History of the 18th-Century West

History of the 18th-Century West

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The history of the 18th-century West testified to the rise of slave trading and the excesses of colonial misrule in America. Because of this, Enlightenment thinkers were encouraged to support the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions. Moreover, revolutions challenged monarchical and aristocratic power structures, including the slave trade.

This was the “century of lights” and the “century of reason”. In Britain, the Industrial Revolution brought massive change to the human and natural environment. While the Enlightenment dreamed of a brighter age, for some, the dream became the nightmare of the French Revolution of 1789 and its Reign of Terror. At first, many monarchies of Europe supported the humanistic ideals of the Enlightenment, but they soon perceived the threat of those ideals to their own power, and they responded by forming reactionary coalitions to stave off revolution.

The music of the Late Baroque period gave us Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederic Handel, and the Classical period gave us Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The Ottoman Empire experienced a long and prosperous peace. This was in part because it did not get involved in the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France that transpired globally in the century’s first half. But the Ottoman military fell behind and the empire suffered defeats at the hands of Russia later in the century.

The 18th century brought the end of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. In its day, this powerful and vast kingdom had conquered Moscow and great Ottoman armies, but it collapsed under the weight of defending itself against invasion. In its place, the Kingdom of Prussia and the Russian and Austrian Empires arose to change the political landscape of Central Europe. In consequence, European colonization of the Americas brought mass immigration.

Great Britain became a global empire with the conquest of large parts of India, especially Bengal. However, it lost its North American colonies after the American Revolution, which resulted in the birth of the independent United States.

In India, the victory of the British East India Company over Bengal and its French allies caused the thriving industrial economy of India, once the world largest manufacturing power, to fall into British hands. With that, the British Empire went on to absorb much of South and Southeast Asia.

The “long” 18th century ran from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to the fall of Napoleon and beyond, as Europe became re-ordered in a post-Napoleonic world.

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​18th Century Index | Society: CommunitiesFamily | Power: GovernanceMilitaryConflict | Economy | Austria | Central Europe | England: Power | France: Power | Iberia | Netherlands | Prussia: Power | Russia | Peter the Great: BureaucracyMilitaryModernization | Catherine the Great | Scandinavia

18th-Century: Index


Society: Communities

Society: Class

Society: Family

Power: Governance

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Power: Military

Power: Conflict



Central Europe


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England: Power


France: Power




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Prussia: Power


Russia: Society

Peter the Great: Military

Russia: Power: Peter the Great: Bureaucracy

Russia: Power: Peter the Great: Modernization

Russia: Power: Catherine the Great


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