From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Modern history, or the modern era, describes the historical timeframe after the Middle Ages. Modern history can be further broken down into the early modern period and the late modern period. Contemporary history describes the span of historic events that are immediately relevant to the present time. The term Modern era, Modern period, or Modern Times is used by historians to loosely describe the period of time immediately following what is known as the early modern period. It is to be distinguished from the term of Modernity.
The beginning of the modern era started approximately in the 1500s. Many major events caused the Western world to change around turn of the 16th century, starting with the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the fall of Muslim Spain and discovery of the Americas in 1492, and Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation in 1517. The span of early modern European history generally begins from the turn of the 15th century, through the Age of Reason and Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, until the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century.
The study of modern history
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 a historical context, Pre-Modern is the period in Western civilization that came after Ancient history and before Modernity. It is usually recognized to have begun in the mid-1400s, marked by the invention of the printing press and the introduction of movable type in Europe. Pre-Modern ideas are thought to have begun in the Dark Ages around 500 AD.
In the Pre-Modern era, a person's sense of self and purpose was expressed via a faith in some form of deity, be that in a single god or in many gods. 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 seen as sacred and unchanging and the social order was strictly enforced.
In contrast to the pre-modern era, Western civilization made a gradual transition from premodernity 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-moderns lived. Truth was available to be discovered by empirical observation, and that the world's problems could be solved by applying the appropriate methods and apparatus to the issues.
The term "modern" was coined shortly before 1585 to describe the beginning of a new era. The European Renaissance (about 1420–1630) is an important transition period beginning between the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Times, which started in Italy.
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 China, India, and Islam, the terms are applied in a very different way, but often in the context with their contact with European culture in the Age of Discoveries.
Postmodern and contemporary
"Postmodernism", coined 1949, on the other hand, would describe rather a movement in art than a period of history, and is usually applied to arts, but not to any events of the very recent history. This changed, when postmodernity was coined to describe the major changes in the 1950s and 1960s in economy, society, culture, and philosophy. Sometimes distinct from the modern periods themselves, the terms "modernity" and "modernism" refer to a new way of thinking, distinct from medieval thinking. "Contemporary" is applied to more recent event because it means "belonging to the same period" and "current".
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