History of the Western World

The Western world is a broad concept that refers to various nations and cultures with historical ties to Europe. However, the term also applies to cultures farther east, like those of Japan and China. Western culture has had a major impact on the rest of the world over the centuries.

Western civilization has expanded far beyond the ancient Greeks and Romans, and the Islamic world. It rose with the 18th century’s Age of Enlightenment, and the subsequent Age of Exploration led to the growth of globe-spanning colonial empires throughout the 19th century.

Modern Western societies are characterized by democratic elections of leaders, and the disappearance of absolute monarchy, which had reached its height with the final years of the Russian Tsar’s reign in 1917. In the 20th century, however, a series of violent global events — first Fascism, then the protracted Cold War and finally the onset of the era of nuclear armament — created new polarizations in the world.

In Europe, the development of democracy gave rise to nationalist movements that would eventually erode the power of European empires. By the end of the century, virtually all European countries were electing their leaders democratically. The end of World War I in 1918 resulted in the formation of the League of Nations (predecessor to the United Nations) by American president Woodrow Wilson.

The emergence of the West has been marked by the rapid development of scientific, technical and industrial advancements. These include the printing press, the steam engine, and advances in firearms and shipbuilding. The West also has a unique cultural heritage, rooted in the classical traditions of ancient Greece, Rome and medieval Europe. It has a rich literary tradition, reflected in works by Shakespeare, the poets of the Renaissance, and the art of the Baroque.

The Western world has had a significant influence in the past few centuries on the peoples of Asia and Oceania, as well. For example, the Europeans brought their own religion of Christianity to these peoples and many of them became Christians. The discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus and his crew of explorers radically changed the indigenous peoples of that region, as many of them converted to Catholicism and intermarried with the Iberian settlers who brought them over. This created a hybrid population known as Mestizo, whose roots are in both cultures.

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