Visual History of the World




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Visual History of the World
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.



Northern Europe

SINCE 1945


see also: United Nations member states -
Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland


The Scandinavian states became increasingly integrated into the world economy after 1945. Sweden and Finland remained politically neutral and strongly promoted understanding and peace in the world. To facilitate cooperation, the Scandinavians founded the Nordic Council. They were involved to varying degrees in the process of European unification. The Nordic countries, with their state welfare structures, are among the most prosperous nations of the world.


The European North after 1945: The Commonalities

The plan for a Scandinavian defense alliance failed after 1945, but Northern Europe came together on a cultural and political level.


Of all the Scandinavian states, only Sweden did not suffer from the consequences of World War II. After the experience of occupation and deportation on a massive scale, the Northern European nations planned their own Scandinavian defense alliance to protect their coasts and hinterlands from attack. Though this failed in 1949, cooperation on other levels was intensified.

Sweden, Denmark, and Norway studied a possible customs union and founded the Nordic Council in 1952; 5 Iceland joined the council in the same year and 4 Finland joined in 1955.


1 Oresund bridge between Denmark and Sweden, which also connects Sweden to the European mainland

5 The Icelandic capital Reykjavik, with around 115,000 inhabitants

4 The senate house, built in 1822,
in the Finnish capital Helsinki

The Nordic Council is a common advisory body to which representatives are sent by the national parliaments. Its goal is working to promote cooperation among the Scandinavian states and the standardization of legislation in economic, social, and cultural areas. In 1971, the Nordic Council of Ministers was added to complement the committee. Although both are only advisory bodies, they have done much to promote the close collaboration of the countries. The strong social democracies in all the states played an essential part in bringing the political culture and living conditions into line. Due to this political stability, communism has played hardly any role in political life, except in Finland. There was a strong belief in the social market economy and the entire North set about building up welfare states, which are funded by high taxes.

3 Liberalism in the Scandinavian countries led to a greater tolerance toward 2 alternative lifestyles.

Economic slumps brought on by world economic crises, among other things, have always been brought under control by the government. Concern for maintaining their regional achievements and autonomy has determined the relationship of the Northern European states to the European Union, to which they are tied either by treaties.

3 Pippi Longstocking, the title figure of numerous books by the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, embodies the ideals of freedom and an anti-authoritarian education; movie still

2 Hippy commune in the Danish capital
Copenhagen, 1972



Astrid Lindgren

Astrid Lindgren

Swedish writer

born November 14, 1907, Vimmerby, Sweden
died January 28, 2002, Stockholm

influential Swedish writer of children’s books.

Lindgren’s great popularity began in 1945 with the creation of Pippi Långstrump (Pippi Longstocking), the first of several books with Pippi as a main character. This strangely dressed girl living alone with her horse and ape, having great wealth and enormous physical strength, stands totally apart from the conformist demands of everyday life and incarnates every child’s dream of freedom and power. The Pippi books also exhibit the infectious humour for which Lindgren is known. Among the many languages into which the books have been translated are Japanese, in which Pippi is known as Nagakutsushita-no-Pippi, and Hebrew, in which she becomes Bilbec Bat-Gerev. English translations include The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking (a collection of three Pippi books), The Amazing Pippi Longstocking, Pippi Goes On Board, and Pippi Goes to the Circus. Thirty-eight feature-length films have been devoted to Pippi.

An equally popular character is found in Emil i Lönneberga (1963; Emil in the Soup Tureen), which was followed by a sequel in 1970. Emil is another uninhibited child of nature depicted in a setting from Lindgren’s home province around the turn of the century. Other well-known characters include the children from Bullerbyn, portrayed in three books from the 1940s and 1950s, and Nils Karlsson-Pyssling (1949), a poetic tale of a lonely child and his world of imaginary creatures. In Mio, min Mio (1954; Mio, My Son) and Bröderna Lejonhjärta (1973; The Brothers Lionheart) Lindgren turned with equal success to the world of folklore, and in Ronja Rövardotter (1981; Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter), she let the undaunted Ronja and her friend Birk experience both the dangers and hardship and the beauty and mystique of an animated forest. Once again, the author created a source of relief and mutual empowerment for her young characters and readers alike. Drama and resolution fit like hand and glove in this adventurous tale about maturation, which ultimately brings together even the two youngsters’ competing families.

Lindgren received the gold medal of the Swedish Academy in 1971.

Encyclopaedia Britannica




The world's largest island belongs to the smallest Scandinavian nation, Denmark. The United States built military bases on the western coast of Greenland in 1945, for which a defense treaty was signed with Denmark in 1951.

The island gained self-rule in 1979 but remains a Danish territory. Together with Denmark, Greenland joined the European Community in 1973, but then left it following a plebiscite in 1985.

A fishing village in Greenland, 1990




Self-governing island dependency of Denmark, in the North Atlantic Ocean.

The world’s largest island, it covers 836,330 sq mi (2,166,086 sq km). Population (2005 est.): 57,100. Capital: Nuuk. Two-thirds of the island lies within the Arctic Circle. It is dominated by the massive Greenland Ice Sheet. Fishing is central to the economy; there are also commercial mineral deposits, including a large gold deposit, as well as offshore oil exploration. About four-fifths of the population are native Greenlanders, principally of Inuit (see Eskimo) descent, residing in coastal areas. The Inuit probably crossed to northwestern Greenland from mainland North America, along the islands of the Canadian Arctic, from about 2500 bce to about 1100 ce. The Norwegian Erik the Red visited Greenland in 982; his son Leif Eriksson introduced Christianity in the 11th century. The original Norse settlements became extinct in the 15th century, but Greenland was recolonized by Denmark in 1721. Greenland became part of the Kingdom of Denmark in 1953. Home rule was established in 1979. At the beginning of the 21st century, the movement for full independence began to gain support, as did the belief among many scientists that global warming was responsible for the accelerated melting of the ice sheet.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



The European North after 1945: The Differences

Differences among the Nordic states exist in their military ties, their economic bases, and their relationship to the European Union.


Unlike Norway, in 1945 Denmark did not suffer widespread destruction as a result of the war. Both nations were able to benefit from the Marshall Plan program, Norway receiving as much as $35 million, and both were among the founding members of NATO in 1949. A plan for a collective military pact between all the Scandinavian nations had to be abandoned. Iceland and Greenland signed defense agreements with the United States within the framework of NATO. Sweden and Finland, on the other hand, decided on neutrality.

Norway and Denmark's dose trading partnership with Great Britain induced them to join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1960, but their paths diverged when it came to membership of the European Community.

7 King Harald V of Norway and
Queen Margarete II of Denmark
in the Norwegian capital Oslo, 1997

While Denmark became an EC member state in 1973 after approval in a referendum, the Norwegian population rejected membership first in 1972 and again in 1994. Norway is nevertheless tied to the European Union, which is its main partner in the European Economic Area (EEA).

Its 10 extensive oil deposits have made it one of the richest nations on Earth.

Iceland has not joined the European Union in order to protect its fishing industry. With membership, its fishing grounds would be opened up to European competition, which would have serious consequences for the local economy.

The extension of its waters triggered a fishing dispute in 1973 known as the 6 "Cod War," in which Iceland and Britain came close to an armed conflict.

10 A drilling rig in the North Sea oil fields that lie off the Norwegian coast, 2003

6 A British frigate collides with an Icelandic
patrol boat thought to have destroyed its nets, 1976

Iceland has been a member of EFTA since 1969 and the EEA since 1993.

11 Sweden and Finland have been EU members since 1995, but there exists much skepticism in both countries regarding the community.

11 The Swedish royal couple, Carl Gustav XVI and Silvia,
with their children, 2004

As small nations, in terms of population if not geographical size, they are afraid of not having their concerns heard. While Finland nonetheless introduced the euro through the European Economic and Currency Union in 1999, the Swedish population declared itself against the introduction of the common currency in September 2003. Denmark has also maintained its national currency.

Finland and Sweden have both played important roles in overcoming supraregional conflicts.

The first 8 Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe met in Finland in July 1973.

The resolutions made there bolstered demands for civil rights around Eastern Europe, among other things.

Sweden's 12 Dag Hammarskjold was twice general secretary of the United Nations in the 1950s, and he was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1961 for his numerous efforts in the cause of peace.

Sweden produced yet another committed foreign diplomat in 9 Olof Palme.

Twice prime minister, Palme was involved particularly in disarmament initiatives and worked as a UN negotiator. His murder on February 28,1986, was a great shock both nationally and internationally.

8 The Soviet first secretary Leonid Brezhnev at the CSCE summit in Helsinki, 1973

12 Dag Hammarskjold with the Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, 1956

9 Funeral procession for Olof Palme,



Christian X King of Denmark - Legend and trivia

In contrast to the monarchs of Norway and the Netherlands, who went into exile during the Nazi occupation of their countries, Christian X remained in his capital throughout the occupation of Denmark, being to the Danish people a visible symbol of the national cause. Though his official speeches were often little more than an echoing of the government's official policy of cooperation with the occupying forces, this did not prevent him from being seen as a man of "mental resistance". In spite of his age and the precarious situation, he took a daily ride on his horse, "Jubilee" through his city—not accompanied by a groom, let alone by a guard. While acknowledging greetings from the Danish population, he would studiously ignore the punctilious salutes of German military personnel.

In 1942, Adolf Hitler sent the king a long telegram congratulating him on his 72nd birthday. The king's reply telegram was a mere, Meinen besten Dank. Chr. Rex (English: My best thanks, King Chr.). This perceived (and no doubt deliberate) slight greatly outraged Hitler and he immediately recalled his ambassador from Copenhagen and expelled the Danish ambassador from Germany. German pressure also resulted in the dismissal of the government led by Vilhelm Buhl and its replacement with a new cabinet led by non-party member and veteran diplomat Erik Scavenius, whom the Germans expected would be more cooperative. After a fall with his horse on 19 October 1942, he was more or less an invalid for the rest of his reign. The role he had played in creating the Easter Crisis of 1920, had greatly reduced his popularity, but his obvious disdain for the German Wehrmacht, daily rides and the Telegram Crisis had once again made him popular to the point of being a beloved national symbol.

During the German occupation of Denmark, the King's daily ride through Copenhagen became a symbol of Danish sovereignty. This picture was taken on his birthday in 1940. Note that he is not accompanied by a guard.

In the early 1980s, the International Herald Tribune ran a full-page advertisement for a war-era commemorative photograph of Christian X on his horse "Jubilee", wearing a Star of David on his sleeve. The image echoed a popular tale that claimed the king wore the symbol as a sign of support for and solidarity with Danish Jews, who suffered from Nazi persecution during the occupation. (The story had become well-known partially through its retelling in Leon Uris's 1958 novel of the founding of Israel, Exodus.) This attribution of support is apocryphal, however, as the yellow badge was never introduced in Denmark. It originated in a conversation between the king and his minister of finance, Vilhelm Buhl, during which Christian remarked that if the German administration tried to introduce the symbol of the Star of David in Denmark, "perhaps then we should all wear it."

King Christian used to ride through the streets of Copenhagen unaccompanied while the people stood and waved to him. One apocryphal story relates that one day, a German soldier remarked to a young boy that he found it odd that the king would ride with no bodyguard. The boy reportedly replied, "All of Denmark is his bodyguard." This story was recounted in Lois Lowry's popular children's book Number the Stars. The contemporary patriotic song "Der rider en Konge" (There Rides a King) centres on the king's rides. In this song, the narrator replies to a foreigner's inquiry about the king's lack of a guard that "he is our freest man" and that the king isn't shielded by physical force but that "hearts guard the king of Denmark".

Another popular legend is the one of the flag on Amalienborg. The Germans wouldn't let the king fly the Danish flag at his castle and told him that if it wasn't taken down the Germans would send a soldier to take it down. The king replied that if that was the case he would send a Danish soldier to raise it again. The Germans replied that they would shoot that soldier and the king replied, "that Danish soldier will be me". And throughout the war the Danish flag flew at Amalienborg.

A popular way for Danes to display patriotism and silent resistance to the German occupation was wearing a small square button with the Danish flag and the crowned insignia of the king. This symbol was called the Kongemærket (King's Emblem pin).

Yellow star saying juif made mandatory for
French Jews during the occupation of France.




Christian X of Denmark

Christian X of Denmark

king of Denmark

born Sept. 26, 1870, Charlottenlund, Den.
died April 20, 1947, Copenhagen

king of Denmark (1912–47) who symbolized the nation’s resistance to the German occupation during World War II.

The eldest son of the future King Frederick VIII and Louise of Sweden and Norway, Christian became chief of the royal guard in 1898 and married Alexandrine of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Becoming crown prince in 1906, Christian led the opposition to the sale of the Danish West Indies (now the U.S. Virgin Islands) to the United States, which ultimately took place in 1917. He assumed the throne on his father’s death in 1912.

Christian attended the first in a series of meetings of Scandinavian kings during World War I at Malmö in December 1914. In June 1915 he signed the new constitution that provided for a two-chamber parliament with equal suffrage for men and women; he also gave his assent to the federal act of 1918 making Iceland an independent kingdom. In July 1920 he received a warm welcome in North Schleswig, the part of Schleswig-Holstein ceded to Denmark by Germany under the Treaty of Versailles (1919).

During World War II, after the German occupation of Denmark began in 1940, Christian rode frequently on horseback through the streets of Copenhagen, showing that he had not abandoned his claim to national sovereignty. He rejected the Nazi demand for anti-Jewish legislation in September 1942 but was forced in May 1943 to condemn Danish sabotage of munitions works and railways. His speech against the occupation forces in August 1943, after fighting had broken out between the Germans and Danish resistance fighters, led to his imprisonment until the end of the war. He was succeeded on his death by his elder son, who became Frederick IX.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Dag Hammarskjold

Dag Hammarskjold

Swedish statesman
in full Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld

born July 29, 1905, Jönköping, Swed.
died Sept. 18, 1961, near Ndola, Northern Rhodesia [now Zambia]

Swedish economist and statesman who served as second secretary-general of the United Nations (1953–61) and enhanced the prestige and effectiveness of the UN. He was posthumously awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1961.

The son of Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, prime minister of Sweden (1914–17) and chairman of the Nobel Prize Foundation (1929–47), Dag Hammarskjöld studied law and economics at the universities of Uppsala and Stockholm and taught political economy at Stockholm (1933–36). He then joined the Swedish civil service as permanent undersecretary in the Ministry of Finance and subsequently became president of the board of the Bank of Sweden. From 1947 he served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1951 Hammarskjöld was chosen vice chairman of Sweden’s delegation to the UN General Assembly, of which he became chairman in 1952. On April 10, 1953, five months after the resignation of Trygve Lie of Norway as secretary-general, Hammarskjöld was elected to the office for a term of five years. In September 1957 he was reelected to another five-year term.

For several years he was most concerned with fighting and threats of fighting in the Middle East between Israel and the Arab states; he and the Canadian statesman Lester Pearson participated in the resolution of the Suez Canal crisis that arose in 1956. Hammarskjöld also played a prominent role in the 1958 crisis in Lebanon and Jordan.

The Belgian Congo became the independent Republic of the Congo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) on June 30, 1960, and Hammarskjöld sent a UN force to suppress the civil strife that began there soon afterward. In September 1960 his action was denounced by the Soviet Union, which demanded that he resign and that the office of secretary-general be replaced by a three-man board (troika) comprising representatives of the Western, communist, and neutral nations. Soon after, while on a peace mission to President Moise Tshombe of the Congolese province of Katanga, Hammarskjöld was killed in an airplane crash.

As secretary-general, Hammarskjöld is generally thought to have combined great moral force with subtlety in meeting international challenges. He insisted on the freedom of the secretary-general to take emergency action without prior approval by the Security Council or the General Assembly. He also allayed widespread fears that the UN would be completely dominated by its chief source of financial sustenance, the United States. The absence of a major international crisis during the first three years of his secretaryship enabled him to concentrate on quietly building public confidence in himself and his office.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Olof Palme

Olof Palme

prime minister of Sweden
in full Sven Olof Joachim Palme

born Jan. 30, 1927, Stockholm, Swed.
died Feb. 28, 1986, Stockholm

prime minister of Sweden (1969–76, 1982–86), prominent leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Workers’ Party (Sveriges Socialdemokratiska Arbetar Partiet), Sweden’s oldest continuing party. He became Sweden’s best-known international politician.

Born into a wealthy Stockholm family, Palme studied at Kenyon College, Ohio, U.S. (B.A., 1948), and obtained a law degree from Stockholm University in 1951. An active member of the Social Democrats from the early 1950s, Palme became Prime Minister Tage Erlander’s personal secretary in 1953 and entered the Swedish Parliament in 1958. Palme joined the Social Democratic government in 1963 as minister without portfolio. In 1965 he advanced to the post of minister of communication and in 1967 to the dual post of minister of education and ecclesiastical affairs. He succeeded Erlander as party secretary and as prime minister in 1969. Soon afterward his attacks on U.S. war policy in Vietnam and his acceptance of U.S. Army deserters who sought refuge in Sweden led to strained relations between his country and the United States. (He denied the deserters official political refugee status, however, saying that one could not be a refugee from a free country.)

The 1976 general election resulted in the defeat of the Social Democrats after 44 years in power. Between terms in office Palme continued to be active in his party and maintained his strong pacifist stance. He also had close personal relations with European Social Democratic politicians such as Bruno Kreisky of Austria and Willy Brandt of West Germany. He served as president of the Nordic Council from 1979 to 1980, chaired the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security in Geneva, and acted as UN special envoy to mediate in the war between Iran and Iraq.

The nuclear accident in 1979 at Three Mile Island in the United States had a great impact in Sweden, and Palme contributed to a referendum (passed in 1980) to remove all nuclear reactors in Sweden. After being elected prime minister again in 1982, Palme tried to reinstate socialist economic policies in Sweden, and he continued to be outspoken on matters of European security. He was assassinated by a gunman in 1986; his murder remains unsolved.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


see also: United Nations member states -
Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland



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