This question is speculative, historiographical, and might be more esoteric than some would like, but I’m curious as to where you think WWII will land in the future periodization of history? Where will it fit in Western or European history and where will it fit in other broader regional histories (Asian, Middle Easter, African)?

My academic background is in European history so the inspiration for this question lies in Eurocentric historiography and periodization. The importance of periodization is muted and often questioned by the specificity of research and writing employed by high level scholars. After all, assigning date ranges and similar events to a comprehensive narrative is arbitrary in its own way. Nevertheless, whether for pedagogical purposes or to promote a broader discussion, history does get divided into these periods that contain comprehensive themes.

Modern European history is my focus. The date range, as I understand it, is 1789-1918 (I have also seen this called “late modern history”). French Revolution to WWI, we generally follow the story of nationalism (the historic event by which nations became the fundamental unit on world-political stage, and the attempt by people without a nation to form one), industrialism (the injection of technology into the rationalization of labor and it’s social ramifications), and liberalism and socialism as competing ideological forces against the old regime (absolutism and aristocracy). Obviously there is much missing from this summation, but generally speaking modern European history chronicles the march from absolutism to the decline of monarchies in favor of familiar democratic and industrialized nations (once again with a lot more going on as well). WWI often symbolically stands at as the grand culminating event to conclude this march. An example of this perspective can be seen in “Rites of Spring” by Modris Eksteins.

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If WWI is the grand conclusion of the modern period, then do such themes as fascism, genocide, internationalism (war crimes trials, lend-lease, Potsdam, Yalta, etc), and nuclear weapons tie WWII closer to the Cold War than the previous World War and the modern period? Furthermore, after 1918 things get dicey with regards to periodization. We enter what has been termed “contemporary history” or “history in living memory.” I’ve had courses entitled “20th Century History” and “Cold War History,” and the obvious difficulty is that “contemporary history” is not removed enough for us to do anything but speculate what it’s comprehensive narratives and themes will be. The historiographical discourse is still in its infancy. It is even questionable that periodization will still be something employed or regarded as it has been in the past, after all Francis Fukuyama claimed history ended with the Cold War.

To repeat my question given a little context, if the Modern Period ended in 1918 and the Cold War is the beginning of a period historians have not yet developed a comprehensive discourse on, where does WWII lie? Is it an extension of WWI and the modern period? Is it the prologue to a period that opens with the Cold War? Furthermore, for those with a greater knowledge of Asian, Middle Eastern, or African history, does it have a more established place in these regions’ historical periodization? Finally is my grasp of Western periodization entirely off or in need of revision?

I know the academic utility of periodization is questionable, you don’t need to hammer me over the head with it. I just think it is an enjoyable intellectual exercise to indulge these broader and even speculative questions every once and a while. Thank you.

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