A Western History Timeline

western history timeline

The term western civilization is a loaded one, implying that it is distinct from, and superior to, other forms of culture. This idea coalesced in college textbooks and curriculums for the first time in the 1920s, but the concept has a longer history than that. This article will explore the origin of the phrase, and then turn to a timeline that traces key developments in European history that form the basis of modern Western culture.

The earliest Western cultures arose in the Mediterranean world of the Greeks, Romans and Etruscans. This period, referred to as the Hellenistic age, is credited with the birth of Western philosophy, theater, math, science and democracy. It also produced some of the earliest naturalistic depictions of human beings.

These achievements are often overshadowed by the dark side of this era, which included the persecution and extermination of Jews, Muslims and other religious minorities in Europe. The medieval period was also marked by a brutal war between Catholics and Protestants, a war that left an immense legacy of hatred and violence that persists to this day.

In the 18th century, a series of disparate developments converged in England to trigger a revolution that changed the way people lived and thought. The Industrial Revolution harnessed new energy sources, mainly fossil fuels like coal, that underwrote a rapid expansion of technology, wealth and military power.

This development coincided with the rise of nationalism, as many European countries established national boundaries around their common heritage and values. It also coincided with the last great colonial expansion, as a series of European powers spread their rule into parts of the world which had previously been largely unknown to them.

The end of this period was marked by a terrible and destructive global conflict, which shook the foundations of many European countries, including those that had previously been part of the Allied victory in World War One. The war also triggered the collapse of the Russian Empire, which had been one of the defeated powers in that war, and its replacement with a Communist-dominated Soviet Union.

After the war, most European nations began to move towards full parliamentary democracy, following the example of Britain, which had long experience with this type of government. At the same time, large populations of people from Asia, Africa and South America moved to many European countries, creating communities which sometimes struggled to integrate themselves fully with their hosts. In addition, scientists began to express grave concerns about the environmental impact of our continued use of fossil fuels. This led to the beginnings of a worldwide search for alternative energy sources. Those concerns grew even more serious as a terrifying new disease, AIDS, killed millions of people in Africa and elsewhere.

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