Dividing the 20th Century Into Decades

20th CenturyThe 20th Century arguably saw more social and scientific changes than the ten preceding centuries combined. That being the case, it seems to me more convenient to divide the 20th Century into decades for the purposes of discussion, than to try to take it all into consideration at once.

But decades are, by definition, a sort of artificial division. The standard length of ten years to a decade doesn’t take into account the tides of change that actually define a particular decade. Since our purpose is to discuss change, it makes more sense to separate decades by the events that define them.

With this guide in mind, here’s my particular method of slicing the 20th Century into decades:

1900-1913: The ‘Zeros’ (14 years)
1914-1919: The Teens (6 years)
1920-1928: The Twenties (9 years)
1929-1938: The Thirties (10 years)
1939-1948: The Forties (10 years)
1949-1959: The Fifties (11 years)
1960-1974: The Sixties (15 years)
1975-1978: The Seventies (4 years)
1979-1989: The Eighties (11 years)
1990-1999: The Nineties (10 years)

Here’s Why:

The ‘Zeros’: The beginning of the century defines the start date of 1900, of course. But why extend the ‘Zeros’ all the way to 1913? Because that’s the last year of peace before the first great ‘World War’.

The Teens: 1914 marked the beginning of ‘The Great War’ in Europe. 1919 marked its end.

The Twenties: 1920 was the first year of peace. 1928 was the last year of the Roaring Twenties.

The Thirties: The ‘Great Depression’ began with the stock market crash of 1929, which defined world history until 1938.

The Forties: In 1939, Hitler’s Germany invaded Poland and fired off WWII. The war ended in 1945, but it defined the rest of the decade through 1948.

The Fifties: In 1949, Russia got ‘the bomb’, which began the era of the Cold War. Though this period extends through the 80’s, other social changes defined the following decades.

The Sixties: In 1960, John F. Kennedy became President of the United States. This marked the beginning of the domination of America, and the world, by the culture of youth. I extend the 60’s all the way to 1974, the year Nixon resigned.

The Seventies: The post-Vietnam, post-Nixon era began in 1975, and ran until 1978. Only four years? Yes, because in the following year we recognized a new threat to the world.

The Eighties: In 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini returned as the leader of Iran, and held Americans hostage while our nation seemed impotent to do anything about it. Gas prices soared. Desert war in the Middle East followed. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, marking the effective end of the Cold War.

The Nineties: In 1990 Nelson Mandela was freed and Lech Walesa became President of Poland, and in 1992, the Soviet Union fell. It was a whole new world, with a whole, new set of problems. By definition, the 20th Century ended in 2000, but most people believed that 1999 was the end. Maybe 2000 would be better, not only because it’s technically correct, but because 2001 is when a New World Order was created with the destruction of the World Trade Center.

What do you think of my divisions?

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