A History of Western World History

western world history

Western world history is a narrative of the development of modern Western culture. This is the narrative that is laid out in textbooks, encoded implicitly in children’s stories and Hollywood movies and proclaimed loudly and angrily by commentators on both sides of the political spectrum. It is a version of history that omits the development of Islam, Africa, Asia and Latin America; that excludes gender and women’s history; and that places excessive emphasis on a narrow interpretation of political history.

This conceit reached its apex in the first half of the twentieth century, when European powers fought one another to secure their global share of economic and military dominance. It also gave rise to new ideologies like fascism and Nazis that put racial superiority at the heart of their worldviews, pitting “us” against “them.”

The second half of the twentieth century saw the rapid dismantling of worldwide empires by European nations such as Britain and France, as well as the emergence of competing superpowers such as the Soviet Union. In addition, civil rights movements and widescale multi-ethnic, multi-faith migrations lowered the earlier predominance of ethnic Europeans in Western culture.

These changes in Western world history have been accompanied by the development of technologies and new ideas that have transformed human civilization. The West invented the cinema, television, radio and telephone; developed such philosophic and scientific theories as the Renaissance’s enlightenment, the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, and industrialization; produced artists like Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci and Beethoven; and made possible such technological wonders as steam power, the automobile, the airplane and the satellite.

In the twenty-first century, the West retains significant global economic power and influence. Its governments are generally democratic and liberal, while its universities and business companies foster the research and invention that drive economies. Its cultural products include the Internet, art, music and literature. Its universities offer degrees in over 200 subjects, and its business and financial institutions support the creation of new technology.

A History of Western Civilization

The term “western civilization” dates back to ancient Greece and Rome, medieval Western Christendom and the Enlightenment. Since that time, the West has experienced transformative episodes in its history including the Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial revolutions; a series of religious conflicts and upheavals; a period of racial and linguistic integration that led to the emergence of a unified Germany and Italy; and a series of world wars.

The most recent chapters in this story are the Cold War, which ended around 1990; the collapse of the Soviet-imposed Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe; Tiananmen Square protests; and the birth of the Web and the invention of the cell phone. Nevertheless, the Western world still faces many major challenges, ranging from poverty and environmental degradation in Africa to religious extremism and regional conflict in the Middle East. Western world historians are working to develop new narratives to guide our responses to these challenges. These new narratives will draw on new scholarship, re-think longstanding assumptions and incorporate the contributions of non-Europeans.

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