17.5 The West After World War I

The catastrophe of World War I shattered the sense of optimism that had grown in the West since the Enlightenment. Despair gripped survivors on both sides as they added up the staggering costs of the war. Europeans mourned a generation of young men who had been lost on the battlefields.

Photo of a man in a tuxedo sitting at a piano.

Duke Ellington was a composer, pianist, and bandleader. He referred to his music as “American Music” rather than “jazz.” His career spanned the 1920s to the 1970s.


  • Analyze how Western society and culture changed after World War I.
  • Identify the contributions of modern scientists such as Marie Curie and Albert Einstein.
  • Summarize the domestic and foreign policy issues that the Western democracies faced after World War I.
  • Describe how the global depression began and spread.
  • Explain the responses of Britain, France, and the United States to the Great Depression.

Key Terms

  • flapper
  • Miriam Ferguson
  • Prohibition
  • Marie Curie
  • Albert Einstein
  • psychoanalysis
  • Harlem Renaissance
  • abstract art
  • dada
  • surrealism
  • Maginot Line
  • Kellogg-Briand Pact
  • disarmament
  • general strike
  • overproduction
  • finance
  • Federal Reserve
  • Great Depression
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • New Deal

Social Change After World War I

Many people talked about a “return to normalcy,” to life as it had been before 1914. But rebellious young people rejected the moral values and rules of the Victorian Age and chased after excitement. Gertrude Stein, an American writer living in Paris, called them the “lost generation.” Others saw them as immoral pleasure-seekers.

The Roaring Twenties

During the 1920s, new technologies helped create a mass culture shared by millions in the world's developed countries. Affordable cars, improved telephones, and new forms of media such as motion pictures and radio brought people around the world closer together than ever before.

In the 1920s, many radios tuned into the new sounds of jazz. In fact, the decade in the West is often called the Jazz Age. African American musicians combined Western harmonies with African rhythms to create jazz. Jazz musicians, like trumpeter Louis Armstrong and pianist Duke Ellington, took simple melodies and improvised endless subtle variations in rhythm and beat.

Throughout the 1920s, the popularity of jazz moved from the United States to Europe. Europeans embraced American popular culture, with its greater freedom and willingness to experiment.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments