Ask a Historian | The Modern World

Lili asks, “How would you define the modern world and when do you believe it began?”

“Historians date the “modern” era to the late 1700s with two pivotal events:  The French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution each of which began a significant alteration of society — one relating to  hierarchies of power and governance, and the other to the means of production and consumption.  These changes have been ongoing since then.   However, some now argue that we are in a “Post-Modern” world in which these changes, usually seen as progressive, are now being questioned or seen as having reached an end..
Historians also look at an “early -modern period”, beginning in the late 1400s with the Renaissance and the consequent rise of independent inquiry, the challenge to religious systems (e.g. the rise of Protestantism), and the beginning of the age of exploration.
Of course, both of these periods largely reflect a focus on “western civilization” and neglect changes taking place in China, and the Indian subcontinent.
So, my tendency, like many others, is to see “modernity” as things that are new and innovative, but core shifting styles and technologies really rests on the major changes that I’ve noted above.”
John J. Grabowski, Ph.D.
Krieger Mueller Associate Professor of Applied History  CWRU
Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, Western Reserve Historical Society
Editor, Encyclopedia of Cleveland History