What Is Western History?

western history

Western history is the story of the development of Western civilization through cultural and intellectual movements. During this time, great breakthroughs in science and technology emerged, while social movements such as religious toleration, equality before the law and feminism were born. The Western world is also the origin point of true globalization, as Europeans first encountered and then absorbed lands that were previously beyond their frontier.

As historians have studied this remarkable era, one key question has arisen: What does it mean to call something “western”? The term is most often used to refer to the American West, but its reach extends to cultures worldwide that are influenced by European traditions. Historically, the Western world evolved from ancient Mediterranean cultures through the Renaissance, and then the Age of Exploration expanded it even further.

A key part of this process was the formation of national states, which reduced violence and crime while preserving a sense of unity and identity. Cultural life was enriched by the writings of Dante and Chaucer, and the architecture of Gothic cathedrals. Western philosophy developed through scholasticism, a movement that sought to join faith with reason. The Middle Ages, a period that lasted from the late 5th century to the late 15th, was marked by the theology of Thomas Aquinas and the art of Giotto.

Western Civilization

During the Renaissance, the Western world became more modern and scientifically advanced, with such developments as the printing press, the microscope, and the telescope. It also developed its first major cities, including Venice, Florence and London. Political life changed, too, as kings gave way to national rulers with broad powers.

After the Age of Enlightenment, the Western world continued its rise through the Industrial Revolution, and the emergence of globe-spanning colonial empires in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the same time, the world outside Europe was changing dramatically as millions of people migrated to the West from Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The resulting clash of these two distant worlds has resulted in tremendous cooperation as well as profound conflict. It is this interaction that has shaped the course of human history, for better or worse.

While the Western world has a rich and varied history, it is important to remember that it is only a small part of the whole story of human civilization. The most important lessons of history are not the remarkable feats of great men, but the ordinary lives of everyday people, whose actions and decisions determine the outcome of events. These individuals are what make up the collective consciousness of a society, and their actions, beliefs and aspirations shape the course of history.

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