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Snapshot Chart: World History – 1900-Present







North America

The United States became a wealthy global power after World War I and one of the two global superpowers following World War II. Its foreign policy of containment of global communism during the Cold War led the United States to sponsor coups and proxy wars throughout Latin America and Southeast Asia. The emergence of the United States as the lone superpower at the end of the Cold War resulted in the globalization of culture, a more interconnected global economy, and the spread of democracy. It has also caused new conflicts in response to U.S. domination.

The Great Depression began in the United States w/ the crash of the New York stock market (Oct. 24, 1929) caused massive unemployment, homelessness, and protectionist policies. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program to stimulate and revitalize the economy was successful in mitigating some of the effects of the Depression though it took the massive mobilization of resources and industries in World War II to fully push the United States out of the Depression. During the Cold War, the United States promoted the development of its capitalist system on a global scale through the growth of its multinational corporations (McDonald’s, CNN, Coca-Cola, etc.). By 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) eliminated tariffs among the United States, Canada, & Mexico governing the largest free trade zone in the world.

Though the U.S. Constitution provides freedom of religion and has established a separation b/t church & state, Christianity continues to be the most popular religion in the country.

Women’s rights were expanded in post-WWII Europe. Many more women entered the workforce, divorce was made more accessible, & effective birth control was made more conveniently available w/ the introduction of the birth control pill. Women’s rights organizations such as NOW (1966) continue to campaign for women’s rights. In the 1950s & 1960s, the United States experienced a civil rights movement that ended the segregation of African-Americans & increased voting rights. Student protests against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War swept university campuses in the 1960s & 1970s. Post Cold War the two big issues confronting American society are the growing gap between the richest and poorest Americans & the gridlock facing its partisan two-party democratic system.

Multinational corporations & technological developments have played a big role in spreading American culture across the globe. In fact, historians and social scientists have noted the Americanization of global culture as the forces of globalization make the nations of the world more interconnected. The United States has also taken the lead in efforts to stem terrorism and nuclear proliferation worldwide.

As the lone superpower in the globe in the early 21st c., some historians & social scientists argue that America is indeed an empire. They point to factors such as the U.S. wars in Iraq & Afghanistan, its deployment of its armed forces in bases around the globe, and the success of its multinational corporations in spreading American consumer culture around the globe as evidence of U.S. imperialism in the 21st c.

Latin America

From World War I through World War II the sharp social divides that existed between rich and poor in Latin America combined w/ foreign intervention & economic control contributed to the rise of military dictatorships throughout the region. During the Cold War, the development of communist regimes led the United States to sponsor coups and proxy wars in Latin America. Since the Cold War, more Latin American have been moving toward democracy, though the Communist Castro regime remains in Cuba & socialist states have been formed in countries like Venezuela.

World War I & European trade brought prosperity to Latin America through their export of commodities. Latin American nations also had to produce for themselves the products they could no longer import from Europe during the war (import substitution industrialization). The Great Depression ravaged Latin American economies as it caused industrial nations to curb imports prompting military coups & takeovers. During the Cold War, Venezuela & Mexico discovered oil and grew prosperous exporting oil (Venezuela became an OPEC member). At the beginning of the 21st c. , Latin American nations were more heavily industrialized than before.

Christianity, especially Catholicism, has been a major unifying force in Latin American Society.

Throughout the 20th c., Latin American women tended to retain their traditional roles. Women were not allowed to vote until 1929, when Ecuador became the 1st Latin American nation to allow women’s suffrage. By the latter part of the 20th c., Latin American women controlled small businesses and were sometimes active in politics, including membership in legislatures. Today, women hold the presidency in two of Latin America’s biggest nations – Dilma Roussef (Brazil) & Christina Fernandez de Kirchner (Argentina). The international drug trade has also been a big social issue in Latin American countries. In some Latin American countries including Colombia & Mexico huge international drug cartels threaten government stability. Finally, poverty and a large gap b/t rich & poor continues to plague the region.

After the Mexican Revolution, Mexican artists such as Diego Rivera painted murals on public buildings depicting scenes from the revolutions and hope for social progress in future. Latin American folk culture includes strong elements of native Indian & African cultures. Also popular is Liberation Theology, a belief that emphasizes social justice for victims of poverty and oppressions.

Today, Latin America is a geo-cultural region that includes Mexico, all of Central America, the Caribbean, & the entire continent of South America.

Sub-Saharan Africa

African nations gained political independence from European colonial powers b/t 1957-1991. The fight for freedom and independence became most violent in areas w/ large populations of white settlers unwilling to relinquish privileges or political control. During the Cold War, some African nations attempted to resist aligning w/ either superpower (USA or USSR) unless they could benefit from the superpower economically or politically.

European colonialism in Africa resulted in the exploitation of labor, creation of cash crop systems, and extraction of raw materials for the benefit of the colonial powers that have prevented most African nations from joining the club of rich industrial nations around the globe. Africa is still rich in natural resources (oil, rare metals used in batteries for cell phones, computers, & hybrid cars) which draws interest & investment from rich industrial nations. 53 African nations (out of 55) have joined the African Union a political & economic confederation formed to protect African interests.

The religions of Christianity and Islam have significantly transformed African religious experience during the 20th c. Large numbers of Africans have converted to these religions as the continent has transformed drastically in economic & political ways.

In areas with large populations of white settlers, native Africans faced rigid racial discrimination (ex. apartheid in South Africa). Extreme poverty has caused large scale migrations forcing millions of rural laborers to migrate to cities to find work and thus disrupting traditional family units. Epidemic diseases such as AIDS & malaria still ravage the continent and contribute to the high mortality & low-life expectancy rates across the continent.

Soldiers returning from World Wars I & II played a key role in demanding equality and an end to colonization. European schools created during the colonial period produced a Western-educated elite that revealed the hypocrisy of Western liberal ideas & contributed to a new African sense of nationalism called Pan-Africanism.

European colonial powers created artificial political boundaries in Africa w/ no regard to the ethnic & religious makeup of Africa. As a result, decolonization has resulted in unstable government prone to military coups, conflicts over mineral resources, & ethnic violence. In the early 21stc., however, much of this unrest has been replaced by peace & stability.

Middle East/ North Africa

The mandate system divided German colonies & the Ottoman Empire among the victorious Allies of World War I. Mandates were to be administered with the goal of their eventual independence, but in fact experienced recolonization & did not become independent nations until the 1950s. Islamic terror groups that emerged during the Cold War & the post-Cold War era have aimed much of their anger at the State of Israel and at the United States, the lone superpower wielding influence in the Middle East.

The discovery of oil has allowed for many nations, especially the Persian Gulf states, to gain wealth & positions of power in global politics. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was formed by the Persian Gulf states in 1960 to promote the collective interests of oil producers, one of which was the support of the Palestinian Arabs in the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict.

Islam continues to dominate the region with the only exception being the Jewish state of Israel. The Middle East today is still the center of the Islamic World.

Despite the accumulation of oil wealth, most Middle Easterners are poor. Many desperate and disenchanted poor Muslims in the region have turned to militant or fundamentalism Islam and participated in acts of terrorism to achieve their objectives. The rights of women still continue to be suppressed. Though tremendous variation exists throughout the region, most women still must veil their faces, cover their bodies, and are secluded in public. Many are prohibited to work jobs, go to school, or drive.

Tension between the ideologies of Zionism and Arab nationalism remains a constant soruce of conflict in the Middle East today.

Despite gaining independence in the 1950s, and despite the rise of oil wealth in the region, no Middle Eastern nation has become a major industrial or geopolitical power.


Europe was the battleground for both World War I & II. World War I resulted from the intense nationalism & aggressive militarism of European imperial powers in the decades before 1914. World War II was fought to stop the expansionist objectives of totalitarian regimes (Germany & Italy) and an authoritarian Japan. During the Cold War, the continent of Europe was divided by an “iron curtain” into two sides – a USA supported democratic West & a USSR controlled communist East – though European nations sought to ease tensions on both sides of the iron curtain . Since the end of the Cold War, European nations have sought greater unity as an attempt to prevent American global dominance.

The Great Depression hit European nations hard in the 1930s. Most European countries, except Britain & France, became insular in their attempts to protect domestic industries thus crippling global trade & industry. The resulting unemployment, homelessness, & despair were major factors in rise of totalitarian regimes during the 1930s. Western European nations recovered from the devastation of World War II with the aid of the USA’s Marshall Plan. In 1973, Great Britain joined the European Economic Community (EEC) which was established to both to ensure the economic cooperation & growth, and to counteract the powerful economic influence of the USA. By the turn of the 21st c., most European nations had come together to form the European Union (EU) & had adopted a common currency, the Euro.

Christianity is clearly the most widely practiced religion in Europe. However, Europeans have become increasingly more secular in the 20th and 21st centuries. 21st c. Increased immigration of Muslims have led to European governments to struggle with the Muslim question – how far should they go to assimilate their Muslim inhabitants?

Women’s rights were expanded in post-WWII Europe. Many more women entered the workforce, divorce was made more accessible, & effective birth control was made more conveniently available w/ the introduction of the birth control pill. During the 1960s, a youth counter-culture movement emerged that openly protested traditional European values and its outdated university system. Wealth inequality in Europe was lessened by the emergence of the welfare state after WWII as most European governments provided universal health care & “cradle to the grave” security for their citizens. Recently, immigration has become a hotly contested issue as immigrant populations have grown so rapidly that they are far outpacing the native-born European population. Many European nations have implemented regulations to slow immigration.

In today’s world the global culture has been dominated by Western trends & styles. English is the language of commerce & the Internet. The Western appreciation for science has been a hallmark of the global age. The European Union has been integral in efforts to eliminate ethnic cleansing and genocide, protect human rights, curb nuclear proliferation, and combat terrorism across the globe.

European imperialism came to an end during the 20th c., but not before Europeans had exploited nearly every corner of the globe.

Russia/ Central Asia

Humiliating defeats in World War I both at home and abroad caused the Russian Revolution (1917) that brought an end to the absolutist Romanov dynasty and resulted in the establishment of the communist Soviet Union (USSR). After World War II, the USSR arose as a global superpower. For more than forty years they would attempt to influence other nations around the world to adopt communism, bringing them on the brink of war w/ the United States, the world’s other major superpower. Communism in the USSR would collapse in 1989 thanks to a number of factors including Russia’s failed invasion of Afghanistan and the reform program of Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev.

The USSR industrialized rapidly in the decades between the wars thanks to Stalin’s Five Year Plans. The USSR would go on to construct an economic system in which the state controlled major industries, allocated goods and fixed prices. This system stagnated the Soviet economy, and those in its many satellite states, and made it nearly impossible to compete with the production in the capitalist United States & its allies. This factor greatly contributed to the fall of Communism & the end of the Cold War. Since the fall of communism, a policy of shock therapy has been implemented to develop capitalism w/in the old Soviet Empire and has largely been a failure.

Atheism became the official state religion of the Soviet Union & its satellites during the communist era. Since the fall of communism, Islam & Christianity have become the most widely practiced religions.

Women in the Soviet Union gained greater rights and opportunities before their western counterparts. During the Communist Era, women enjoyed the right to divorce, educational opportunities, and were encouraged to work outside the home. Soviet leaders built system of welfare services, including protection for the sick & the aged. As industrialization spread through Eastern Europe, more families engaged in sports activities and movie and television viewing (although they were strictly censored by communist governments). By the 1960s, cultural exchanges w/ the West gave Soviet citizens some contact w/ Western media and ways of life. An emphasis on sports programs made Soviet athletes intense competitors in the Olympic Games.

Soviet schools taught that religion was a myth. Western styles of art were denounced as decadent. Most Soviet art was propaganda meant to glorify the Community Party.

The fall of Communism in 1989 broke up the Soviet Empire. Most Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe – such as Poland, Hungary, Romania, & Czechoslovakia – became independent nations. In 1991, the Soviet Union became the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose federation of former Soviet territories consisting of Russian & 14 former Soviet republics stretching from Eastern Europe to Central Asia. Out of the old USSR, only Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, & Georgia declined to join the CIS.

East Asia

Despite many similarities in culture and civilization, Japan’s and China’s modern history took completely different paths; Japan quickly rose to become a modern industrial power, whereas China experienced foreign control & revolution. The surrender of Japan at the end of World War II thrust China into a civil war that had been brewing for decades. With greater popular support & seized Japanese weapons, the Communists overpowered the Guomindang. In 1949, Mao announced the founding of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

The Cold War helped propel Japan forward as a global economic superpower. By the 1990s, Japanese keiretsu developed some of the best manufactured goods in the world, allowing Japan to build a huge trade surplus with other nations around the world. In the 1990s, an overvalued housing and stockmarket, corruption, and overspeculation brought weakened the Japanese economy. South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, & Singapore (the “Asian Tigers”) all experienced rapid economic growth after on the heels of the Cold War by adopting the Japanese model & American purchase of supplies.
Mao’s Great Leap Forward (1958) failed in tis attempt to make China an industrial power by collectivizing agriculture & village-level industries. Mao’s successor Deng Xiaoping implemented numerous economic reforms that discontinued collective farming , instituted some market incentives, & allowed foreign investment from the West. Since normalizing relations with the United States in the 1990s & acceptance into the WTO in 1990, China has become an industrial & economic juggernaut.

Though Communist China is officially atheist, the Chinese people unofficially practice a number of religions such as Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, and a variety of folk religions.
Japan has become a more open religious society since the end of World War II as exemplified by its U.S.-influenced governments abolition of Shintoism as the state religion.

China’s Communist government has struggled to balance rapid economic growth, population growth, inequality, unemployment, and large scale migrations to the cities. However, women have seen gains in China in the 20th century. The May Fourth Movement (1919) outlawed footbinding & gave women wider educational & career opportunities. Communist China has furthered women’s rights by allowing them to to work outside the home & bear arms in the military.
After World War II, Japanese society was influenced greatly by American culture. It experienced a rise in mass consumerism, increased its system of secondary education, provided for woman suffrage, and created a social security system for the elderly. Japanese work schedules allowed for less time than in Western societies, but baseball became an extremely popular leisure time activity. Japanese women continue to occupy traditional homemaking and childrearing roles.

Mao’s Great Cultural Revolution (1966) attempted to mobilize the youth and rekindle revolutionary spirit by destroying old Chinese traditions, but it led to factionalism, violence, incarcerations, and executions. Under Deng, the

Communist government strictly censored the spread of ideas and brutally crushed political unrest, as demonstrated in his response to the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Since Deng’s death in 1997, China has allowed greater free expression but the Chinese government still strictly controls the flow of ideas through censorship.
After the end of U.S. occupation, the Japanese government began asserting more control over the lives of its citizens, including controlling the content of student textbooks.

Since the Cold War, China has successfully extended its sphere of influence in the region. It has annexed Taiwan and expanded into Central Asia as far as Tibet. China’s recent claims to several small islands in the South China Sea has ratcheted up tensions with Japan, sparking nationalism & belligerent rhetoric amongst politicians in both countries.

South Asia

British colonial control of India came to an end in 1947, as India was partitioned into two states – India & Pakistan. Despite increased violence & tension b/t these two nations since the partition, Indian independence served as a model for other anti-colonial movements around the world. Today, India is the world’s largest democracy.

Though India initially struggled to compete in global economy in the decades after independence, India has had one of the world’s fastest growing economies since the 1990s particular in the technology, computer, and film industries.

Religious sectarianism enveloped the region since independence as tensions between Hindus & Muslims have often erupted into violence.

South Asia remains a region of extreme linguistic, cultural, & religious diversity. Most of its population remains poor, made all the more glaring considering the growing gap between rich in poor in the rapidly developing economy of India. The social barriers of caste have weakened somewhat, yet India has still struggled to provide a path out of poverty for its millions of poor inhabitants.

Gandhi’s philosophy of passive resistance, or civil disobedience, gained popular support in the struggle against British rule. Gandhi’s nonviolent teachings, and his use of methods such as massive boycotts, strikes, partly inspired the civil disobedience of the U.S. civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The annexation of Kashmir, a resource-rich predominantly Muslim territory, by India led to war with Pakistan post-independence. Kashmir is still a source on continuing tension today made all the more dangerous by the fact that both nations successfully tested nuclear weapons in 2008. In 1971, Pakistan’s Bengali-speaking allies in East Pakistan seceded & formed the independent nation of Bangladesh.

Southeast Asia

Despite its defeat in World War II, Japan served as an inspiration to many in SE Asia for the numerous, albeit temporary, defeats it inflicted on the British, French, and Dutch. Anticolonial movements gained plenty of steam after the war, leading to the independence of the Philippines (1946), Burma and the Malay Federation (1948), and Indonesia (1949). However, many anticolonial leaders, attracted to communism, found themselves caught in the Cold War conflicts of the United States and the Soviet Union. Long proxy wars resulted in Indochina, leading to establishment of communism in the newly independent of countries of Vietnam, Laos, & Cambodia in the 1970s.

Southeast Asian economies based on rubber were badly damaged by the decline of the Western automobile industry during the Great Depression. By the 1930s, Vietnam became one of the world’s leading exporters of rice to detriment of poor rural Vietnamese families. Since the 1980s, Singapore’s industrialization has created factories that produce textiles, electronics, and refined oil, while its port became the 4th largest in the world. Indonesia has exported exotic woods, and the Philippines has become a popular location for the outsourcing of U.S. companies. To compete with the larger and more successful economies of East & South Asia, ten SE Asian nations formed a trade alliance known as the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the 1990s.

Islam continues to be the dominant religion in SE Asia, though Christianity and Buddhism are popular as well.

Much like East & South Asia, SE Asian nations and their governments have struggled to balance rapid economic growth, population growth, inequality, unemployment, and large scale migrations to the cities. Poverty especially the growing gap between rich and poor continues to plague this region. The past and present exist side by side throughout much of SE Asia. For an increasing number of SE Asians housing, transportation, even purchasing food are a mixture of old and new.

The ideology of communism had tremendous influence on anticolonial leaders during the Cold War as SE Asian nations struggled to gain independence. Today, democratic reforms are becoming more common.

Eleven countries are generally referred to today as Southeast Asia – Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, & Vietnam. Indonesia is the world’s 4th most populous nation, behind China, India, & the United States.


Both Australia and New Zealand today are both self-governing, independent nations w/ well-established parliamentary democracies though they still are part of the 53 nation British Commonwealth. Their political, economic, religious, social, and cultural makeup is very similar to that of Western Europe. ANZAC troops from Australia-New Zealand fought on the side of the British in World War I, suffering a disastrous loss at the Battle of Gallipoli. In World War II, Australia held off Japanese expansion into the South Pacific at the Battles of Coral Sea and Guadalcanal.

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