Change in the 20th Century

The 20th century is a period of great change.

Change in Political Power

Since 1900 there has been a general change trend of political power shifting from the privileged few (nobility and monarchy) to the majority in society. In some countries democracies have been set up (e.g. Germany) to replace the power of kings (autocracy). In other countries, Communism (Marxism) has been introduced (to USSR, China and Cuba for example) with the ideal of making all people equal.

Change in the Balance of World Power

In 1900, the world was dominated by European monarchies and their empires (imperial powers).


Since 1945 two superpowers have dominated the world (USA and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). The European powers have lost their empires (GB = Commonwealth) and most of their wealth, and power. Their colonies have become independent (e.g. Britain lost India, New Zealand and Canada.) Some countries, that were weak and powerless in 1900, have become major world powers, most notably Japan.

Change in the Distribution of Wealth

In most countries it is true to say that the rich have become poorer, and the poor have become richer. This is not true of Third World countries.

Most international conflicts since 1945 have been between the First and Second Worlds, fighting to control the Third World.

Technological, Scientific and Medical Changes

Change has been so rapid in the 20th century that Winston S. Churchill rode on a horse into battle, and saw a space rocket launch into space.

Transport has changed dramatically over the 20th century. At the beginning of the century, people walked, or rode on horses, whereas nowadays we can fly in aeroplanes, ride in fast trains or drive in luxury cars. The world is ‘shrinking’ rapidly, with us able to visit places around the world in hours, rather than months or years.

New communications technology such as telephones, facsimiles and electronic mail enable us to contact people around the world almost instantly, instead of waiting days, months or longer, for a letter or messenger to deliver a message.

The production of energy has also changed. We no longer rely on coal to produce steam to power things, we have nuclear power stations to produce electricity, with all the dangers this creates. New inventions from simple refrigerators, to powerful computers, have all been invented in the 20th century.

Medical services have improved substantially this century. The introduction of tax-based health care for all (the NHS) has brought care to the poor, whereas before they had little chance of being treated. Hospitals are now free of infection, so we usually come out healthier, rather than worse or in a coffin. New treatments have been introduced to fight off diseases, help people to walk again, and many other things that at the start of the century would have seemed a distant dream. The mentally ill are now looked after, instead of used to make money, or thrown into a corner out of the way.


Primary Sources

Primary sources are contemporary to the time studied. (From that time.)

Secondary Sources

These sources come from after the time being studied. They are not contemporary.


Newspapers are both primary and secondary. The photographs are primary, but the reports are not usually written by eyewitnesses, so are secondary.


When people reminisce, they are primary to the event, but what they say is secondary to the event. Reminiscences are unreliable for three reasons: exaggeration, lies and omission. (They forget.)


A facsimile is an exact copy of the original.


Newspapers contain Primary and Secondary Sources:

Primary Secondary
Eyewitness accounts Most reports

The Tabloid press often lies about events. This may lead people to seek compensation, e.g. Lord Arthur gained libel damages from a tabloid paper.

Definition of a newspaper: ‘It should be an accurate account of what happened in the world, yesterday.’

This brings the conclusion that newspapers are mainly secondary.

Autobiographical Sources

Autobiographical Sources are seldom secondary: They are usually primary sources.

Sources in the 20th Century

There is a multitude of new sources, mainly audio-visual archive material. There are many computer data formats. There is also more literacy leading to more records.

There is such a flood of evidence, it is difficult to sift through it all. Fraud is easier this century. Sources can often contradict, and the state confidentiality on its documents makes research difficult. As we have not finished living the events, it is difficult to write about the results.

Cartoon Symbolism


Britain may be represented by a John Bull figure (fat, prosperous, frock coat, gaiters, crumpled hat, Union Jack waistcoat) or by a Lion

United States usually shown as Uncle Sam (tall and thin, tall hat, wispy beard, striped trousers, stars on waistcoat) or by an eagle.

France’s symbol is either a cockerel or a girl revolutionary whose most characteristic garment is a pixie-style hat with a tricolour (three-coloured) cockade.

Germany’s figure up to the First World War is the moustached Kaiser in his military greatcoat and spiked, ‘pickel-haub’ helmet.

Afterwards, of course, the typical Hitler figure and the swastika dominate.

Russia will be shown as a Cossack or other fur-hatted figure, sometimes drawn to resemble the Tsar, in the Tsarist era, as a menacing figure, worker or soldier, featuring the Hammer and Sickle since the Revolution, or as a bear at any time.

Italy has often been shown as a young sailor in the past, though the Mussolini image dominates the inter-war years.

Turkey was usually represented as a fat sultan wearing a fez. The latter symbol remains for the Republican era.

Japan’s symbol is the rising sun, but during her militaristic era she was also depicted as a ferocious, sword-wielding samurai warrior.

China used to be shown as a moustached (long and flowing), pigtailed coolie, but is now characterised by the Chairman Mao figure in unisex dungarees.

Other symbols which might appear are the fasces, a bundle of twigs bound together with an axe, representing Fascist Italy, or a single star on military equipment, which would be red in fact (though hardly so on an exam paper.) This indicates the Soviet or ‘red’ army.


Colours are often used or referred to in cartoons. The red, amber, green sequence of traffic lights may represent danger, warning and safety. Red also stands for Communism, especially Russian. Black and white (regrettably for the anti-racist lobby!) tend to stand for Darkness/Evil and Light/Good respectively. Black also represents Fascism (Mussolini’s Blackshirts and Hitler’s SS) and is supported by brown (Hitler’s SA). Yellow means Japan or China.


Animals other than those specific to countries (see above) which may be used are the snake (evil or danger), the rabbit (innocence or vulnerability) the donkey (stupidity), the raven (danger or death), the dove, with or without an olive branch (peace), the horse (dogged determination, persistence or hard work_), the pig, (brutality), the sheep (docility or inability to think for oneself) and the cow (docility or stupidity).


Flowers represent friendship or good will, with the laurel (wreath) meaning victory.

Changes in the Map of Europe (1914-1923)

Refer to the maps showing Europe in 1914 and 1919.

The peace treaties that ended the First World War (1914-1918) altered the political map of Europe. The defeated nations were punished by the victors.

Allies Central Powers (*)
Great Britain Germany
France Austria-Hungary
Russia (†) Bulgaria
Belgium Turkey
Italy (changed sides May 1915)  
USA (joined 1917)  

(*) The central powers were punished, they had to lose land and they had to pay reparations (payment for war damages.)

(†) Russia was also punished in 1919 because the Allies felt betrayed when Russia left the War early (3/3/1918, Treaty of Brest-Litovsk)

German Losses

France regained Alsace-Lorraine. Posen-West Prussia went to Poland, forming a corridor to the coast. Northern Schleswig was given to Denmark. Troppau was given to Czechoslovakia. Austria and Germany were NOT allowed to unite.

Austro-Hungarian Losses

Austria and Hungary became two small, landlocked republics, Habsburg land was used to create two new states: Czechoslovakia in the north, and Yugoslavia in the south. Yugoslavia was formed from Austria and Serbia. Other countries gained land. Rumania got Transylvania, and roughly doubled in size. Poland gained Galicia, Italy gained the Southern Tyrol.

Bulgarian Losses

Bulgaria loses Western Thrace to Greece.

Turkish Losses

Two treaties were signed with Turkey, in the first she lost land to Greece, and in the second it was returned.

Russian Losses

Russia lost land to recreate Poland, and four countries became independent. Three were the Baltic States, and the other was Finland.

Treaties at the End of the First World War

The first five were named after palaces, and were also diktats. The last was the only negotiated treaty.

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