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What event marks the beginning of the modern world? The Renaissance? The Enlightenment? Or the French Revolution? Why?

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The term "modern" is an arbitrary designation often used to demarcate periods in European history. It does not have an absolute meaning in terms of there being some fixed date at which the world became modern; it is used as a matter of convenience, allowing scholars to divide up books and teachers to organize courses in manageable segments, as it is very difficult to try to understand and study all of history as one undifferentiated mass. Although certain well-known events are used as convenient signposts to delimit periods, they should not be taken as anything more than aids to remembering the shape of historical events rather than as somehow the causes of change, which tend to be complex and in reality occur gradually over extended periods.

The term "modern" derives from the Latin "modernus" meaning "recent," which passed into French as "moderne" and thence into English as "modern." The notion of "modern" as a term meaning specifically the distinctive characteristics of contemporary...

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