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Modern History

Modern history, the modern period or the modern era, is the linear,
global, historiographical approach to the time frame after post-classical history. This view stands
in contrast to the "organic," or non-linear, view of history first put forward by the renowned
philosopher and historian, Oswald Spengler, early in the 20th century. Modern history can be
further broken down into periods:

 The early modern period began approximately in the early 16th century; notable
historical milestones included the European Renaissance, the Age of Discovery, and
the Protestant Reformation.
 The late modern period began approximately in the mid-18th century; notable historical
milestones included the French Revolution, the American Revolution, the Industrial
Revolution and the Great Divergence. It took all of human history up to 1804 for the
world's population to reach 1 billion; the next billion came just over a century later, in
 Contemporary history is the span of historic events from approximately 1945 that are
immediately relevant to the present time.

Study Guide

Some events, while not without precedent, show a new way of perceiving the world. The concept
of modernity interprets the general meaning of these events and seeks explanations for major

Source Text

The fundamental difficulty of studying modern history is the fact that a plethora of it has been
documented up to the present day. It is imperative to consider the reliability of the information
obtained from these records.
Terminology and Usage


In the pre-modern era, many people's sense of self and purpose was often expressed via a faith in
some form of deity, be it that in a single God or in many gods. Pre-modern cultures have not
been thought of creating a sense of distinct individuality, though. Religious officials, who often
held positions of power, were the spiritual intermediaries to the common person. It was only
through these intermediaries that the general masses had access to
the divine. Tradition was sacred to ancient cultures and was unchanging and the social
order of ceremony and morals in a culture could be strictly enforced.


The term modern was coined in the 16th century to indicate present or recent times (ultimately
derived from the Latin adverb modo, meaning "just now"). The European Renaissance (about
1420–1630), which marked the transition between the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern
times, started in Italy and was spurred in part by the rediscovery of classical art and literature, as
well as the new perspectives gained from the Age of Discovery and the invention of
the telescope and microscope, expanding the borders of thought and knowledge.

In contrast to the pre-modern era, Western civilization made a gradual transition from pre-
modernity to modernity when scientific methods were developed which led many to believe that
the use of science would lead to all knowledge, thus throwing back the shroud of myth under
which pre-modern peoples lived. New information about the world was discovered via empirical
observation, versus the historic use of reason and innate knowledge.

The term "Early Modern" was introduced in the English language in the 1930s. to distinguish the
time between what we call Middle Ages and time of the late Enlightenment (1800) (when the
meaning of the term Modern Ages was developing its contemporary form). It is important to note
that these terms stem from European history. In usage in other parts of the world, such as in
Asia, and in Muslim countries, the terms are applied in a very different way, but often in the
context with their contact with European culture in the Age of Discovery.

In the Contemporary era, there were various socio-technological trends. Regarding the 21st
century and the late modern world, the Information Age and computers were forefront in use, not
completely ubiquitous but often present in everyday life. The development of Eastern powers
was of note, with China and India becoming more powerful. In the Eurasian theater, the
European Union and Russian Federation were two forces recently developed. A concern for
Western world, if not the whole world, was the late modern form of terrorism and the warfare
that has resulted from the contemporary terrorist acts.

Modern Era

Significant Developments

The modern period has been a period of significant development in the fields
of science, politics, warfare, and technology. It has also been an age of
discovery and globalization. During this time, the European powers and later their colonies,
began a political, economic, and cultural colonization of the rest of the world.

By the late 19th and 20th centuries, modernist art, politics, science and culture has come to
dominate not only Western Europe and North America, but almost every civilized area on the
globe, including movements thought of as opposed to the west and globalization. The modern era
is closely associated with the development of individualism, capitalism, urbanization and a
belief in the possibilities of technological and political progress.

Wars and other perceived problems of this era, many of which come from the effects of rapid
change, and the connected loss of strength of traditional religious and ethical norms, have led to
many reactions against modern development. Optimism and belief in constant progress has been
most recently criticized by postmodernism while the dominance of Western Europe and Anglo-
America over other continents has been criticized by postcolonial theory.

One common conception of modernity is the condition of Western history since the mid-15th
century, or roughly the European development of movable type and the printing press. In this
context the "modern" society is said to develop over many periods, and to be influenced by
important events that represent breaks in the continuity.


The modern era includes the early period, called the early modern period, which lasted from c.
1500 to around c. 1800 (most often 1815). Particular facets of early modernity include:

 The Renaissance
 The Reformation and Counter Reformation.
 The Age of Discovery
 The Rise of capitalism
 The Golden Age of Piracy

Important events in the early modern period include:

 The invention of the printing press

 The English Civil War
 The Seven Years' War

The modern era includes the early period, called the early modern period, which lasted from c.
1500 to around c. 1800 (most often 1815). Particular facets of early modernity include:

 The Renaissance
 The Reformation and Counter Reformation.
 The Age of Discovery
 The Rise of capitalism
 The Golden Age of Piracy

Important events in the early modern period include:

 The invention of the printing press

 The English Civil War
 The Seven Years' War

As a result of the Industrial Revolution and the earlier political revolutions, the worldviews
of Modernism emerged. The industrialization of many nations was initiated with the
industrialization of Britain. Particular facets of the late modernity period include:

 Increasing role of science and technology

 Mass literacy and proliferation of mass media
 Spread of social movements
 Institution of representative democracy
 Individualism
 Industrialization
 Urbanization
 Total fertility rates and ecological collapses occurring at geometric rates;

Other important events in the development of the Late modern period include:

 The American Revolution

 The French Revolution
 The Revolutions of 1848
 The Russian Revolution
 The First World War and the Second World War

Our most recent era—Modern Times—begins with the end of these revolutions in the 19th
century, and includes the World Wars era (encompassing World War I and World War II) and
the emergence of socialist countries that led to the Cold War. The contemporary era follows
shortly afterward with the explosion of research and increase of knowledge known as
the Information Age in the latter 20th and the early 21st century. Today's Postmodern era is seen
in widespread digitality.

Early Modern Period

Historians consider the early modern period to be approximately between 1500 and 1800. It
follows the Late Middle Ages period and is marked by the first European colonies, the rise of
strong centralized governments, and the beginnings of recognizable nation-states that are the
direct antecedents of today's states.

In Africa and the Ottoman Empire, the Muslim expansion took place in North and East Africa. In
West Africa, various native nations existed. The Indian Empires and civilizations of Southeast
Asia were a vital link in the spice trade. On the Indian subcontinent, the Great Mughal Empire
existed. The archipelagic empires, the Sultanate of Malacca and later the Sultanate of Johor,
controlled the southern areas.

In Asia, various Chinese dynasties and Japanese shogunates controlled the Asian sphere. In
Japan, the Edo period from 1600 to 1868 is also referred to as the early modern period. And in
Korea, from the rising of Joseon Dynasty to the enthronement of King Gojong is referred to as
the early modern period. In the Americas, Native Americans had built a large and varied
civilization, including the Aztec Empire and alliance, the Inca civilization, the Mayan Empire
and cities, and the Chibcha Confederation. In the west, the European kingdoms and movements
were in a movement of reformation and expansion. Russia reached the Pacific coast in 1647 and
consolidated its control over the Russian Far East in the 19th century.

Later religious trends of the period saw the end of the expansion of Muslims and the Muslim
world. Christians and Christendom saw the end of the Crusades and end of religious unity under
the Roman Catholic Church. It was during this time that the Inquisitions and Protestant
reformations took place.

During the early modern period, an age of discovery and trade was undertaken by the Western
European nations. Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and France went on a
colonial expansion and took possession of lands and set up colonies in Africa, southern Asia, and
North and South America. Turkey colonized Southeastern Europe, and parts of the West Asia
and North Africa. Russia took possession in Eastern Europe, Asia, and North America.


In China, urbanization increased as the population grew and as the division of labor grew more
complex. Large urban centers, such as Nanjing and Beijing, also contributed to the growth of
private industry. In particular, small-scale industries grew up, often specializing in paper, silk,
cotton, and porcelain goods. For the most part, however, relatively small urban centers with
markets proliferated around the country. Town markets mainly traded food, with some necessary
manufactures such as pins or oil. Despite the xenophobia and intellectual introspection
characteristic of the increasingly popular new school of neo-Confucianism, China under the
early Ming dynasty was not isolated. Foreign trade and other contacts with the outside world,
particularly Japan, increased considerably. Chinese merchants explored all of the Indian Ocean,
reaching East Africa with the treasure voyages of Zheng He.

The Qing dynasty (1644–1912) was founded after the fall of the Ming, the last Han
Chinese dynasty, by the Manchus. The Manchus were formerly known as the Jurchens. When
Beijing was captured by Li Zicheng's peasant rebels in 1644, the Chongzhen Emperor, the last
Ming emperor, committed suicide. The Manchus then allied with former Ming general Wu
Sangui and seized control of Beijing, which became the new capital of the Qing dynasty. The
Manchus adopted the Confucian norms of traditional Chinese government in their rule of China
proper. Schoppa, the editor of The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History argues, "A date
around 1780 as the beginning of modern China is thus closer to what we know today as historical
'reality'. It also allows us to have a better baseline to understand the precipitous decline of the
Chinese polity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries."
Modern Era Questions:

1. Prime reasons for European exploration of the world's oceans included all of the
following accept?
 The search for raw materials and mineral resources.
 The search for new lands to settle and cultivate.
 Population pressures in Europe.
 The desire to trade directly with Asian markets.
2. Portuguese sailors were able to sail against the prevailing winds by using
 A combination of square and lateen sails.
 A sternpost rudder.
 A magnetic compass.
 An astrolabe.
3. Which of the following was not a significant presence in the Indian Ocean by the
mid-eighteenth century?
 Britain.
 Russia.
 The Netherlands.
 Portugal.
4. In the New World, the Columbian Exchange generally resulted in
 The introduction of diseases.
 The demographic decline of indigenous populations.
 The introduction of domesticated animals.
 All of the above.
5. Martin Luther's criticism of the Roman Catholic Church was facilitated by
 The printing press.
 The enthusiastic support of clergy in the Catholic Church.
 Guilds and artisans.
 All of the above.