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European History

Study up on European history from its earliest known settlements in pre-history to the present day. Despite its relatively small size, Europe has played an immense role in the shaping of world history beginning with one of its earliest civilizations, the Greek civilization, starting in the twelfth century BCE. In addition to their architectural achievements, the Greeks developed organized religion and a rich philosophical tradition. The Macedonian ruler over Greece, Alexander the Great (356–323 BCE), exported Greek culture throughout the vast empire he created through conquest, which stretched from the eastern Mediterranean to India. The region is still a hotbed of activity for historians and archaeology enthusiasts.

Following Alexander’s early death in 323 BCE, the Italian city-state of Rome stepped into the power vacuum and began to conquer the tribal cultures of Europe. By the first century CE, only Germany remained outside of Rome’s control, creating a rare political and economic unity on the continent. The Roman emperor of Constantine I (c. 272–337) was instrumental in promoting the once-persecuted Jewish sect of Christianity into an official and established religion. He also moved the empire’s seat of government from Rome to Byzantium (in present-day Turkey), dividing the empire into the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire). The Western Roman Empire gradually broke apart into smaller states as it was weakened by constant foreign invasions, with 476 marking the end of the Western Roman Empire.

The fall of the Western Roman Empire introduced the chaos of the Middle Ages, when Europe was subject to waves of invaders. To help counteract and repel these onslaughts, a feudal system was put into place, with armored knights and royalty supported by a large network of people toiling as serfs in often miserable conditions. In addition to the royal powers, the Roman Catholic Church became a powerful political as well as religious entity, even launching a series of religious wars known as the Crusades against the Muslim kingdoms in Spain and the Middle East.


The Byzantine Empire persisted until the fall of its capital of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, which some scholars use to mark the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the early modern period. This was a time when feudalism was replaced by emergent nation-states and ideas of nationalism. Early forms of capitalism developed. Protestantism emerged out of efforts to reform the Catholic Church starting in 1517, and a century of ensuing religious wars would cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Replacing the dominance of the Catholic Church, a new focus on science and discovery swept through the European intellectual community.

The Renaissance, an intellectual and cultural movement inspired by ancient Greek and Roman ideals concerning art, beauty, and philosophy, spread across much of Europe, starting in Italy at the beginning of the fourteenth century. This was a time period of astonishing cultural achievement that gave birth to the works of William Shakespeare and the art of Leonardo Da Vinci.

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 Age of Reason sparked revolutionary ideas, and the monarchies of Europe came under criticism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This criticism grew into revolution, most notably in France, where the French Revolution (1789–1799) successfully abolished the monarchy and founded a new government based on principles of rationalism and reason. Although the bloodshed that accompanied the French Revolution served as a cautionary tale, the ideals of the revolution would inspire revolutions elsewhere; in 1848 nearly every major nation in Europe was swept by popular uprisings demanding an end to monarchy, although these movements were quickly suppressed.

Starting in the mid-eighteenth century, the Industrial Revolution fueled a transition from agriculture to manufacturing, from rural population to urban. An unprecedented period of economic and population growth followed. Capitalism became the dominant economic system of the Western world and catapulted the countries of western Europe—particularly Great Britain—into global superpowers. Britain’s colonial holdings established a vast empire.

During the twentieth century, Europe was the focal point of two world wars: World War I (1914–1918) and World War II (1939–1945). Both wars resulted in the deaths of millions of Europeans and mass destruction of cities and infrastructure. In the post-1945 world, Europe was ideologically divided into Western Europe, organized according to democratic principles and based on capitalism, and Eastern Europe, which was governed by the Soviet Union according to the Communist principles that had been established following the Russian Revolution of 1917. German history was significantly affected as the country was divided into West Germany, aligning with capitalism and democracy, and East Germany, aligning with Communism. While never erupting into open war, the hostility between the Soviet Union and Western nations (along with their close ally the United States) was known as the Cold War; it persisted until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The nations of Western Europe began to closely align their trade and political connections after World War II, culminating in the creation of the European Union in 1993. The unity of the members of this political and economic entity was challenged by the 2008–2009 global financial crisis, which required the financial bail-out of several European countries, as well as by the massive influx of refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East and Africa starting in 2015. Great Britain's exit from the European Union in 2020, known as Brexit, also challenged expectations for seamless trade and diplomacy across the continent for Union members.

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European History Resources

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


Gale databases offer researchers access to credible, European history databases, including full-text articles covering many history topics, from newspapers, articles, European history 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 European history journals and  European history primary sources to drive research at your university.

Gale eBooks

Gale offers a variety of eBooks covering a wide range of European history studies topics, including Medieval manuscripts, modern European history, 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 British Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia, 1st Edition

    The British Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia, 1st Edition

    ABC-CLIO  |  2018  |  ISBN-13: 9781440841989

    From early sixteenth-century explorations to the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, the British Empire controlled outposts on every continent, spreading its people and ideas across the globe and profiting mightily in the process. The present state of our world-from its increasing interconnectedness to its vast inequalities and from the successful democracies of North America to the troubled regimes of Africa and the Middle East-can be traced, in large part, to the way in which Great Britain expanded and controlled its empire. This book addresses a broader range of topics than do most other surveys of the empire, covering not only major political and military developments but also topics that have only recently come to serious scholarly attention, such as women's and gender history, art and architecture, indigenous histories and perspectives, and the construction of colonial knowledge and ideologies. By going beyond the "headline" events of the British Empire, this captivating work communicates the British imperial experience in its totality.

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  • Science and Technology in Modern European Life, 1st Edition

    Science and Technology in Modern European Life, 1st Edition

    Greenwood Publishing Group  |  2008  |  ISBN-13: 9780313080814

    The last two centuries have seen unprecedented change in the everyday lives of Europeans. From the Napoleonic Wars to the end of the Cold War, from the Industrial Revolution to the Computer Revolution, many of these changes were greatly influenced by the scientific and technological advances that took place during that period. This volume in the Daily Life Through History series examines how science and technology impacted the everyday life of modern European history in all aspects from of their lives.

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  • Voices of Medieval England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales: Contemporary Accounts of Daily Life, 1st Edition

    Voices of Medieval England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales: Contemporary Accounts of Daily Life, 1st Edition

    Greenwood Publishing Group  |  2016  |  ISBN-13: 9781610697880

    This book provides a broad selection of primary documents that are appropriate in level and content for a variety of readers. It includes dozens of primary document excerpts that illustrate important elements of daily life during the medieval period. Each document is accompanied by an introduction that supplies relevant historical background, context points to help readers evaluate the document, a description of the results and consequences of the document, and a "Further Information" section listing important print and electronic resources as well as any relevant films or television programs.

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