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Viewmaster series of the Grand Tour of Europe.


Europe has a long history of great cultural and economic achievement, starting as far back as the palaeolithic. The origin of Western culture is generally attributed to the ancient Greeks, and the Roman Empire spanned the entire continent for many centuries. Following the decline of the Roman Empire, Europe entered a long period of stasis, referred to by enlightenment thinkers as the Dark Ages and by most modern historians, the Middle Ages. During this time isolated monastic communities in Ireland and elsewhere carefully safeguarded and compiled knowledge accumulated previously. The Dark Ages came to an end with the Renaissance and the New Monarchs, marking the start of a period of discovery, exploration, and increase in scientific knowledge. From the 15th century European nations, particularly Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain, built large colonial empires, with vast holdings in Africa, the Americas, and Asia.

The Industrial Revolution started in Europe in the 18th century, leading to much greater general prosperity and a corresponding increase in population. Many of the states in Europe took their present form in the aftermath of World War I. After World War II, and until the end of the Cold War, Europe was divided into two major political and economic blocks: Communist nations in Eastern Europe and capitalistic countries in Western Europe. Around 1990 the Eastern block broke up. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europe#History [Sept 2004]

Culture of Europe

The Culture of Europe might better be described as a series of overlapping cultures of Europe. Whether it be a question of West as opposed to East; Catholicism and Protestantism as opposed to Eastern Orthodoxy; Christianity as opposed to Islam; many have claimed to identify cultural faultlines across the continent.

Europe has been a cradle for many cultural innovations and movements, such as Humanism, that have consequently been spread across the globe. The Renaissance of classical ideas influenced the development of art and literature far beyond the confines of the continent.

Where does Europe start and where does it end ?
One of the major problems in defining the European culture, is where does Europe start and where does it end ? Most countries share common historical experiences, but several important faultlines appear. The first one is the dividing lands that were occupied at some point by the Roman Empire, thus dividing Europe along a line that goes through Hadrian's Wall in the British Isles, along the Rhine and finally along the Danube. Another faultline is the Catholic-Orthodox divide caused by the Great Schism, which isolates Russia, Belarus, half of Ukraine (whether Uniate Ukraine is considered Orthodox or Catholic is a matter of debate) and Serbia. Yet another faultline is the one that separates the lands once occupied by the Ottoman Empire and the ones that weren't, which created the current Christian-Islam faultline, that separates Albania, Bosnia and Turkey. Also notable is the faultline that separates the parts of Europe that went through industrialization in the 19th century, including Northern Italy and Bohemia. And finally, the most recent faultline is the infamous Iron Curtain. These faultlines are key to understanding the cultural similarities and differences in Europe. They are also important for identifying what countries should be admitted into the European Union (such as in the case of Turkey or the 2004 separatist menace in Ukraine). Thus the question of "common culture" or "common values" is far more complex than it seems.--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_culture [Apr 2005]

European values

In recent decades the European Union has been seeking to identify and support common European values, however this has turned out to be a highly controversial issue. Some commentators wish to classify social cohesion and solidarity as European values and contrast them with more individualist values in the United States. The distinction is not a simple one, but is perhaps most fundamentally reflected in differing attitudes to government, notably in terms of trust in the government. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_culture#Values [Aug 2005]

see also: common - European - values

Rise of Europe

The invention of the movable type printing press in 1450s Germany was awarded #1 of the Top 100 Greatest Events of the Millennium by LIFE Magazine. By some estimates, less than 50 years after the first Bible was printed in 1455, more than nine million books were in print.

From the 11th to the 15th centuries CE the Holy Roman Empire in Europe launched a series of crusades against Byzantine and Islamic lands in the eastern Mediterranean, most notably the Holy Lands in the area around Jerusalem. By the late 13th century the last of the crusader strongholds in the Middle East had fallen to the Muslims. After the final fall of the Byzantine Empire (the Eastern Roman Empire) to the Ottoman Turks, its scholars fled west to Rome, bringing renewed energy and interest in classical knowledge. Scholars consider the fall of the Byzantine Empire as a key event in ending the Middle Ages and starting the Renaissance because of the end of the old religious order in Europe and the use of cannon and gunpowder in the taking of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire.

Through the renaissance and other factors, Europe began to have a technological edge on the rest of the world by 1500, and over the next few centuries, this trend began to accelerate. Advancing seafaring technology allowed Christopher Columbus in 1492 to penetrate across the Atlantic Ocean and bridge the gap from Africa-Eurasia to the Americas. This had dramatic effects on both continents. The Europeans brought with them diseases the Americans had never before encountered, and over 90% of them were killed in a series of devastating epidemics. The Europeans also had horses, steel, and guns that allowed them to overpower and slaughter the American people.

The Aztec and Incan empires were destroyed, as were many of the great cultures of North America. Gold and resources from the Americas began to be shipped to Europe, while at the same time large numbers of European colonists began to emigrate to the west. To meet the great demand for labour in the new colonies the mass export of Africans as slaves began. Soon much of the Americas had a large racial underclass of slaves. In West Africa, a series of thriving states developed along the coast, becoming prosperous from the exploitation of suffering central African peoples.

The Portuguese and Spanish Empires were at first the predominant conquerers and source of influence, but soon the more northern French, English, and Dutch began to dominate the Atlantic. In a series of wars fought in the 17th and 18th centuries, culminating with the Napoleonic Wars, Britain emerged as the most powerful nation in the world. It controlled an empire that spanned the globe, controlling, at its peak, approximately one-quarter of the world's land surface.

Meanwhile, the voyages of the admiral Zheng He were halted by China's Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), established after the expulsion of the Mongols. A commercial revolution, sometimes described as "incipient capitalism", was also abortive. The Ming Dynasty would eventually fall to the Manchus, whose Qing Dynasty oversaw, at first, a period of calm and prosperity, but would increasingly fall prey to Western encroachment.

Soon after the invasion of the Americas, Europeans had gained a technological advantage over the people of Asia as well. In the 19th century Britain gained control of the Indian subcontinent, Egypt and Malaya, the French took Indochina while the Dutch occupied Indonesia. The British also occupied several of the areas still populated by neolithic peoples including Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, and as in the Americas large numbers of British colonists began to emigrate to these areas. In the late nineteenth century the last unclaimed areas of Africa were divided among the European powers.

This era also saw the renaissance and subsequent Age of Reason lead to the Scientific Revolution, which changed our understanding of the world and made possible the Industrial Revolution, a major transformation of the world’s economies. It began in Britain and used new modes of production such as the factory, mass production, and mechanisation to produce a wide array of materials faster and for less labour than previous methods. The Age of Reason also lead to the beginnings of democracy as we know it today, in the American and French revolutions in the late 1700s. Democracy would grow to have a profound effect on world events. During the industrial revolution, the world economy was soon based on coal, as new methods of transport such as railways and steam ships made the world a smaller place. Meanwhile, Industrial pollution and damage to the environment, present since the discovery of fire and the beginning of civilization, accelerated tenfold. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_world#Rise_of_Europe [Jun 2005]

Colonial expansion

The numerous wars did not prevent the new states from exploring and conquering wide portions of the world, particularly in Asia (Siberia) and in the newly-discovered America. In the 15th century, Portugal led the way in geographical exploration, followed by Spain in early 16th century, were the first states to set up colonies in South America and trade stations on the shores of Africa and Asia, but they were soon followed by France, England and the Netherlands.

Colonial expansion proceeded in the following centuries (with some setbacks, such as the American Revolution and the wars of independence in many South American colonies). Spain had control of a great deal of South America and the Philippines; Britain took the whole of Australia and New Zealand, most of India, and large parts of Africa and North America; France held parts of Canada and India (nearly all of which was lost to England in 1763), Indochina and large parts of Africa; the Netherlands gained the East Indies (now Indonesia) and islands in the Caribbean; Portugal obtained Brazil and several territories in Africa and Asia; and later, powers such as Germany, Belgium, Italy and Russia acquired further colonies. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Europe#Colonial_expansion [Nov 2004]

Slavery under European rule began with importation of white European slaves (or indentured servants), was followed by the enslavement of local aborigines in the Caribbean, and eventually was primarily replaced with Africans imported through a large slave trade as the native populations declined through disease. But by the 18th century, the overwhelming number of black slaves was such that white and Native American slavery was less common. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_colonization_of_the_Americas [Nov 2004]

Castles of Europe

Elizabeth Báthory's castle at Cachtice, near Bratislava, Slovakia

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