Visual History of the World




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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.



Great Britain: From Commonwealth to European Union

SINCE 1945


see also: United Nations member states -
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland


Despite the loss of its former position as a superpower, the United Kingdom was influential in the global reorganization after 1945. As a close ally of the United States, politically the country stood opposed to the Soviet Union in the division of Europe and the world. Great Britain was one of the founding members of the United Nations and is a permanent member of its Security Council. The process of decolonization contributed to fundamental changes in the country and its foreign policies. Since 1973, Great Britain has been a critical but active member of the European Community.


The Transformation of a Global Power

Great Britain's foreign policies after 1945 were determined by the confrontation of the Cold War and decolonization.


Winston Churchill, the British prime minister until July 1945, played a decisive role in the conferences of the Allied powers during the war and took a hard line toward his erstwhile partner Joseph Stalin.

In the 2 postwar Potsdam Conference, the Allies reached relatively consensual agreements on the division of zones of occupation, but the conflicting policies of the Cold War began soon afterward.

The British had little room to maneuver in the shadow of the new superpowers, the United States and the USSR. The debt caused by the war tied the country to the United States, to which it already had a sense of connection through their historically and culturally determined "special relationship."

As founding member of the 3 United Nations and a former Ally, Great Britain was granted a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

2 Potsdam Conference, July 17-August 2, 1945; Churchill, Truman, and Stalin in front of Cecilienhof Palace

3 Signing of the UN charter, 1946

In 1945, British possessions still spanned a quarter of the Earth.

However, by 1947, 5 India, the centerpiece of the empire, had been granted independence, and almost all of the British colonies cut ties with their former motherland within the next 20 years.

They stayed united as the British Commonwealth of Nations, later renamed the Commonwealth of Nations. To this day the British monarch is the head of the Commonwealth, although this position holds no political authority.

Just how limited  1 London's international influence had become was demonstrated particularly in the 4 Suez Crisis of 1956.

Together with France, Britain occupied the Suez Canal after it was nationalized by Egyptian president Nasser. The operation failed because of the opposition of the Soviets and the Americans. Politics were no longer possible without both superpowers.

5 Lord Mountbatten, General Governor of India, with his wife during a celebration in the seat of the governor, New Delhi, 1948

1 London, Trafalgar Square,
ca. 1950

4 Warships on the Suez Canal,
November 1956



Elizabeth II

Born in 1926, Princess Elizabeth married Philip Mounthatten, who was given the title the Duke of Edinburgh, in 1947. She succeeded her father, George VI, to the throne in 1952.

Queen Elizabeth II has been the head of state of the monarchy of Great Britain for half a century and thus also the head of the 53 member states composing the Commonwealth of Nations.

She embodies continuity in a time when Britain has fundamentally altered.

Elizabeth II, queen of the United Kingdom and Ireland,
head of the Commonwealth, ca. 1953;
Prince Philip




Elizabeth II

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Elizabeth II

queen of United Kingdom
in full Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, officially Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith

born April 21, 1926, London, England

The duchess of York with Princess Elizabeth.
Queen Elizabeth II 1929
Princess Elizabeth aged seven, in 1933. Painting by Philip Alexius de László.

queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from February 6, 1952.

Elizabeth was the elder daughter of Albert, duke of York, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. As the child of a younger son of King George V, the young Elizabeth had little prospect of acceding to the throne until her uncle, Edward VIII (afterward duke of Windsor), abdicated in her father’s favour on December 11, 1936, at which time her father became King George VI and she became heir presumptive. The princess’s education was supervised by her mother, who entrusted her daughters to a governess, Marion Crawford; the princess was also grounded in history by C.H.K. Marten, afterward provost of Eton College, and had instruction from visiting teachers in music and languages. During World War II she and her sister, Princess Margaret Rose, perforce spent much of their time safely away from the London blitz and separated from their parents, living mostly at Balmoral Castle in Scotland and at the Royal Lodge, Windsor, and Windsor Castle.

Early in 1947 Princess Elizabeth went with the king and queen to South Africa. After her return there was an announcement of her betrothal to her distant cousin Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten of the Royal Navy, formerly Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark. The marriage took place in Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947. On the eve of the wedding her father, the king, conferred upon the bridegroom the titles of duke of Edinburgh, earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich. They took residence at Clarence House in London. Their first child, Prince Charles (Charles Philip Arthur George), was born November 14, 1948, at Buckingham Palace.

Elizabeth II

In the summer of 1951 the health of King George VI entered into a serious decline, and Princess Elizabeth represented him at the Trooping the Colour and on various other state occasions. On October 7 she and her husband set out on a highly successful tour of Canada and Washington, D.C. After Christmas in England she and the duke set out in January 1952 for a tour of Australia and New Zealand, but en route, at Sagana, Kenya, news reached them of the king’s death on February 6, 1952. Elizabeth, now queen, at once flew back to England. The first three months of her reign, the period of full mourning for her father, were passed in comparative seclusion. But in the summer, after she had moved from Clarence House to Buckingham Palace, she undertook the routine duties of the sovereign and carried out her first state opening of Parliament on November 4, 1952. Her coronation was held at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953.

Beginning in November 1953 the queen and the duke of Edinburgh made a six-month round-the-world tour of the Commonwealth, which included the first visit to Australia and New Zealand by a reigning British monarch. In 1957, after state visits to various European nations, she and the duke visited Canada and the United States. In 1961 she made the first royal British tour of the Indian subcontinent in 50 years, and she was also the first reigning British monarch to visit South America (in 1968) and the Persian Gulf countries (in 1979). During her “Silver Jubilee” in 1977, she presided at a London banquet attended by the leaders of the 36 members of the Commonwealth, traveled all over Britain and Northern Ireland, and toured overseas in the South Pacific and Australia, in Canada, and in the Caribbean.

Elizabeth II with Prince Charles, Prince Philip, and Princess Anne.

Elizabeth II with Prince Charles, Prince Philip, and Princess Anne.

On the accession of Queen Elizabeth, her son Prince Charles became heir apparent; he was named prince of Wales on July 26, 1958, and was so invested on July 1, 1969. The queen’s other children were Princess Anne (Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise), born August 15, 1950; Prince Andrew (Andrew Albert Christian Edward), born February 19, 1960, and created duke of York in 1986; and Prince Edward (Edward Anthony Richard Louis), born March 10, 1964. All these children have the surname “of Windsor,” but in 1960 Elizabeth decided to create the hyphenated name Mountbatten-Windsor for other descendants not styled prince or princess and royal highness. Elizabeth’s first grandchild (Princess Anne’s son) was born on November 15, 1977.

The queen seemed increasingly aware of the modern role of the monarchy, allowing, for example, the televising of the royal family’s domestic life in 1970 and condoning the formal dissolution of her sister’s marriage in 1978. However, after the failed marriage of her son and Diana, princess of Wales, and Diana’s death in 1997, popular feeling in Britain turned against the royal family, which was thought to be out of touch with contemporary British life. In line with her earlier attempts at modernizing the monarchy, the queen, after 1997, sought to present a less-stuffy and less-traditional image of the monarchy. These attempts have met with mixed success.

She is known to favour simplicity in court life and is also known to take a serious and informed interest in government business, aside from the traditional and ceremonial duties. Privately she has become a keen horsewoman; she keeps racehorses, frequently attends races, and periodically visits the Kentucky stud farms in the United States. Her financial and property holdings have made her one of the world’s richest women.

Elizabeth II and Prince Philip



Postwar Economic Development

Extensive social and economic reforms were carried out in Britain after the war in order to alleviate the postwar problems. Economic and political involvement and cooperation with the Continent increased.


After 6 World War II, in the United Kingdom, a national consensus calling for better living conditions emerged, which allowed a fundamental political and social restructuring of the state.

6 Damage in London after an air raid; the cupola
of St. Paul's Cathedral in the background,
photograph, 1941

In 1945, the newly elected Labour government of Prime Minister 7 Clement Attlee instituted an extensive program of state welfare reform, featuring the introduction of a free national health service and unemployment insurance.

The 8 Bank of England was nationalized in 1946, followed by telecommunications, civil aviation, major sections of the energy and transport sectors, and in 1949 the iron and steel industries.

The pendulum swung back in 1951 when Churchill returned to office for a second term, and he and his Conservative successors steered again toward economic liberalism. This meant a temporary break from further development of the welfare state and ushered in the beginning of reprivatization.

Due to its very close economic links to the nations of the Commonwealth and its international interests that transcended Europe, Great Britain initially remained outside the newly founded European Community. Nevertheless, to intensify its economic contacts and trade with the Continent, Great Britain cofounded the European Free Trade Association in i960. However, this contract group could not compete with the economic success of the larger European body, and in 1973 Britain chose to join the European Community after a first attempt in 1963 was vetoed by the French President de Gaulle.

Military and political ties to the Continent and the United States were guaranteed through its 9 NATO membership.

7 Clement Attlee, ca. 1935

8 Bank of England, built from 1788 to 1833

9 The British foreign secretary Anthony Eden
(middle) at a NATO Conference in Paris,



The European Free Trade Association

The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) was founded in Stockholm on January 4, 1960, with the aim of promoting growth and prosperity in the member countries and trade relations and economic cooperation in Western Europe and the world. Its founding members were Austria, Denmark, Great Britain, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland, later joined by Finland, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.

Because Austria, Denmark, Finland, Great Britain, Portugal, and Sweden have since joined the European Union, so EFTA now has only four member states. With the exception of Switzerland, these EFTA states formed the European Economic Area in 7994 to participate in the Single Market with the EU member states.

Conference of the EFTA Council of Ministers in Bern, October 11, 1960



see also: United Nations member states -
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland



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