World History     |     18th Century History     |     19th Century History      |     20th Century History     |     African History     |     Asian & Pacific History     |     Colonialism     |     European History   |        Judaic and Holocaust Studies    |    Latin American and Caribbean History   |    Middle Eastern History   |    World War II

Early Modern History

Gain insight into early modern history, which corresponds roughly to the end of the Middle Ages (c. 1500) through the beginning of the Age of Revolutions at the dawn of the nineteenth century. This era is marked by exploration leading to increasing globalization and colonization, the emergence of nation-states, rapid technological progress due in part to the scientific revolution, and advancements in the arts, most notably the Renaissance in Europe.

The humanists of the fourteenth century were the originators of the Italian Renaissance in the late fifteenth century, a time when artists and thinkers revolutionized medieval conventions in the visual arts, the sciences, and the humanities. The Renaissance spread throughout Europe in the sixteenth century.

Along with this cultural rebirth, typified by the works of Shakespeare and Leonardo Da Vinci, a religious revolution known as the Protestant Reformation would challenge the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, starting in 1517. The result was a series of religious wars in Europe, most notably the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) that involved nearly every major power on the continent. This war proved to be a turning point, as the concept of national sovereignty, or the right of individual states to determine their own destinies, developed into the concept of the nation-state.


In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Renaissance would give way to the Age of Reason, also known as the Enlightenment. Technological developments such as moveable-type printing presses, allowed for the greater dissemination of knowledge as books became more available. This development, in turn, promoted a general thirst for knowledge and a belief in the power of science and reason.

Exposure to new cultures made possible by what became known as the Age of Discovery in the sixteenth century also promoted new ideas as European explorers and traders came into contact with cultures in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. This era of exploration had a dark side; mercantilism, the dominant economic theory of the early modern period, demanded that national policies be set according to considerations of international trade. In the pursuit of wealth, many wars were fought, and brutal policies—chief among them the slave trade in Africa and the genocide of the indigenous populations of the Americas—were endorsed and subsidized by European governments.

The slave trade had a profound effect on the continent of Africa. Between the early 1500s and the mid-1800s, somewhere between thirteen and twenty million Africans were enslaved. Some African kingdoms, such as the Kingdom of the Kongo in central Africa, were devastated by the slave trade, while other kingdoms such as the Kingdom of Dahomey and the Oyo Empire (a Yoruba kingdom) in west Africa benefited from trade with the Europeans.

The vast majority of African slaves were sent to the Americas to work on plantations and in mineral mines administered by European powers (primarily Spain and Portugal in Central and South America, and England and France in North America). Spain was the first of the European powers to establish colonies following the landing of explorer Christopher Columbus in 1492. The discovery of mineral wealth prompted a rush to colonize the territory. Early in the sixteenth century, Spanish conquistadors were able to topple the mighty Aztec and Inca empires in present-day Mexico and Peru, respectively, due to their superior weaponry and the weakening of the indigenous population through disease. The military effort was combined with a missionary zeal to convert the native populations to Christianity. The enslavement and subsequent brutal treatment of the indigenous peoples resulted in a mass depletion of the population.

The native populations of North America would be similarly devastated by European colonists as they succumbed to European diseases although they would not undergo mass enslavement. Instead, European colonists sought to overtake Native lands in order to make room for growing European settlements. These efforts led to frequent skirmishes between Europeans and Native Americans, although sometimes they fought together as allies. For example, different tribes took sides with either the French or the British during the French and Indian War (1754–1763). While Great Britain would emerge victorious in that conflict, it would later lose an important colony during the American Revolution (1775–1783), which would result in the formation of the United States.

While empires toppled under European encroachment in the Americas, empires thrived during the early modern period in the Middle East and Asia. The dominant empire in the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire, finished off the weakened Byzantine Empire by taking the city of Constantinople in 1453, an event that some historians mark as the beginning of the early modern era. The Ottomans expanded into the Mediterranean and North Africa in the sixteenth century. In the Islamic realm of Persia (present-day Iran), the Safavid Empire was founded in 1501 and became a rival to the Ottomans in the Middle East. While the Ottomans faced incursion from the Safavids from the east, they also had to contend with Europeans to the north; the defeat of its navy in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 to a European coalition signaled the beginning of the mighty empire’s long decline. In Asia, the Qing dynasty overthrew the Ming Dynasty in China in 1644, and the Mughal Empire was founded in India in 1526; both of those empires would endure for the rest of the early modern period.

Contact my rep                   Find resources at my library

Early Modern History Resources

Gale provides scholarly resources, including databasesprimary source archives, and eBooks, to advance researchers' studies.


Gale databases offer researchers access to credible, modern history collections, including full-text articles covering many history topics, from newspapers, articles, early modern journals, and much more, aligned with lesson plans for teaching and guides for additional research.

Primary Source Archives

Gale Primary Sources contains full-text archives and digitized literature that provide researchers with firsthand articles from early modern journals and early modern primary sources to drive research at your university.

Gale eBooks

Gale offers a variety of eBooks covering a wide range of early modern studies topics, including wars, exploration, 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.

  • The Cold War: Interpreting Conflict through Primary Documents, 1st Edition

    The Cold War: Interpreting Conflict through Primary Documents, 1st Edition

    ABC-CLIO  |  2019  |  ISBN-13: 9781440852121

    One of the most extensive to date, this set of primary source documents studies the Cold War comprehensively from its beginning, with the emergence of the world's first communist government in Russia in late 1917, to its end, in 1991. All of the key events, including the Berlin Blockade, the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, and the nuclear arms race, are discussed in detail. The primary sources provide insight into the thinking of all participants, drawing on Western, Soviet, Asian, and Latin American perspectives. This eBook's primary documents are organized chronologically, allowing readers to appreciate the ramifications of the Cold War within a clear time frame. 

    Contact my sales rep >>

  • Technology of the Medieval and Early Modern Worlds, 1st Edition

    Technology of the Medieval and Early Modern Worlds, 1st Edition

    Britannica Digital Learning  |  2016  |  ISBN-13: 9781508100393

    While the medieval period is often written off as a backward and benighted era, it was, in fact, marked by advances in wind and water power, agriculture, navigation, timekeeping, and military technology. The invention of the printing press near the end of the Middle Ages ushered in the early modern period. The achievements of this era—in particular the fabrication of scientific instruments, the development of commerce, rising urbanization, and the invention of the steam engine—laid the groundwork for the Industrial Revolution. Readers will be engrossed by this information-packed title and come away with a real understanding of how technology develops over time, building—by fits and spurts—on the technology already in use.

    Contact my sales rep >>

  • 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 World War I 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 those of war poets Rupert Brooke and John McCrae and others, providing context as well as opportunities to explore thematic elements with primary source documents, such as diaries, letters, memoirs, newspaper and journal articles, speeches, and government publications. It is 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 to better understand the war itself.

    Contact my sales rep >>

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.

Access topics >>