By the late Middle Ages, the last of the barbarian invasions had ceased and Europe had become more tightly organized politically. The Papacy had lost power in the East, and the Catholic church was split into Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. The printing revolution had opened up the study of science and philosophy to a wide audience, despite the fact that many books were still banned by the Roman Catholic Church.

During this period, the Hundred Years’ War raged in France and England, the Black Death killed millions of people, and the Italian Renaissance was born. The printing press enabled Europeans to learn about other cultures, and Vasco da Gama opened up direct trade with India.

With the rise of industrialization and urbanization came rapid changes, and parliamentary systems replaced absolutist rule in many countries. A new sense of European supremacy grew, and led to some thinkers, like Montaigne, believing non-Europeans were less civilized, and more primitive. The scientific revolution accelerated, and the Industrial Revolution was launched. Post services were established throughout Europe, and humanistic ideas flowed easily across borders despite religious differences.

The 20th century was marked by World War I and the remaking of the map of Europe as large Empires became smaller nation-states. The Cold War, and later the collapse of the Berlin Wall, re-opened European borders. In the 1990’s, the European Union was formed, and the process of decolonization continued as the remaining Eastern European countries joined.

The library’s collection of print resources in the field of western europe history supports teaching and research in a wide variety of disciplines, including, but not limited to, anthropology, art history, classical studies, business, comparative literature, economics, gender studies, global affairs, historical geography, international relations, law, history and political science. The collection is strongest in the areas of Britain, France, Germany/Austria, and Italy.

Similar Posts