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Twentieth century

Twentieth century

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The 20th century started on 1 January 1901 and ended on 31 December 2000, according to the Gregorian calendar. Common usage though generally sees 1 January 1900 as its beginning and 31 December 1999 as its end. Some historians consider the era from about 1914 to 1989 to be the Short Twentieth Century.

The twentieth century was a period of radical departure in the way almost every human activity had been done in the past. Accelerating scientific understanding, better communications, faster transportation transformed the world in those hundred years more than any time in the past. It was a century that started with steam powered ships as the most sophisticated means of transport, and ended with the space shuttle. Horses, humanity's basic form of personal transportation for thousands of years were replaced by automobiles within the span of a few decades.

The twentieth century saw a remarkable shift in the way that vast numbers of people lived, as a result of technological, medical, social, ideological, and political innovation. Arguably more technological advances occurred in any 10 year period following World War I than the sum total of new technological development in any previous century. Terms like ideology, world war, genocide, and nuclear war entered common usage and became an influence on the lives of everyday people. War reached an unprecedented scale and level of sophistication; in the Second World War (1939-1945) alone, approximately 57 million people died, mainly due to massive improvements in weaponry. The trends of mechanization of goods and services and networks of global communication, which were begun in the 19th century, continued at an ever-increasing pace in the 20th. In spite of the terror and chaos, the 20th century saw many attempts at world peace. Virtually every aspect of life in virtually every human society changed in some fundamental way or another during the twentieth century and for the first time, any individual could influence the course of history no matter their background. Arguably, the 20th century re-shaped the face of the planet in more ways than any previous century.

Scientific discoveries such as relativity and quantum physics radically changed the worldview of scientists, causing them to realize that the universe was much more complex than they had previously believed, and dashing the hopes at the end of the preceding century that the last few details of knowledge were about to be filled in.

For a more coherent overview of the historical events of the century, see The 20th century in review.

The 20th century has sometimes been called, both within and outside the United States, the American Century, though this is a controversial term.

Contents

Important developments, events and achievements

Science and technology

Image:AssemblyLine.jpeg
Ford assembly line, 1913

Wars and politics

Culture and entertainment

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"Film" refers to the celluloid media on which motion pictures reside
  • As the century begins, Paris is the artistic capital of the world, where both French and foreign writers, composers and visual artists gather.
  • Movies, music and the media had a major influence on fashion and trends in all aspects of life. As many movies and music originate from the United States, American culture spread rapidly over the world.
  • After gaining political rights in the United States and much of Europe in the first part of the century, and with the advent of new birth control techniques women became more independent throughout the century.
  • Rock and Roll and Jazz styles of music are developed in the United States, and quickly become the dominant forms of popular music in America, and later, the world.
  • Modern art developed new styles such as expressionism, cubism, and surrealism.
  • The automobile provided vastly increased transportation capabilities for the average member of Western societies in the early to mid-century, spreading even further later on. City design throughout most of the West became focused on transport via car. The car became a leading symbol of modern society, with styles of car suited to and symbolic of particular lifestyles.
  • Sports became an important part of society, becoming an activity not only for the privileged. Watching sports, later also on television, became a popular activity.

Disease and medicine

Medicine

Diseases

Natural resources and the environment

Image:Oilfield.jpg
Oil field in California, 1938 The first modern oil well was drilled in 1848 by Russian engineer F.N. Semyonov, on the Aspheron Peninsula north-east of Baku.
  • The widespread use of petroleum in industry -- both as a chemical precursor to plastics and as a fuel for the automobile and airplane -- led to the vital geopolitical importance of petroleum resources. The Middle East, home to many of the world's oil deposits, became a center of geopolitical and military tension throughout the latter half of the century. (For example, oil was a factor in Japan's decision to go to war against the United States in 1941, and the oil cartel, OPEC, used an oil embargo of sorts in the wake of the Yom Kippur War in the 1970s).
  • A vast increase in fossil fuel consumption leads to depletion of natural resources, possibly global warming and possibly both local and global climate change. The problem is increased by, believed by many, world-wide deforestation, also causing a loss of biodiversity. The problem of a depletion of natural resources is decreased by advances in drilling technology which led to a net increase in the amount of fossil fuel that is readily obtainable at the end of the century, as compared with the amount considered obtainable at the beginning of the century.

See also

Decades and years

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