USC Libraries Collection of Western Europe History

Western europe history is the study of the history of countries and regions north of the Mediterranean Sea that are generally considered to be part of the West. In the United States, the term Western Europe is usually used to refer to the area comprising Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. USC Libraries collects in all areas of the discipline, but with particular emphasis on post-1450 history.

The history of Western Europe reflects the complex interplay of cultural, economic and political forces that have shaped the continent and its peoples since antiquity. These include such epoch-defining events as the discovery of gunpowder and the printing press, the Reformation and European colonization, the industrial revolution and world wars, the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In the late Middle Ages, European economies shifted from feudalism to capitalism through mercantilism, and literacy grew rapidly, allowing new secular forces to shape thought. The Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution gave rise to ideas that challenged traditional beliefs about human nature, and new modes of warfare were born from technological innovations like cannons and gunpowder.

Religious divisions exploded in the 16th century as the Protestant Reformation gained followers, particularly among kings and princes seeking to build stronger states by ending the influence of the Catholic Church. Countries like France and England splintered internally along sectarian lines, as did the Holy Roman Empire.

After 1800, industrialization brought new wealth and urbanization to Western Europe. The Age of Exploration ushered in the era of colonization, which fueled capital accumulation, and some Western nations transformed their monarchies into parliamentary republics. The 19th century brought political revolutions that swept through parts of Europe, and long-established social structures were disrupted.

As the world changed in the 20th century, European nations rebuilt their military and political institutions. The end of the Cold War led to NATO enlargement, which was slow to take place in the face of fears that an overly bold move into Eastern Europe would invite Russian hostility. In 1989, the Iron Curtain fell and Western Europe reunited with East Germany in the process of German reunification. In the years that followed, the United Kingdom and Ireland became members of the European Union (EU), and countries that were once part of the Soviet bloc acceded to full membership in the EU, including Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The EU has also developed new policies for dealing with terrorism, the global economy and other major international challenges. These developments will reshape the future of the continent for decades to come.

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