Main Points

History is Now

World history can seem intimidating, but it is simply a giant jigsaw. The best way of studying it is by developing a framework, or map so you can see it in context.

Timelines are an ideal tool for consolidating world history. Whereas typical timelines give you lots of names and dates, our timelines are a little different. We present the most important facts in a simple narrative form, focusing on key periods (eras) as opposed to concentrating on key moments.

We take each era and describe how it is bound together by coherent themes; for instance the Mechanized Era is defined by the development of machines and the rise of mass culture. This method means you can assimilate small amounts of information that encompasses entire centuries.

There is a danger that comes with covering over six thousand years of civilization. It can be intimidating, and there is always pieces of information lost or ignored. This is unavoidable, but our eras pencil in the broad strokes so you can fill in the color and details later. Pre-1500 AD divides neatly into just three historical eras – formative, ancient and medieval. And the following 500 years comprises another three – renaissance, industrial and mechanized. So whether you're interested in ancient or modern history, you are only presented with three eras to study; six if you want to study the whole world.

Using our timeline framework, you're no longer lost, you have a map. We have given you a starting point with enough basic information so that if you choose to study one era further you will find that what you have learned here will allow a deeper understanding of the subject.

Formative Era (Prehistory ~ 500 BC)

The Formative Era sees the rise of the world’s first civilizations. While there are a number of phases in prehistoric development, things really transform around 11,000 BC with the first stirrings of the Agricultural Revolution. For the first time people settle down and build communities, abandoning their previous existence as wandering hunter-gatherers. Villages grow in size, and fortifications and defenses are built for protection. By 4000 BC they have grown into cities the power of which is determined almost entirely by location; the more fertile the surrounding farmland, the larger and more powerful the city. As more and more cities vie for control of these prime territories, the most powerful rulers became those who find practical, hands-on ways to outwit their rivals.

Formative Era

Ancient Era (500 BC ~ 500 AD)

Where formative civilizations had muddled through, their successors in this era are experiencing an awakening of learning. This leads to the formation of courts, bureaucracies, and other institutions. We see the first limited governments form. The art of recording events in writing begins in this era; although they are still only available to the important people. As time passes the successful generations are the ones with cities, governments, and libraries. They have learned from their leaders, their rivals and the texts set down by their ancestors. They establish education, libraries, theaters, art and culture, although only relatively few enjoy the benefits.

Ancient Era

Medieval Era (500 ~ 1500 AD)

The Medieval Era sees the development of religion; the need to reach for higher personal goals. By transforming culture at a personal level, religion becomes a strong unifying force for interpersonal relations, and the first seeds of a greater cultural identity are sown. Understanding and managing religion becomes a powerful new tool for politicians to use wisely or manipulatively. It also transforms military culture, which becomes dominated by religious warriors who train to a level of excellence and fight with a level of discipline that no ancient civilization would have believed much less attained.

Medieval Era

Renaissance Era (1500 ~ 1750 AD)

The term renaissance can be interpreted in two ways. The definition of the word is simply rebirth or revival and it is used to describe a period of time; mainly the 14th - 16th centuries highlighting the transition from the medieval to modern times. It is also used when referring to a particular movement in literature, art and learning – The Renaissance began in Florence and spread very slowly across the rest of Italy, and gradually the rest of Europe; it was not a universal phenomenon.

For the purposes of this timeline we use the term renaissance to refer to a rebirth and revival. When discussing Renaissance China, North America and South America we are not regarding them as being part of The Renaissance (the European movement) we are simply focusing on their rebirth in terms of economy, nationalism and learning. This era sees the development of nation states. Religion connects people on a regional level. The new national unity (an alternative to religion) creates an opening for learning to be re-established; a resurgence that gives birth to printing and an economic boom that eventually resulted in paper currency. And in Europe, it gives birth to the Scientific Revolution which will emerge in succeeding eras as one of the world's dominant philosophies.

Renaissance Era

Industrial Era (1750 ~ 1900 AD)

Science has gained a great deal of international acceptance. While the principles of science are not yet taught to most people, the transformation in society is beginning. The Industrial Revolution, which begins in England and spreads to Western Europe and the United States, is the application of scientific learning and procedures to the economy, and it brings with it vital changes. Perhaps none more important than new philosophies which are introduced to cope with various social changes. The modern concept of democracy is born as is communism, anarchy, and above all, realism, which permeates everything. And driving these changes we witness the emergence of the middle class as the dominant force in society.

Industrial Era

Mechanized Era (1900 ~ 2000 AD)

This era sees industrialization morph into a mechanized revolution where the scale and spread of machines explodes through all levels of society and infiltrates all areas of life. Every civilization, no matter how powerful, fights this change; the social transformations are unprecedented. Mass production joins marketing and telecommunications to create a new level of unity and the first true mass culture. For the first time in history, everyone – from the wealthiest to the poorest – begins to partake in this diverse, but common lifestyle, with its customs, and social expectations. Non-industrialized countries are suffering even more severe consequences. These nations have not lived through the preparatory phases of change so they struggle with a three-headed beast: mechanization, cultural identity, and the painful legacy of colonialism.

Mechanized Era

  • Mechanized Africa - Fighting for independence and cultural identity while struggling with industrialization and the colonial legacy.
  • Mechanized China - Road to redemption, road to ruin: the difficult path of modernization in China.
  • Mechanized Europe - The Mechanized Revolution becomes mechanized war as the fires started in the Industrial Era ravage the continent: the hegemony of Russia.
  • Mechanized India - Becoming India: the rocky road to independence and the rockier road to national identity.
  • Mechanized Middle East - Strangers in a strange land: the Middle East as Medieval Sleeping Beauty.
  • Mechanized North America - European society dominant, independent, and on top of the world: the United States.
  • Mechanized Oceania - European society dominant and the challenges of growing apart from a "home" that's half a world away.
  • Mechanized South America - A government to rule them all: the search for stability in a post-colonial world.

Information Era (2000 AD ~ Future)

During the information era we see the emergence of the natural conclusion of mass culture – the Internet. The combined products of several different strands of technological advancement, the Internet ushers in borderless communication taking regional tools like television and giving them a global audience. Combining this with the removal of travel barriers, ushers in a new trend, globalization, which brings into question the very notion of a local or regional culture. Instead, individuals everywhere can now partake in just about any culture they choose.

Information Era

Geographic Cross-Reference

While we recommend our timelines to learn world history, they are not the only avenue. You can also learn how a particular geographic area or country developed across multiple eras.

Geographic Cross-Reference

  • Africa - Independent development, the slave trade, and struggling towards modernity.
  • China - Originating culture, developing in isolation, and the clash of civilizations.
  • Europe - Always starting from behind, the rise of learning, and science takes a people across the world.
  • India - A civilization declines before it begins, the price of political fragmentation, and contact with Europe.
  • Middle East - Originating civilization, the privileges and perils of living at the crossroads, and price of greatness deferred.
  • North America - Independent development, the plague, and the Europeanization of a continent.
  • Oceania - Civilization as diaspora: the settling of Oceania, the rise of the Polynesians, and the arrival of Europeans.
  • South America - Independent development, plague, and the difference a few miles makes.