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20th Century History

Learn more about the history of the world in the twentieth century, which was dominated by two world wars: World War I, from 1914 to 1918, and World War II, from 1939 to 1945. Both wars featured Germany as the primary aggressor against an alliance of countries. And while both wars originated in Europe, the conflicts engulfed much of the globe, before they ended with the defeat of Germany and its allies. The outcome of these wars completely restructured geopolitical power in the world in the second half of the twentieth century. Hardships in Russia because of World War I led to massive unrest and the overthrow of the tsar in the Russian Revolution of 1917, resulting in the creation of the Communist-controlled Soviet Union. Despite its ideological differences with the West, the Soviet Union joined with Great Britain and the United States (known as the Allied powers) to defeat Germany and its allies (known as the Axis powers) in World War II. After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union ascended to become the undisputed world superpowers, while Great Britain saw its influence diminish as its colonial empire crumbled. Ghana’s declaration of independence from Britain in 1957 set off a wave of nationalist movements in Africa, which resulted in the overthrow of colonial rule across that continent.

The continent of Asia also experienced upheaval following World War II. Japan, an Axis power and regional heavyweight, was forced to demilitarize and give up its colonial holdings. China stepped into the power vacuum that followed, bolstered by its association with the Soviet Union, with which it shared a Communist ideology. India, one of Britain’s key holdings in Asia, declared its independence in 1947, partitioning into Muslim-dominated Pakistan and Hindu-controlled India; the rivalry between the two would significantly impact the region through the end of the century and beyond.

The Middle East endured one of the more dramatic restructurings following these wars. Prior to World War I, the region had previously been under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, which was on the losing side of the war. As a result, the Ottomans lost this territory, which was then administered by the French and British. Largely without the participation of representatives from the Middle East, France and Great Britain established new boundaries in the region, without regard to history or the ethnic and religious affiliation of the people who lived there. As a result, disparate communities of people were now expected to cooperate with each other to govern themselves, leading to political instability and bloodshed. The situation worsened after World War II, when international support for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine (in part to atone for the Holocaust, during which some 6 million Jews had died) led to the founding of the nation of Israel in 1948. The Arab nations surrounding Israel refused to recognize the new country, immediately launching the Arab-Israeli War, which resulted in the defeat of the attacking nations and loss of territory. Additional wars failed to restore Arab control, and the region remained unstable into the twenty-first century.

While the continual conflict in the Middle East was a perpetual news story in the second half of the twentieth century, the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union dominated the geopolitical scene. Known as the “Cold War” because there wasn’t open war between the two superpowers, the ideological differences between the capitalist West and the Communist Soviet Union nevertheless spawned numerous conflicts around the globe, most notably the Korean War (1950–1953), the Vietnam War (1955–1975), and covert skirmishes across Latin America from the 1960s until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1989.

Other major global events of the twentieth century included a worldwide influenza pandemic from 1918 to 1919, which killed more people than the world war that had just ended (an estimated 20 to 50 million people), and the Great Depression of the 1930s, which impacted economies worldwide.

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20th Century History Resources

Gale provides scholarly resources, including databasesprimary source archives, and eBooks, to advance researchers’ studies at home, in the library, or at school.


Gale databases offer researchers access to credible historical articles from 20th century collections, including full-text articles covering many history topics. The database collections guide multifaceted research, with overviews of events as well as primary source documents from 20th century newspapers, periodicals, and journals, as well as illustrations and photographs, and more, aligned with lesson plans for teaching and guides for additional research.

Primary Source Archives

Gale Primary Sources contains full-text archives of digitized records and documents that provide researchers with firsthand articles from 20th century journals and 20th century primary sources to drive research at your university, library, or at home. Historical primary source records comprise a variety of printed materials: books; government policy statements, studies, reports, and publications; personal papers and correspondence, manuscripts, interviews, and oral histories; newsletters; newspaper and periodical articles; press releases and texts of speeches; fliers, handbills, pamphlets, brochures, and presentations; works of art, cartoons, and photographs; and other ephemera now of interest to modern researchers.

Political Extremism and Radicalism: Far-Right and Left Political Groups in the U.S., Europe, and Australia in the Twentieth Century

This is one of the first digital archives on Far-Right and -Left political groups, exploring the development, actions, and ideologies behind extremism and radicalism in the twentieth century. Digitized primary source material has been sourced from various locations and libraries, including The Searchlight Archives, UK Home Office, and Security Service files on right-wing extremists and suspected communists and terrorists and the American Radicalism Collection from Michigan State University. The collection includes documents that were originally created as ephemera, such as stickers, leaflets, and pamphlets, as well as more traditional primary source documents, such as magazine articles, interviews (available as audio or transcripts), and government records and documents.

Brazilian and Portuguese History and Culture

Brazilian and Portuguese History and Culture: The Oliveira Lima Library charts the development of Latin America’s most influential power, with unique primary source materials valuable for researchers, educators, and students. Topics covered include colonialism, the Brazilian independence period, slavery and abolition, the Catholic Church, indigenous peoples, immigration, ecology, agriculture, economic development, medicine and public health, international relations, and Brazilian and Portuguese literature. The collection comprises books, manuscripts, works of art, pamphlets, and governmental records and decrees, as well as many anonymous, pseudonymous, and satirical works that were kept separately from the main library collection of the Catholic University of America in Brazil.

Gale eBooks

Gale offers a variety of publications covering a wide range of 20th century history studies topics, including World War I, immigration debate, and more. Users can add Gale eBooks to a customized collection and cross-search to pinpoint relevant content. Workflow tools help users easily share, save, and download articles.

  • Debating History: Debates on 20th-Century Immigration, 1st Edition

    Debating History: Debates on 20th-Century Immigration, 1st Edition

    ReferencePoint Press  |  2018  |  ISBN-13: 9781682823705

    Immigration was one of the most controversial social issues during the 20th century, as debates intensified over whether immigrants adversely impact life for American citizens. Through a narrative-driven pro/con format—supported by relevant facts, quotes, and anecdotes—this book examines controversial issues stemming from historic events. Topics include: Do Immigrants Adversely Impact the American Economy? Do Immigrants Worsen Crime? Do Immigrants Threaten American Culture and Values? Is There Room for New Immigrants in 20th Century America?

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  • Music of the First World War, 1st Edition

    Music of the First World War, 1st Edition

    Greenwood Publishing Group  |  2016  |  ISBN-13: 9781440839979

    This book discusses World War I era music in a historical context, explaining music’s importance at home and abroad during WWI as well as examining what music was being sung, played, and danced to during the years prior to America’s involvement in the Great War.

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  • World War I: A Historical Exploration of Literature, 1st Edition

    World War I: A Historical Exploration of Literature, 1st Edition

    Greenwood Publishing Group  |  2019  |  ISBN-13: 9781440854354

    The literary works of the first World War are one of the richest sources we have for understanding one of the twentieth century’s most significant conflicts. Not only do many of them have historical merit, but some were critically acclaimed by both contemporaries and subsequent scholars. For example, Henri Barbusse’s Under Fire, one of the earliest novels of the war, won accolades in France and the respect of war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen as well as novelists Erich Maria Remarque and Ernest Hemingway. This book examines these works and the poetry of war poets Rupert Brooke, John McCrae, and others, providing context as well as opportunities to explore thematic elements with primary source documents, such as diaries, correspondence, manuscripts, memoirs, newspaper and journal articles, speeches, papers, and government publications. It’s unique in its use of literary and historical sources as mediums by which to both better understand the literature of the war and use literature as a guide to understand the war itself.

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Resources to Boost Your Research

From trending social issues to classic literature, Gale resources have you covered. Explore overviews, statistics, essay topics, and more or log in through your library to find even more content.

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