Human history, unsurprisingly, is very long and full of more details and events than anyone could remember. Even the earliest histories we have today—some dating back thousands of years—grapple with making sense of everything that came before them. Infoplease is here to help you get everything in order. Check out the 100 Most Significant Events of the Last Thousand Years, an ancient history timeline, world history timelines and more.
Beginning with the Earth's formation, through to the beginning of the modern day, fan favorites like ancient Egypt, Babylon, Harappa, Rome, and Aksum make their debuts. Though they have a less direct impact on the world today, these historic cultures held major influence over the course of history. The inventions of agriculture, fire, megalithic construction, and speech are the foundations of human life, as well as the development of the arts and sciences. Check out our timelines to discover more about these remote (and often unrecognizable) times.
Early Modern2 History
With the "rediscovery" of Classical learning in the West, the invention of new economic models like mercantilism, and increased contact around the globe, the world begins to take the shape it has today. Early modernity will see the creation of the nation-state, the rise of capitalism and colonialism, and the beginnings of industrialization. Across the entire world, from Mali to the Maratha, this time period will see the consolidation and rise of thousands of notable polities and countries. Explore some of the highlights from this defining period of human history.
Late Modern3 History
Late modernity, if it can be meaningfully distinguished from "now" ends with World War II and the beginning of the atomic era. The late modern period is characterized by industry, locomotion, the peak of colonialism in Africa and Asia, and the beginnings of industrialized warfare. By the end of this time period, the multinational empires of the past will begin to break apart, paving the way for the current nations of the world.
Contemporary history begins with the splitting of the atom and the rise of computers. These two new technologies more than anything else will fundamentally shape the course of human affairs. The contemporary period is characterized by the end of colonial imperialism, the rise of global capitalism and neocolonialism, and the rapid growth of global communication. Being the present, it's impossible to say when or how this time period may end.
1. The distinction between modern and pre-modern is a bit shaky at times. The most common dispute about when "modern" history begins is whether it starts right before or right after the Middle Ages (being named as such because they fall between Classical history and Modern history). Ultimately the distinction between modern and pre-modern is fairly arbitrary, especially when applied to places outside of Europe.
2. The editors at Infoplease have decided to split the divide around the beginning of the Italian Renaissance. With the Italian Renaissance, things start to look more familiar than in the Middle Ages. Medieval societies were built around systems of government, economic practices, and schools of thought that are often completely alien to today's readers, while by the Renaissance things like standing armies, stock-bond companies, and ethnic states come into play.
3. The division between early modernity and late modernity is also relatively fuzzy, as it's most commonly decided based on industrialization and complex modes of production. These factors arise at different times in different places, and are not universal metrics of "progress." For simplicity's sake, the editors have marked the break with the industrialization of the United Kingdom and the United States.