My Western Culture lectures/articles 2

Second lecture. I removed the links of baike.baidu.com, since the entries there are in Chinese.

Western Civilization, a quick summary – part 2

Post-classical Era

Middle Ages 中世纪 (476 – roughly 1450): Also known as the medieval period of Europe, this period was characterized by many migrations and conflicts among Germanic 日耳曼 tribes who had lived north of the Roman Empire. Once they settled down, these tribes developed into kingdoms and finally nations. The nations of modern Europe can trace their origins to this period in history. Meanwhile, the Christian Church became a powerful “glue” that kept the European nations from fracturing further, preserved what learning was left from the fall of Rome, and finally became a fearsome political power. Muslims 穆斯林的人 put pressure on Europe from the south, and the Huns 匈奴人 and the Mongols 蒙古人 from the east. The Byzantine Empire 拜占庭帝国 (Eastern Roman Empire) became a unique culture quite different from Western Europe, especially after Christianity had its first great schism 基督教大分裂 (split) in the 11th century.

Feudalism 封建主义 was the primary political and economic system in Western Europe. By the 13th century, however, townspeople had gained some independence and rights of self-governance from feudal lords. Several cities founded the first universities, which also fostered original thinking. Additionally, literature from ancient Greece and Rome found its way back into Europe by way of Muslim scholars. This led to a “mini-renaissance” in science, literature, art and philosophy, which paved the way for the greater Renaissance that followed. Notable figures were Petrarch 彼特拉克 and Dante 但丁 in Italy, Aquinas in France and Chaucer 乔叟 in England.

Trade with the Far East expanded the merchant class and Europeans’ knowledge of the wider world, while introducing plague 黑死病 to the citizenry. The Black Death of the 14th century decimated the population; rich and poor alike were its victims. While tragic, the plague also gave the survivors a chance to move up in the world, and weakened the feudal system.

Renaissance 文艺复兴 and Reformation 新教改革 (roughly 1450 – 1650): Western culture flourished during this period, as Europeans threw off the confining worldview of the medieval period and experimented with new ways of expression and thought. Nearly every human enterprise took on new life. Art, music, literature, philosophy, political science, natural science and mathematics all blossomed. The power of the Roman Catholic (Christian) Church waned, both in terms of politics and in theology. The Reformation led by Luther and Calvin divided Christians into two hostile groups: Catholic and Protestant. This split led to persecution and warfare that lasted hundreds of years. In the east, the Muslim Ottoman Empire conquered the last remaining part of the ancient Roman Empire, and pressed into eastern Europe. Conflicts and animosity among members of the different religions still persist today.

In 1492 the Italian merchant Christopher Columbus 克里斯托弗·哥伦布 convinced the rulers of Spain that he could find a shorter sea route to the Far East by sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, he found the American continents. The accidental discovery led the nations of England, France, Spain, Portugal and Holland to explore and colonize the Americas, Africa and Asia. Their expansion led to more political conflicts among themselves, but also great progress, as new products and discoveries improved European knowledge.

The Enlightenment 启蒙运动 (1650 – about 1750): Religion became less important to scholars and thinkers during this time, as science developed in leaps and bounds. This was the time of Kepler and Newton, who proved the Earth was not at the center of the universe, and that Nature followed simple and understandable laws. Political philosophers suggested that everyone had natural rights that belonged to them as a birthright, and that they had the right to replace governments, even kings, who failed to support or recognize those rights. These rights did not depend on one’s religion or even on God’s existence. Adam Smith 亚当•斯密 of Scotland formulated the idea of the “free market” and laissez-faire (“hands-off”) capitalism.

The new colonies flourished, some more than others, and attracted a wide variety of personalities as colonists. Some went to make money, others to escape the oppression of the Old World. In time, the political and economic ideas of the Enlightenment led the American colonists to revolt against King George III in 1776 and the French peasantry to overthrow King Louis XVI 13 years later. In turn, those revolutions inspired many others. But, in the meantime, the English, French and Spanish Empires expanded their hold on the colonies.

18th and 19th centuries (about 1750 – 1900): Industrialization, electricity, the steam engine and other technological improvements expanded the middle class and made the rich richer, but at the same time expanded the poor and working classes. There was a shift away from farming and rural life toward factories and city life. During this time, Europe and America finally abolished slavery and began efforts to improve the life of the poor and uneducated. The British Empire reached its greatest power, as its colonies continued their struggles for independence. Europe finally won its long struggle against the Ottoman Empire and tried to conquer China and Japan. Scientists began to question the truth of the Biblical account of Creation. Marx and others called for new economic and political systems, like socialism and communism. The camera, the telegraph and the telephone made it possible for more people to learn about the farthest reaches of the world almost immediately. The United States, which had created a new form of government from the ground up, doubled its size in 1803 and continued to enlarge its borders at the expense of the Spanish empire.

The 20th century: This was the century of two World Wars, the first atomic bombs, the birth of automobiles, airplanes, radio, television and motion pictures (and much later, computers and cellphones), the Great Depression, and the demise of the British Empire. Communists in Russia staged a successful revolution in 1917. Russia expanded its control of neighboring countries and became the Soviet Union. The USA became another dominant world power, and its influence reached around the world. There was a growing youth culture that persists today, especially in the music world. Taboos against criticism of religion, premarital sex, nudity, and homosexuality eroded, first in Europe then in the USA. Women in America got the right to vote in elections, and feminism became a driving force. Non-whites in the USA and elsewhere demanded equal rights and protection under the law, recalling the ideals of the Enlightenment. The USA lost its first war, but continued to act as the “policeman” of the world. Humans entered outer space for the first time, and scientists explored the universe in greater detail. At the same time, people began to worry about the future of the planet, as pollution increased and oil reserves were drained.

Follow this link to see an online timeline of civilizations and events.

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