Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Contemporary World

1945 to the present


After World War II, a new world order came into being in which two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, played the leading roles. Their ideological differences led to the arms race of the Cold War and fears of a global nuclear conflict. The rest of the world was also drawn into the bipolar bloc system, and very few nations were able to remain truly non-aligned. The East-West conflict came to an end in 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent downfall of the Eastern Bloc. Since that time, the world has been driven by the globalization of worldwide economic and political systems. The world has, however, remained divided: The rich nations of Europe, North America, and East Asia stand in contrast to the developing nations of the Third World.

The first moon landing made science-fiction dreams reality in the year 1969.
Space technology has made considerable progress as the search for new
possibilities of using space continues.



Contemporary History

since 1945

see also:

United Nations member states


Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters





1 US nuclear test on the Bikini Atoll, 1952
2 Disarmament negotiations in Moscow, 1991
3 The Love Parade music festival, Berlin, 1997


The outcome of World War II in 1945 was devastating: Approximately 55 million deaths worldwide, some 20 million refugees, and wide swaths of Europe and Asia destroyed. The mass murder of the European Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators meant an upheaval in modern civilization to an extent previously unknown. Many efforts of international politics in the immediate postwar period were aimed at preventing future catastrophes of this kind.


Between the East-West Conflict and Globalization

The world political situation between 1945 and 1989 was definitively shaped by the East-West conflict. The new leading powers—the United States and the Soviet Union—each attempted to leave their stamp on the postwar order. Due to their opposing views of government and economics, a fault line quickly became visible, and soon the world powers stood opposite one another in a "Cold War." An increasing number of nations became involved in the face-off and aligned themselves with one of the two power blocs.

The competition expressed itself in an accelerating arms race that meant a growing danger of global 1 nuclear annihilation.

To avoid being subsumed by the bloc system, many former colonies, the majority of which gained independence after World War II, became part of the Nonaligncd Movement.

4 West German border
guards at the Berlin Wall,

The end of the Cold War came with the opening of the western Hungarian border and the fall of the 4 Berlin Wall in 1989 and was 2 cemented in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Though the world did find peace, the number of wars and conflicts between individual states—often ethnically or religiously motivated—has increased and nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons have come into even more hands.

In the meantime, world politics is now strongly defined by the process of globalization. Europe, East Asia, and North America are the centers of this development, but through the integration of the whole world into an overarching economic and communication network, political and economic decisions often have cross-border effects. Since 1945, as in no other time period before, mankind has made progress in almost all areas of knowledge. However, the fruits of this progress are unequally distributed. It is mainly the Western industrialized nations that have benefited from the wealth globalization has brought. The world political conflict lines no longer run between East and West but between North and South, between rich and poor. Another new source of conflict is international terrorism. Combating it and its causes effectively is a major challenge of the 21st century.


Lifestyle and Values

In the affluent countries of the world, lifestyle and general values concepts have changed enormously in the last 50 years.

As the length of education has increased, 3 youth, which was previously only a short preliminary stage before adulthood, has lengthened to become a stage of life in itself.

Tied to wealth and beauty, youth has become an ideal that shapes economics, advertising, and everyday life. Since the 1960s, a new leisure culture has emerged; vacations and travel have become important elements of modern life and a booming industrial sector. Since the 1960s, automation in almost all fields has meant that much of the heavy physical labor of working life has been taken away. This has opened up new jobs, particularly for women. These new jobs are often found in the service sector, which has a high standing everywhere.

A development that has taken place very recently in the Western world is a turn away from traditional Christianity combined with an intensified search for the meaning of life.

The orientation toward esoteric or 5 East Asian lifestyles has increased, yet the search for happiness has been subordinated to constantly changing fashions.

5 Yin and yang: Taoist symbol
showing the balance between opposites

On the other hand, at the turn of the millennium, religious fundamentalism, particularly in Islam and Christianity, has strengthened in 6 opposition, sometimes violently expressed, to the new Western lifestyle characterized by unchecked worldliness and secularism that has spread throughout the world as a standard.


The Mass Market of Culture and Knowledge

Cultural trends today circulate ever faster and wider and are increasingly subordinated to the laws of the marketplace. While, for example, music in the 1940s was limited to recreational and free-time entertainment, since the 1970s it has accompanied people wherever they go. Thus popular music has gained significance in comparison to classical music. Pop music exceeds itself in the rapid development and displacement of separate fashions and styles to satisfy the demand for easily consumed entertainment.

"High culture" has become more diverse and complex.

10 Streifenbild IV by
Sigmar Polke, 1968

New styles and trends, such as 10 abstract painting, have established themselves worldwide.

By the 1970s at the latest, talk of phases and movements was almost impossible, and one can now talk at most of schools. Distinctions between different art forms arc no longer as clear-cut as they once were.

The developmental acceleration since 194s also characterizes science. Never before have there been so many scientists, never before has research advanced so rapidly, and never before was there such a strong differentiation between research areas. English has asserted itself as the universal language of science.

Newspapers present research findings quicker than books can, but the fastest and simplest form of knowledge communication today is the 7 Internet, to which an increasing number of people have access.

see also: Sigmar Polke


Successes and Dangers of Progress

The scientific and technological successes of the last 60 years have been astounding. Cars, airplanes, radio, television, mainframe and personal computers, and the Internet have made the world smaller.

In 1969 the first humans stood on the 9 moon, and after 1987, the space station Mir made prolonged life in space possible.

9 First moon landing by the
United States, July 20, 1969

Medicine has made such progress that fear of epidemics such as cholera and polio no longer defines life, although new epidemics such as AIDS continue to emerge. At the turn of the millennium, telecommunication became mobile. Almost all the knowledge of mankind is available and can be accessed anytime, anywhere.

Even at the pinnacle of the belief in progress, however, the downside to the "always more, always further" motto became obvious. With the 1970s oil crisis, an end to the oil supply became conceivable, and the consequences this could have worldwide became foreseeable.

Global damage to the environment and the advanced destruction of the 8 Earth's atmosphere have emerged as the downside of industrial progress.

Even the supposedly clean nuclear energy has, after the nuclear reactor catastrophe of 11 Chernobyl, left damage that will continue to have an effect for centuries.

In a globalized world, the protection of the environment can. like the struggle against poverty and the containment of violence, perhaps only be achieved through agreements on a global scale, between states. These are the challenges with which the world is faced in the 21st century.

11 Baby malformed by the effects
of the Chernobyl disaster, 1986


6 Demonstration against "un-lslamic" clothing, Iran, 2004
7 Buddhist monks surf the Internet, 2005
8 Ozone hole (dark blue) over the Antarctic, 2000



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