History of the World
Homo sapiens first arose on the Earth between 400 and 250 thousand years ago during the Paleolithic period. This occurred after a long period of evolution. Ancestors of humans had been using simple tools for many millennia, but as time progressed, tools became far more refined and complex. At some point humans had begun using fire for heat and for cooking. Humans also developed language sometime during the Paleolithic. During this period all humans lived as hunter-gatherers who were generally nomadic
A major change occurred around 8,500 BC in the Fertile Crescent area of the Middle East when humans adopted agriculture. Soon after, it was developed independently and spread to China, Egypt, and the Indus Valley. Several millennia later, agriculture developed in Africa and in the Americas. Some areas such as Australia did not use agriculture until relatively modern times, although in some areas of Australia, fish-based farming was practiced by the aboriginal population which is thought to have arrived 50,000 years before the present.
Agriculture led to several major changes. It allowed far larger population densities. It also created, and allowed for the storage, of food surpluses that could support people not directly involved in food production. The development of agriculture allowed the creation of the first cities.
The development of cities has led to what has been called civilization. First in the river valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates and soon after along the Nile, Yangtze, and Indus evidence of elaborate cities with merchants and rulers is found. At this same time developments such as writing, currency, and extensive trade were introduced.
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Bronze and Iron Age
The agricultural settlements had until this time been almost completely dependent on stone tools. In Eurasia around 3000 BC copper and bronze tools, decorations, and weapons began to become commonplace. Some areas of the world, including all of the Americas, never developed metal tools, however.
The rise of large organized religion is a notable element of this period. Over time a great variety of religions developed around the world with Hinduism and Buddhism in India, Zoroastrianism in Persia being some of the earliest major faiths.
After bronze the Mediterranean region and China saw the introduction of iron tools and weapons. This accompanied the rise of some of the world first empires. The most potent of these became the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean region and the Chinese Empire in the East. India and Persia produced their own empires in this period as well.
A noted cultural development was the development of philosophy in both east and west. The Roman Empire and its successor states were heavily influnced by the Ancient Greeks and their philosophers. In India a number of noted Buddhist scholars arose, while China saw Confucius and Lao-Tzu laid down the foundations of new religions.
In America the first large empires began to form around 1200 BC with the Olmec and Maya civilization creating large ceremonial structures. These states produced many great monuments and showed signs of great learning.
Age of Kingdoms
Throughout the temperate zones of Eurasia and North Africa large empires continued to rise and fall. While the Roman Empire collapsed it was replaced a few centuries later by a number of powerful Catholic states. In China dynasties would similarly rise and fall. The most remarkable, if short lived, of these was the Mongol Empire which seized almost all of Eurasia’s landmass, missing only western Europe and Japan.
Islam, which began in Arabia in the eight century, was also one of the most remarkable forces growing from only a few followers to becoming the basis of a series of large Empires in India, the Middle East, and North Africa.
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This period was marked by slow, but steady, technological improvements with developments of extreme import such as the stirrup and printing arriving every few centuries.
Vast societies also began to be built up in Central America at this time with the Inca in the Andes and the Aztecs in modern Mexico being the most notable.
Rise of Europe
Through a combination of factors the far western edge of the Eurasian land mass began to have a technological edge on the rest of the world by 1500, and over the next few centuries this process began to accelerate. Advancing seafaring technology allowed Christopher Columbus in 1492 to create a lasting link between the previously unconnected Americas and Eurasia. This had dramatic effects on both continents. The Europeans brought with them diseases the Americans had never before encountered, and over 90% of them were killed in a series of devastating epidemics. The Europeans also had horses, steel, and guns that allowed them to hold a decisive military advantage over the Americans.
The Aztec and Incan empires were destroyed, as were many of the cultures of North America. Gold and resources for the Americas began to be shipped to Europe, while at the same time large numbers of European colonists began to emigrate to the west.
The Spanish Empire was at first predominant, but soon the more northern French, English, and Dutch began to dominate the Atlantic. In a series of wars fought in the 17th and 18th centuries, culminating with the Napoleonic Wars Britain emerged as the most powerful nation in the world. It controlled an empire that spanned the globe.
While the Americas were the first areas to fall to the Europeans soon they also had a technological advantage over the people of Asia as well. In the 19th century Britain gained control of the Indian subcontinent, Egypt and Malaysia, the French took Indochina while the Dutch occupied Indonesia. The British also occupied several of the areas still populated by neolithic peoples including Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, and as in the Americas large numbers of British colonist began to emigrate to these areas.
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This era also saw the Industrial Revolution a major transformation of the world’s economies. It began in Britain and used new modes of production such as the factory, mass production, and mechanization to produce a wide array of materials faster and for less labour than previous methods. The world economy became based on coal. New methods of transport such as railways and steam ships made the world a smaller place.
The twentieth century saw the domination of the world by Europe wane, and the United States and the Soviet Union rise as superpowers. After 1990 the Soviet Union collapsed, however, and the United States became what some have termed a hyperpower.
The century saw the rise of unprecedented totalitarian ideologies. First with Communism in the Soviet Union after 1917, which spread to Eastern Europe after 1945, and China in 1949, and scattered other nations in the third world during the 1950s and 1960s. The 1920s saw militaristic dictatorships gain control of Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain.
These transitions were evinced through wars of unparalleled scope and devastation. The First World War destroyed many of Europe’s old monarchies, and weakened France and Britain. The Second World War saw most of the militaristic dictatorships in Europe destroyed, but saw Communism advance into Eastern Europe and Asia. This led to the Cold War, a forty-year stand-off between the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and theirs. Human civilization was put into jeopardy by the development of nuclear weapons. After out-spending the Soviet Union on weaponry, the US saw a collapse in the Soviet state, with fragmentation of the former republics, some rejoining Russia in a commonwealth, others reaching out toward Western Europe.
The same century saw vast progress in technology, and a large increase in life-expectancy and standard of living for the majority of humanity. As the world economy switched from one based upon coal to one based on oil, new communications and transportation technologies continued to make the world more united. These developments produced their own concerns, however, such as environmental degradation.