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20 Characteristics of the Modern Era

 , August 19, 2019 updated on May 02, 2023
The modern-era is a period of world history that extends from 1500–1950. The following are some of the dominant characteristics of the modern-era.


The enlightenment was an explosion of popular ideas that occurred in the 18th century that would go on to define the modern age. These served to undermine the existing order with ideas of liberty, materialism, skepticism, progress, toleration, fraternity, rationalism, constitutional government and separation of church and state.

Broadcast Media

Broadcast media is an information and entertainment medium that is pushed out from a single source to the masses. Conceptually this can include newspapers, radio and television. The emergence of newspapers in the early 17th century changed the world as timely information was quickly transmitted to the masses from a single source that was typically greatly influenced by governments and elites. This served as a shared experience at great scale.


The introduction of automation, interchangeable parts and mass production led to significant productivity and efficiency improvements in countries such as Britain, Germany, United States, France, Spain and Japan. This created great material wealth in these nations on a scale never seen before.


The industrial revolution brought pollution at great scale driven by practices such as the burning of coal. The health impacts of air pollution were well documented in the 19th century. For example, London mortality from bronchitis increased from 25 per 100,000 inhabitants in 1840 to 300 deaths per 100,000 in 1890. Concentrations of suspended particle matter in London air peaked in 1900 at around 623 micrograms per cubic meter. However, a later air quality emergency in the city known as the Great Smog of 1952 took the lives of about 4,000 people.

Great Divergence

Beginning with the first industrial revolution of 1760 to 1840, the economy of Britain grew far above the world average for sustained periods of time such that they rose to a state of economic dominance. The United States experienced a similar period after the American Civil War known as the Gilded Age from 1870 to 1900 when immigration and industrialization sparked unusually high growth that was sustained for several decades. Generally speaking, Britain dominated the world economy in the 19th century and America in the 20th century. Countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan were also unusually wealthy due to the process of industrialization by the late 19th century.


Colonialism is an expansionist military and economic policy that seeks dominance over other peoples. At its peak in 1914, Europeans controlled 84% of the globe. This resulted in large volumes of global trade and migration.


Revolutions that overthrew a colonial power such as the American Revolution and revolutions that overthrew a monarchy such as the French Revolution and Russian Revolution.


The invention and rise of socialism and communism as ideas and their implementation as a system with the establishment of the Soviet Union by the Bolsheviks in 1917. Socialism is the idea that the state should own all capital and workers be granted complete equality regardless of their talent or contribution. In other words, nobody is allowed to rise above the crowd in terms of wealth or privilege. Communism is the establishment of a bureaucratic elite that centrally controls an entire economy to implement socialism.


The modern era saw the rise of democracy as a dominant political system and the introduction of liberty, rights and freedoms. The American Revolutionary War and French Revolution of the late 18th century shook the world with new possibilities of liberty and democratic rule. Absolute monarchies were overthrown or reformed to become constitutional monarchies. The Americans abolished slavery in 1863. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution granted the right to vote to all women.


World War I and World War II took the lives of up to 65,000,000 and 85,000,000 respectively. Other major wars in the modern era include the Taiping Rebellion, Chinese Civil War, Russian Civil War, Second Sino-Japanese War, Napoleonic Wars, Indian Rebellion of 1857, American Civil War, Spanish Civil War and Japanese invasions of Korea. This isn't even close to being an exhaustive list.

Atomic Age

The development of nuclear weapons and their near immediate use on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 created a new age where the world is in a state known as mutually assured destruction whereby multiple nations posses enough nuclear weapons to mostly destroy the planet.

Middle Class

Increases in productivity allowed for higher wages. For the first time in history, large populations, known as the middle class, generated significant discretionary income such that they could save and improve their life and living conditions.

Science & Technology

Generally speaking, the modern age enthusiastically embraced science and technology. Where most of history prioritized the spiritual and intangible, the modern age embraced materialism. Science and its application in technology greatly improved life in developed countries by curing disease and creating a lifestyle of comfort and convenience for the masses. The modern age ended with the beginning of the atomic age and the clear emergence of technology as an existential threat.


Modernism is a design philosophy that was dominant in the period 1930 to 1970. It awkwardly embraces both materialism and minimalism. For example, modern houses might be very large but have no decorative features such that they are filled with white rooms. Modernism is associated with the reordering of all things with industrial materials according to rigid rules that resemble an ideology. It replaces the cultural and natural with the scientific and technological.


The automobile transformed culture and landscapes as the world filled with concrete infrastructure to support the freedom of being able to get anywhere with a road at high speed.


Mass production, marketing possibilities introduced by broadcast media and a growing middle class brought consumerism to developed countries. This can be viewed as a market driven by the needs and perceptions of consumers with disposable income.


Capitalist societies became highly competitive whereby processes were continually optimized, costs reduced and products improved. Competition also drove improvement to films, music, television and advertising as consumers became an increasingly powerful and selective market force.


Economies of scale brought monopolies that could outcompete or buy smaller competitors. Political corruption also created or defended monopolistic organizations.

Popular Culture

Broadcast media and industrialization made it possible for culture such as music, dance, film, television, sports, fashion and food to achieve great scale such that hundreds of millions of people could share experiences.

Youth Culture

The wealth of the middle class allowed for new freedoms of youth as children in developed countries were no longer involved in value creation such as helping with the harvest. This led to a generational divide whereby youth established their own culture centered around pursuits such as fashion, music and dance.
Overview: Modern Era
The period of world history that extends from 1500–1950.
Related Concepts


It should be noted that both China and India had larger GDP than Britain in the 19th century but also had far larger populations.
The list above is mostly focused on the period after 1800 known as the late modern era.

Modern Era

This is the complete list of articles we have written about modern era.
Abstract Art
Art Deco
Art Nouveau
Cold War
Generation X
Generation Z
Gilded Age
Jazz Age
Modern Art
Modern Culture
Modern Era
Modern Issues
Modern Life
Modern Media
Modern Problems
Modern Science
Modern Tech
New Sincerity
Realism Art
Street Fashion
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Maddison, Angus. The world economy volume 1: A millennial perspective volume 2: Historical statistics. Academic Foundation, 2007.
Maddison, Angus. "A comparison of levels of GDP per capita in developed and developing countries, 1700–1980." The Journal of Economic History 43.1 (1983): 27-41.
Clay, K., Troesken, W. 2010. Did Frederick Brodie Discover the World's First Environmental Kuznets Curve? Coal Smoke and the Rise and Fall of the London Fog, NBER Working Papers 15669. National Bureau of Economic Research. Available online.
Bell, Michelle L., Devra L. Davis, and Tony Fletcher. "A retrospective assessment of mortality from the London smog episode of 1952: the role of influenza and pollution." Environmental health perspectives 112.1 (2004): 6-8.
Nash, Jay Robert. Darkest hours. Rowman & Littlefield, 1976.
Hoffman, Philip T. Why did Europe conquer the world?. Vol. 54. Princeton University Press, 2017.

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An overview of modern culture with examples.

Modern Technology

An overview of modern technology with examples.


The definition of society with examples.


The definition and common characteristics of postmodernism.


The definition of individualism with examples.

History Periods

A simple timeline of historical periods.

Political Climate

The definition of political climate with examples.


The definition of hegemony with examples.

Social Constructs

The definition of social construct with examples.


The definition of labeling with examples.


A list of the common types of dance.


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The definition of imperialism with examples.

Renaissance Art

The defining characteristics of Renaissance art.


An overview of the Renaissance.

Structural Functionalism

The definition of structural functionalism with examples.

Social Stability

The definition of social stability with examples.

Middle Ages

An overview of the middle ages.

Gothic Architecture

An overview of Gothic Architecture with examples.
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