Visual History of the World




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First Empires
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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.




SINCE 1945


The Republic of Ireland (Eire) left the British Commonwealth in 1949. Despite this, economic relations with the United Kingdom remained close, due to historical ties and geographic proximity. Ireland, more than Britain, benefited from joining the European Union in 1973. The country rose to become a prosperous EU nation. This independent flourishing growth facilitated the achievement of an agreement in the Northern Ireland conflict.


see also: United Nations member states -


Economic Development

The Irish economy has been growing steadily since the 1960s. It was also given a boost by Ireland's EU membership, as a result of which capital was invested in the national economy.


Ireland remained neutral during World War II. Nonetheless, the country suffered under the postwar recession, which was alleviated by monies allocated through the Marshall Plan. In the 1950s, Ireland again went through an economic depression. The balance of payments was negative, inflation high, and the number of emigrants grew steadily. Some improvement was seen at the end of the decade.

The ruling Fianna Fail party, under Sean F. Lemass, who served as prime minister from 1959 to 1966, used the ensuing economic boom to push through liberal economic policies.

1 Scene from the civil war in Belfast,
mother with child passes while a British
soldier holds a machine gun, 1996

Great Britain was and remains Ireland's most important trading partner.

In rapid succession, the two island nations concluded numerous trade agreements, and
the tense 2 relationship between them relaxed through the granting of mutual advantages in the economic exchange.

Irish economic policies, however, also aimed to conquer other markets, specifically the 4, 5 tourism industry.

2 Anglo-Irish Ulster agreement is signed; British Prime Minister Thatcher (right) and her Irish counterpart Fitzgerald, November 15, 1985

4 House on the senic Ring of Kerry with a 99-mile coastline, one of the finest in Europe

5 Pub in Dublin, 2002

The economic situation improved, if not without interruptions; inflation rates and the 6 number of unemployed re's peatedly shot up.

Membership in the European Community in 1973 had long-term positive effects on the Irish economy; financial aid allocated by the community was invested, with an eye on the future, in the transport and education systems.

The industry also boomed as Ireland became a popular holiday destination. As the economy grew, unemployment was reduced and the population soared from 2.9 million in 1970 to 3.6 million in 1998.

6 Old man begs in the streets of Dublin, 2003

3 Heads of state and government of the European Community
in front of the state department of the Irish capital in Dublin,


see also:


Modern Irish Literature

Irish literature experienced a phase of renewal and flowering in the 20th century, in English as well as Gaelic. After independence, there was a decline in the heroic mood and a spread in the tone of disenchantment. P. O'Leary and P. H. Pearse wrote short stories in Gaelic. Internationally renowned novelists included Liam O'Flaherty, Flann O'Brien, and Brendan Behan, who wrote in both Gaelic and English. James Joyce gained world fame with his novel Ulysses, as did his friend, the dramatist and poet Samuel Beckett, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. His drama of the absurd, Waiting for Godot, was one of the seminal pieces of modern theater. Ireland producedyet another important dramatist in Sean O'Casey.

Samuel Beckett, ca. 1960




Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett

Irish author
in full Samuel Barclay Beckett

born April 13?, 1906, Foxrock, County Dublin, Ire.
died Dec. 22, 1989, Paris, France

author, critic, and playwright, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. He wrote in both French and English and is perhaps best known for his plays, especially En attendant Godot (1952; Waiting for Godot).

Samuel Beckett was born in a suburb of Dublin. Like his fellow Irish writers George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, and William Butler Yeats, he came from a Protestant, Anglo-Irish background. At the age of 14 he went to the Portora Royal School, in what became Northern Ireland, a school that catered to the Anglo-Irish middle classes.

From 1923 to 1927, he studied Romance languages at Trinity College, Dublin, where he received his bachelor’s degree. After a brief spell of teaching in Belfast, he became a reader in English at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris in 1928. There he met the self-exiled Irish writer James Joyce, the author of the controversial and seminally modern novel Ulysses, and joined his circle. Contrary to often-repeated reports, however, he never served as Joyce’s secretary. He returned to Ireland in 1930 to take up a post as lecturer in French at Trinity College, but after only four terms he resigned, in December 1931, and embarked upon a period of restless travel in London, France, Germany, and Italy.

In 1937 Beckett decided to settle in Paris. As a citizen of a country that was neutral in World War II, he was able to remain there even after the occupation of Paris by the Germans, but he joined an underground resistance group in 1941. When, in 1942, he received news that members of his group had been arrested by the Gestapo, he immediately went into hiding and eventually moved to the unoccupied zone of France. Until the liberation of the country, he supported himself as an agricultural labourer.

In 1945 he returned to Ireland but volunteered for the Irish Red Cross and went back to France as an interpreter in a military hospital in Saint-Lô, Normandy. In the winter of 1945, he finally returned to Paris and was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his resistance work.

Production of the major works
There followed a period of intense creativity, the most concentratedly fruitful period of Beckett’s life. His relatively few prewar publications included two essays on Joyce and the French novelist Marcel Proust. The volume More Pricks Than Kicks (1934) contained 10 stories describing episodes in the life of a Dublin intellectual, Belacqua Shuah, and the novel Murphy (1938) concerns an Irishman in London who escapes from a girl he is about to marry to a life of contemplation as a male nurse in a mental institution. His two slim volumes of poetry were Whoroscope (1930), a poem on the French philosopher René Descartes, and the collection Echo’s Bones (1935). A number of short stories and poems were scattered in various periodicals. He wrote the novel Dream of Fair to Middling Women in the mid-1930s, but it remained incomplete and was not published until 1992.

During his years in hiding in unoccupied France, Beckett also completed another novel, Watt, which was not published until 1953. After his return to Paris, between 1946 and 1949, Beckett produced a number of stories, the major prose narratives Molloy (1951), Malone meurt (1951; Malone Dies), and L’Innommable (1953; The Unnamable), and two plays, the unpublished three-act Eleutheria and Waiting for Godot.

It was not until 1951, however, that these works saw the light of day. After many refusals, Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil (later Mme Beckett), Beckett’s lifelong companion, finally succeeded in finding a publisher for Molloy. When this book not only proved a modest commercial success but also was received with enthusiasm by the French critics, the same publisher brought out the two other novels and Waiting for Godot. It was with the amazing success of Waiting for Godot at the small Théâtre de Babylone in Paris, in January 1953, that Beckett’s rise to world fame began. Beckett continued writing, but more slowly than in the immediate postwar years. Plays for the stage and radio and a number of prose works occupied much of his attention.

Beckett continued to live in Paris, but most of his writing was done in a small house secluded in the Marne valley, a short drive from Paris. His total dedication to his art extended to his complete avoidance of all personal publicity, of appearances on radio or television, and of all journalistic interviews. When, in 1969, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, he accepted the award but declined the trip to Stockholm to avoid the public speech at the ceremonies.

Continuity of his philosophical explorations
Beckett’s writing reveals his own immense learning. It is full of subtle allusions to a multitude of literary sources as well as to a number of philosophical and theological writers. The dominating influences on Beckett’s thought were undoubtedly the Italian poet Dante, the French philosopher René Descartes, the 17th-century Dutch philosopher Arnold Geulincx—a pupil of Descartes who dealt with the question of how the physical and the spiritual sides of man interact—and, finally, his fellow Irishman and revered friend, James Joyce. But it is by no means essential for the understanding of Beckett’s work that one be aware of all the literary, philosophical, and theological allusions.

The widespread idea, fostered by the popular press, that Beckett’s work is concerned primarily with the sordid side of human existence, with tramps and with cripples who inhabit trash cans, is a fundamental misconception. He dealt with human beings in such extreme situations not because he was interested in the sordid and diseased aspects of life but because he concentrated on the essential aspects of human experience. The subject matter of so much of the world’s literature—the social relations between individuals, their manners and possessions, their struggles for rank and position, or the conquest of sexual objects—appeared to Beckett as mere external trappings of existence, the accidental and superficial aspects that mask the basic problems and the basic anguish of the human condition. The basic questions for Beckett seemed to be these: How can we come to terms with the fact that, without ever having asked for it, we have been thrown into the world, into being? And who are we; what is the true nature of our self? What does a human being mean when he says “I”?

What appears to the superficial view as a concentration on the sordid thus emerges as an attempt to grapple with the most essential aspects of the human condition. The two heroes of Waiting for Godot, for instance, are frequently referred to by critics as tramps, yet they were never described as such by Beckett. They are merely two human beings in the most basic human situation of being in the world and not knowing what they are there for. Since man is a rational being and cannot imagine that his being thrown into any situation should or could be entirely pointless, the two vaguely assume that their presence in the world, represented by an empty stage with a solitary tree, must be due to the fact that they are waiting for someone. But they have no positive evidence that this person, whom they call Godot, ever made such an appointment—or, indeed, that he actually exists. Their patient and passive waiting is contrasted by Beckett with the mindless and equally purposeless journeyings that fill the existence of a second pair of characters. In most dramatic literature the characters pursue well-defined objectives, seeking power, wealth, marriage with a desirable partner, or something of the sort. Yet, once they have attained these objectives, are they or the audience any nearer answering the basic questions that Beckett poses? Does the hero, having won his lady, really live with her happily ever after? That is apparently why Beckett chose to discard what he regarded as the inessential questions and began where other writing left off.

This stripping of reality to its naked bones is the reason that Beckett’s development as a writer was toward an ever greater concentration, sparseness, and brevity. His two earliest works of narrative fiction, More Pricks Than Kicks and Murphy, abound in descriptive detail. In Watt, the last of Beckett’s novels written in English, the milieu is still recognizably Irish, but most of the action takes place in a highly abstract, unreal world. Watt, the hero, takes service with a mysterious employer, Mr. Knott, works for a time for this master without ever meeting him face to face, and then is dismissed. The allegory of man’s life in the midst of mystery is plain.

Most of Beckett’s plays also take place on a similar level of abstraction. Fin de partie (one-act, 1957; Endgame) describes the dissolution of the relation between a master, Hamm, and his servant, Clov. They inhabit a circular structure with two high windows—perhaps the image of the inside of a human skull. The action might be seen as a symbol of the dissolution of a human personality in the hour of death, the breaking of the bond between the spiritual and the physical sides of man. In Krapp’s Last Tape (one-act, first performed 1958), an old man listens to the confessions he recorded in earlier and happier years. This becomes an image of the mystery of the self, for to the old Krapp the voice of the younger Krapp is that of a total stranger. In what sense, then, can the two Krapps be regarded as the same human being? In Happy Days (1961), a woman, literally sinking continually deeper into the ground, nonetheless continues to prattle about the trivialities of life. In other words, perhaps, as one gets nearer and nearer death, one still pretends that life will go on normally forever.

In his trilogy of narrative prose works—they are not, strictly speaking, novels as usually understood—Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, as well as in the collection Stories and Texts for Nothing (1967), Beckett raised the problem of the identity of the human self from, as it were, the inside. This basic problem, simply stated, is that when I say “I am writing,” I am talking about myself, one part of me describing what another part of me is doing. I am both the observer and the object I observe. Which of the two is the real “I”? In his prose narratives, Beckett tried to pursue this elusive essence of the self, which, to him, manifested itself as a constant stream of thought and of observations about the self. One’s entire existence, one’s consciousness of oneself as being in the world, can be seen as a stream of thought. Cogito ergo sum is the starting point of Beckett’s favourite philosopher, Descartes: “I think; therefore, I am.” To catch the essence of being, therefore, Beckett tried to capture the essence of the stream of consciousness that is one’s being. And what he found was a constantly receding chorus of observers, or storytellers, who, immediately on being observed, became, in turn, objects of observation by a new observer. Molloy and Moran, for example, the pursued and the pursuer in the first part of the trilogy, are just such a pair of observer and observed. Malone, in the second part, spends his time while dying in making up stories about people who clearly are aspects of himself. The third part reaches down to bedrock. The voice is that of someone who is unnamable, and it is not clear whether it is a voice that comes from beyond the grave or from a limbo before birth. As we cannot conceive of our consciousness not being there—“I cannot be conscious that I have ceased to exist”—therefore consciousness is at either side open-ended to infinity. This is the subject also of the play Play (first performed 1963), which shows the dying moments of consciousness of three characters, who have been linked in a trivial amorous triangle in life, lingering on into eternity.

The humour and mastery
In spite of Beckett’s courageous tackling of the ultimate mystery and despair of human existence, he was essentially a comic writer. In a French farce, laughter will arise from seeing the frantic and usually unsuccessful pursuit of trivial sexual gratifications. In Beckett’s work, as well, a recognition of the triviality and ultimate pointlessness of most human strivings, by freeing the viewer from his concern with senseless and futile objectives, should also have a liberating effect. The laughter will arise from a view of pompous and self-important preoccupation with illusory ambitions and futile desires. Far from being gloomy and depressing, the ultimate effect of seeing or reading Beckett is one of cathartic release, an objective as old as theatre itself.

Technically, Beckett was a master craftsman, and his sense of form is impeccable. Molloy and Waiting for Godot, for example, are constructed symmetrically, in two parts that are mirror images of one another. In his work for the mass media, Beckett also showed himself able to grasp intuitively and brilliantly the essential character of their techniques. His radio plays, such as All That Fall (1957), are models in the combined use of sound, music, and speech. The short television play Eh Joe! (1967) exploits the television camera’s ability to move in on a face and the particular character of small-screen drama. Finally, his film script Film (1967) creates an unforgettable sequence of images of the observed self trying to escape the eye of its own observer.

Beckett’s later works tended toward extreme concentration and brevity. Come and Go (1967), a playlet, or “dramaticule,” as he called it, contains only 121 words that are spoken by the three characters. The prose fragment “Lessness” consists of but 60 sentences, each of which occurs twice. His series Acts Without Words are exactly what the title denotes, and one of his last plays, Rockaby, lasts for 15 minutes. Such brevity is merely an expression of Beckett’s determination to pare his writing to essentials, to waste no words on trivia.

Martin J. Esslin

Encyclopaedia Britannica



The Northern Ireland Conflict

After seceding from the Commonwealth, the young republic became a member of several international organizations. Its domestic politics were overshadowed by the Northern Ireland conflict.


The separation from the British Commonwealth and the proclamation of the Republic of Ireland in 1949 dissolved the last constitutional ties to the United Kingdom. Citizens of Ireland nevertheless continued to enjoy free entry to England and voting rights there. New links were soon created within international organizations; Ireland joined the United Nations in 1955. However, the country that was divided in 1921 was shaken in the 1950s by renewed eruptions of the conflict over Northern Ireland.

The banned Irish Republican Army (IRA) made its presence felt once more with attacks on posts on the 8, 12 border with the British province of Northern Ireland.

The 9 Irish government tried to master these attacks through common action with authorities in the north, which resulted in a government crisis in the Irish republic.

8 Road in a Catholic and Protestant area closed off by a steel gate, Belfast, 2004

12 British army watchtower, barred as a protection against stone throwers in Derry

9 Stormont Castle in Belfast, seat of the
parliament and cabinet of Northern Ireland,

In 1967, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was founded in Northern Ireland as a civil rights movement intended to fight for equality for the Catholics in the north. However, the protests that were peaceful at first were answered with violence. A bloody civil war—the "Troubles"—developed in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s in which close to 4000 people had died by the end of the 1990s.

Two antagonists faced each other in the North: the 11 Protestant unionists, who wanted to retain the union with Great Britain, and the Catholic 7 nationalists or republicans, who sought to merge with Ireland.

11 Painted exterior of a house with a Protestant UFF (Ulster Freedom Fighters) slogan, Belfast

7 Exterior of a house in a Catholic
district of Derry, painted in memory
of a schoolgirl who was killed by a
rubber bullet fired by a British soldier

A climax of the confrontations was reached on January 30,1972, 13 Bloody Sunday, when 13 Catholics were shot by the British military.

The British government dissolved the Northern Irish parliament in March, to which the IRA responded with numerous bombings. Negotiations between Dublin, Belfast, and London failed.

A breakthrough was achieved with the 10 Good Friday Agreement, concluded on April 10, 1998, and signed by the governments of the United Kingdom and Ireland and the political party leaders of Northern Ireland.

Ireland agreed to abstain from its constitutional goal of reunification, cooperation between all the governments was resolved, and the paramilitary units, in particular the IRA, agreed to a decommissioning of weapons. Britain promised a significant troop reduction and police reform, as well as allowing the greater participation by the Catholic Sinn Fein party in the government of Northern Ireland. Separate referendums in both countries helped achieve the success of the agreement, and life in Northern Ireland gradually began to become less marred by violence.

13 Bloody Sunday 1972: A member of a British paratrooper unit beats a demonstrator

10 Prime Minister Tony Blair (center) with
the Protestant Ulster Unionist (UUP)
David Trimble and the Catholic Social Democrat
(SDLP) John Hume in Belfast, 1998


see also: United Nations member states -



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